Towards a Caribbean Union
Stabroek News
January 8, 2003

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It is a dream and a vision which from the earliest times has haunted the minds and imaginations of those who live in the Caribbean, not only those born into the region and growing up under Caribbean skies but also of some of those who came to live here, like the French Jesuit priest, Father Labat who writing in the seventeenth century perceived that “You are all together, in the same boat, sailing on the same uncertain sea..... citizenship and race unimportant, feeble little labels compared to the message that my spirit brings to me...”.

Students in London and in other capitals meeting with fellow students from other West Indian states resolved that, going home, they would build structures of unity. And the larger than life trade unionists of the past including Critchlow dreamt the dream. The early political leadership was likewise strongly focused on Federation.

But Federation when it came was a huge disappointment. It was little more than a makeshift edifice devised by the Colonial Office to facilitate the government of the colonies. It provided neither for self-government nor for economic transformation. Top-heavy, it soon succumbed to the lure of independence, with Jamaica leaving first and with the other states following quickly out of the Federation.

But the dream did not die. Regional academics and officials together with leaders of the business community, with Guyana playing a catalytic note, soon put together beginning with the support of three governments, Guyana, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda, treaty arrangements which focused mainly on market integration and functional cooperation. It was believed in keeping with then current theory that such limited arrangements would spill over into political unity.

While the integration measures which now exist and which together form the Caribbean Community have had significant successes, the movement looks increasingly unstable. It has certainly not realised some thirty years after its establishment the fulfilment of “the hopes and aspirations of their peoples for full employment and improved standards of work and living.”

It is not intended or possible to undertake herein an analysis of what we might call the deficit in Caricom but to draw attention to two aspects of dis-integration. First, under the bombardment of foreign electronic media and the pulls and pressure of other international forces including globalisation the “glue” which holds the movement together namely a common identity is being rapidly eroded. Second, except for the singular success of the Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM) in negotiating the latest Treaty, (COTONOU) with the European Union, the region is increasingly ineffective in what the Treaty of Chaguaramas enjoined namely forming “a common front in relation to the external world”.

It is steadily evident that the survival of Caricom as a grouping of viable small states is dependent on coping with external factors rather than on internal adjustments. Yet it is precisely in the area of external representation except for the RNM, that Caricom is most found wanting. To take but one sector, the region is nowadays poorly represented at crucial international conferences or in key institutions as for example the WTO which affect vital interests.

In some instances a few Foreign Ministers seem to slip out unnoticed to relevant conferences and to slip back into their ministries without the slightest indication of whether the deliberation enhanced or diminished their states. It is most often a situation of attendance rather than representation.

There seems to be insufficient realisation of the profound change in the Caribbean situation since the heady days of independence. Gone for good is the time when the region and its states were of the highest geo-strategic significance or when preferential markets were assured because of the colonial conscience of the former rulers.

Into this situation of lack of direction one Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, has now proposed the hosting of a Caricom Summit in Trinidad in this very month of January to discuss political unity. Reaction has been swift. The Catholic Bishops of the OECS have strongly endorsed Manning’s call. On the other hand the Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, has been at pains to explain that he has made no commitments (apparently in Jamaica Federation and Unity are still dirty words). The University of the West Indies (U.W.I.) has been asked to provide a discussion paper for the Summit.

This is not the first time that Manning has made this proposal. He did so at the Caricom Summit in June 1992. A similar proposal was made thereafter by President Jagan in 1994. As a result, the Prime Minister of Barbados, Sandiford, was entrusted with the task of consultation with Manning and Jagan to put forward concrete proposals but as far as is known nothing came out of that assignment.

It should not be difficult for the UWI to produce a useful paper. Much scholarly work already exists on the possible forms of political unity. Especially notable is the work of Havelock Ross-Brewster, the distinguished Guyanese scholar and diplomat who together with Clive Thomas were the intellectual founders of a theory of West Indian economic integration. Brewster advocates, after a searching analysis of the current difficulties and failures of Caricom, the formation of a union along the lines of the European Union.

The European Union is not a federation. Brewster points out that “the EU co-exists with the statehood and sovereignty of the individual states. It neither establishes a European parliament with legislative powers nor eliminates its member states’ diplomatic representation and UN membership.”

Much confusion exists about the EU among those who see it as a loose association or as steps towards the building of a new super state like the USA. It is in fact no more than an expression of European political skills in devising a new type of political framework to support deeper and wider forms of political cooperation, especially external cooperation.

President Jagan in his lecture to the Institute of International Relations UWI, St Augustine in 1994 had forcefully made the same point. Jagan stated that the “lessons we should draw from the experience of the federation is not that political unity is a lost cause but that we should be sensitive with respect to the nature and character of the concept. Parliamentary and constitutional union is not the unique conception of an approach to a Union of States” (quoted by Brewster).

A political union along the lines of the EU would not just be decorative icing on the Caricom cake. Internally it would probably sustain and expand the awareness of a common identity, but it is externally that it will have its greatest impact. It would greatly enhance the community’s political potential.

To understand the meaning of political potential one must refer to two earlier and current modes of external political impact. First, especially in Guyana’s case, there was the reliance on the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which amplified Guyana’s diplomatic voice and attested to the solidarity of the Afro-Asian group behind Guyana’s principal foreign policy objective, the preservation of its territorial integrity. However, it is realistic to recognise that the NAM no longer exercises the same powerful influence.

Second, another mode in dealing with external relations is the coordination of foreign policies within Caricom. This mode in which Guyana plays a foremost role is mainly focused on trade negotiations and has little sustained feedback on the overall diplomatic stature of Caricom states.

It is pertinent to note that the European Community which was the first integration grouping to establish foreign policy coordination perceived the necessity, even though they are highly developed states, to move to the European Union which could project effectively a Single Foreign and Security Policy.

The main feature of the political potential of a union is that it will have a certain permanence. It would build prestige; it would accumulate reputation as an entity with a capacity for making its policies respected and for securing their acceptance. A union would have the effect of aggregating achievements so that it exerts a steady influence on the behaviour of other states.

Over the years individual Caricom Member States have taken major initiatives to promote change and development in the international system. Jamaica played a decisive role in the negotiation of the Law of the Seas Convention. Trinidad and Tobago took the major initiative leading to the establishment of the International Criminal Court. Guyana through the UN and the NAM and the Commonwealth secured the promulgation of international norms in support of sovereignty, and the acceleration of the processes for the liberation of Southern Africa and the abolition of apartheid. And little Antigua and Barbuda played a catalytic role in focusing UN attention and action on the problems of Antarctica! When such achievements are aggregated the region emerges as a diplomatic entity with considerable prestige whose objectives should be accommodated.

Caricom States as a matter of survival now need the enhanced diplomatic clout which a Caribbean Union could provide. President Jagdeo - as his term as Caricom Chairman comes to an end - should see as his culminating achievement the initiation of the process leading to the early establishment of a Caribbean Union of States.

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