CARICOM must avoid becoming a historical irrelevance

SAINT Lucia’s VOICE newspaper on September 9, 2023 loudly trumpeted its latest clarion call for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to recognise that it’s “time for regional cooperation on a scale never seen before”.
The day’s editorial’s headline was more than just a wake-up call; more like one for the region’s leadership to, at least, try to smell the coffee from how fast the world is turning around us.
The editorial said the recent decision by the BRICS alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to invite six other nations to join it “should make CARICOM pursue, even more vigorously, the Single Market and Economy component of its plan to unify the region in ways that would bring sustainability and economic progress to its member-states”.

The newspaper aptly noted that the individual BRICS nations are far more powerful, in virtually all aspects, than CARICOM member-states, “yet they find it necessary to band together, in such a short time, to forge stronger strategic partnerships through solidarity and cooperation that could only redound to the benefit of their already growing economies”.
The idea of an integrated development strategy for the region was first presented at the 10th CARICOM Summit in Grenada in 1989.
It envisioned an economic space catering for free movement of goods and services regionally, and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) was officially launched 17 years later, on January 1, 2006.

The original vision was for the creation of “a single market space where trade can flourish between countries without barriers being put up to hinder trading…”.
It also envisioned a space “where CARICOM nationals could move freely within, where services, capital, technology and free movement of skilled professionals is allowed, where member-states would be more economically-progressive and their economies would become more-sustainable and socially-advanced”.

The VOICE mourns (another 17 years later): “Sadly, years have passed; talks and more talks” have taken place, but “today we still have not fully-implemented the CSME…”
The CSME was to have been fully in place by 2015, and eight years later, the editorial blames its absence squarely on “the refusal of some governments within CARICOM to commit to the fundamental philosophy of oneness necessary for the integration to work…”.
Concluding that “these governments talk the talk, but decline to walk the walk”, the VOICE reminded CARICOM: “The world is evolving in ways never before witnessed” and “countries are forming alliances for their economic and military survival due to the critical juncture the world is at”.

It thus posited that “CARICOM cannot afford to wait any longer” and urged that: “Cooperation and solidarity among the island states of CARICOM must be implemented now, if CARICOM is not to be remembered as an historical irrelevance with the concomitant disadvantage to its people”.
The editorial is on track and on target, short of one unintended but potentially costly misstep in its urgent call, “cooperation and solidarity among the island states of CARICOM…”
It’s still an unfortunate fact of life that, for all the reasons the editorial identified, too many Caribbean citizens (of all walks of life everywhere) know too little of just how much we are — at the same time — united and divided, separated not as much by water but by our misunderstanding of the history and geography of our region.

We’ve been divided by description on maps as everything from ‘The West Indies’, ‘Lesser and Greater Antilles’ to the ‘Windward and Leeward Islands’, and further colonially divided into ‘British and French West Indies’, ‘French and Dutch Antilles’, ‘Overseas Departments of France’, ‘British and US Virgin Islands’, alongside Cayman and Turks & Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Bermuda and Montserrat, etc.
Now, after six decades of independence, we’re ‘CARICOM’ and ‘O the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) was officially launched O.E.C.S.’, ‘A.C.S.’ and ‘CELAC’.

Indeed, we are still the world’s last colonial frontier, but our colonial mis-education, over centuries, has resulted in such a strong dose of intended public ignorance regionally, with history and geography mixed into a geopolitical concoction that’s kept us from ever framing a true map of the region in our minds.
Historically, the ‘British West Indies’ included ‘British Honduras’ (Belize), ‘British Guiana’ (Guyana) and ‘Duch Guiana’ (Suriname), all three of which are fellow CARICOM member-states.
But still too many CARICOM citizens cannot imagine Haiti and the Dominican Republic sharing one island, far less remembering it’s the first one Christopher Columbus saw after losing his way in search of India in 1492, which he named ‘Hispaniola’.

Too many among us still see the region as the chain of English-speaking islands stretching from Jamaica, in the north, to Trinidad & Tobago in the south, but excluding The Bahamas, Belize, Guyana and Suriname.
Not many islanders remember or know ‘The Three Guianas’ (Guyana, Suriname and Guyana Française), and the French colony is still also mistakenly called ‘Kayanne’ by neighbouring Guyanese, and ‘Cayenne’ by Saint Lucians.
The average Caribbean islander doesn’t always imagine the sheer size of Guyana and Suriname and French Guiana, or that the three far outsize Britain, Holland and France, the European colonial dominions that carved them out on the north-eastern shoulder of South America.

Some well-intended technocrats and genuine advocates for regional integration still tend to fall into the monumental memorial lapse of seeing the Caribbean only as “the islands”, and in the process exclude Guyana, the region’s new economic powerhouse, whose oil-and-gas production and earnings are forecast to be the biggest and fastest-growing globally, sooner than later.
Guyana’s new fortunes are already changing the face of the entire region’s collective economic performance figures, and the best is yet to come.

Thus, far from being influenced by the BRICS imitative, there’s still room for CARICOM to do much more to better educate our citizens about who we really are.
But we urgently need to shed the cloistered ways of outdated thinking if the region’s governments and technocrats are to take our people forward, without having to wait three-and-a-half decades for an elusive CSME that’s still nowhere on the distant horizon.

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