OECS welcomes Martinique but how far towards the major goal have we progressed?
Sir Shridath Ramphal, the former Guyana Government Minister, University of the West Indies (UWI) Chancellor and three-term Secretary General of the Commonwealth has been highly critical of the failure of the political leadership of the Caribbean to foster regional integration. Sir Shridath is of the view that sovereignty, still much touted, has lost much of its meaning, yet West Indian governments seem more determined to assert it against each other than in the wider world. We fully endorse that view and we reiterate that Caribbean leaders seem more prepared to sink with the ship rather than give up control of its oars.
Speaking at the Arthur Brown Lecture hosted by the Bank of Jamaica a few years ago, Sir Shridath commented on a statement from a CARICOM conference chairman who suggested that the region should slowdown the process of integration. According to the former UWI Chancellor, given that we are already at dead slow, how far that is from 'stop'?" He said that this advice from CARICOM's leadership was the exact opposite of the conclusions of the technical Study of Caribbean Regional Integration produced by the UWI. That study concluded that: "failure to act immediately, decisively and coherently at the regional level could quite conceivably herald the effective decline of Caribbean society as a 'perfect storm' of problems gathers on the horizon".
Nevertheless, we doubt the leaders of the Caribbean have grasped the gravity of the challenges facing the region but they have been warned repeatedly. For instance, at the end of 2009 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that with the exception of three countries, all of CARICOM would experience negative growth in 2010. That prediction came to pass. On the issue of the unsettling wave of crime which is now sweeping the region, our leaders have been advised that they cannot allow their countries to continue on the road to decline without finding strategic solutions. Over the last decade murder rates in the Caribbean have increased to a level greater than in any other part of the world. Unless CARICOM countries seriously deal with these twin demons, crime and economic stagnation, the future of the region will be extremely bleak. Unfortunately, Caribbean thinkers like Sir Shridath have concluded that the commitment of the current leaders of Caribbean integration and the successful implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) is debatable. In fact, the late Professor Norman Girvan of the Institute of International Relations blamed various heads of government for the stagnation of CARICOM. Professor Girvan should know. In 2007 he prepared a report for CARICOM called: "Towards a Development Vision and the Role of the Single Economy". Described as a road map for the implementation of the CSME, Stabroek News of Guyana bemoaned the fact that the report, like many others, "has seemingly gone the way of dusty death".
We are of the view that CARICOM heads of government are lethargic about the CSME because they have become conscious of the fact that economic integration will not be successful without political integration and that most countries will not readily give up their sovereignty. A classic example is Jamaica where certain political leaders are of the opinion that it will be extremely difficult to integrate some aspects of the CSME such as macro-economic, fiscal and debt management policies and a single currency in CARICOM without the creation of a new political structure.
"This is when we have to get off, because we are under a mandate that we are not going there," Golding stated in 2008.
Incidentally, Jamaica's position is consistent with that country's disposition in relation to the failed West Indies Federation in 1961. Bear in mind that when Jamaica pulled out of the federation, Eric Williams, then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago retorted that "one from 10 leaves naught."
It now seems obvious that 40 years later, egoistic nationalism is frustrating the economic and political integration of the Caribbean. Having recognised that fact, the heads of government of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) may have concluded that there is a better opportunity for economic integration in the smaller group of islands. In fact, statements by intellectuals of the OECS indicate that the OECS will also have to form a political union if it is to survive.
That point is made rather forcefully in a paper on the Treaty of Basseterre and the OECS Economic Union written by Earl Huntley, a St. Lucian political scientist. Huntley wrote that the most critical implication of an OECS economic union is that it requires a single legal or political authority to govern the new single economic space, to make laws and enforce them. He further argues that a high level of political cooperation "or some form of political union among the participating states of the union" will be absolutely necessary.
In the article, Huntley referred to a remarkable speech delivered on May 27, 1987 by former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell. In the speech entitled "To be or not to be a single nation: That is the question". Sir James said that the economic realities are clearly indicating that we will not be able to mobilize the resources to fulfil our people's demands on a continual basis if our political structure remains unmodified.
Additionally, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the current prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been making forceful statements on the political integration of the OECS. In a speech in 2001 Dr Gonsalves stressed that if we do not build a political union "on our terms" others will do so for us "on their terms".
Moving ahead without CARICOM, last week the OECS welcomed Martinique as its latest associate member, a welcome move indeed. But initiatives like these are worthless in the long term if the OECS, and CARICOM, does not move quickly towards the formation of a political union that will complement the development of one economic space in the region.