Let's Build CARICOM sans Jamaica
It is obvious to many Caribbean nationals that Jamaica has had enough of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) experiment and that Jamaicans wish their country would sever that umbilical cord connecting it to the rest of the Caribbean. And these Jamaicans do not seem to care whether the CARICOM baby dies or survives. Unfortunately, we are now experiencing that latest Jamaican episode at West Indian disintegration with a distinct sense of déjà vu. Obviously, we have forgotten the lessons of the failed West Indies Federation when Trinidad's Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams reacted to Jamaica's exit from the federation with the famous quote: "One from ten leaves nought." Today it may be one from 15.
Jamaican's impression of CARICOM as a moribund institution was highlighted recently in two articles entitled "Kick CARICOM to the kerb" by Ronald Mason, a Jamaican attorney-at-law.
"I am a Jamaican; I am NOT a Caribbean man. I want no part of the totally useless creation we label CARICOM," wrote Mason in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.
He said Caribbean people are not his "brothers and sisters" and he describes Trinidadians as people with "this over-bearing, suffocating attitude" and Bajans as persons with "this bombastic self-importance".
Mason concluded his article by stating that Jamaica should "give the six-month notice and leave CARICOM. Keep your oil, money, flying fish and population. We will deal with the world as it is and forge our way therein as best we can".
As an attorney, Mason said he has given much thought to the creation of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), a crucial arm of CARICOM and Caribbean independence. Jamaica, he concluded, should explore the option of looking to Canada as the island's final court of appeal.
And what about the expectation that Jamaica may have to cede limited political power to CARICOM if it is to become a viable institution?
"God forbid that Jamaica should do that. Political decision-making, however limited? No way!"
Unsurprisingly, Mason's diatribe received much support from many Jamaicans including writers to the Gleaner.
"Let's face it, most of us who don't work for a CARICOM institution or a regional Ministry of Foreign Affairs believe that CARICOM has exhausted itself," wrote Peter Laurie, a Guest Columnist. "Mr Mason speaks from a deep frustration and bitterness that many of us who have been integrationists since the federation now feel. He has said it more forthrightly and honestly than most of us would have done.
"The value of Mr Mason's invective is that it trashes all the dishonest sentimentality that has accompanied our regional integration in the last few decades. Whatever cultural roots we share (and they are deep) is not a basis for economic integration. A single market and economy cannot be based on sentiment".
In addition the Gleaner editorial writers joined the debate by opining that though "we are partial to CARICOM, there is no use staying if only a few want to".
The paper noted, however, that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had declared in Parliament that her People's National Party (PNP) administration will not abandon CARICOM but seek to revitalise the community because it is an important instrument in the management of Jamaica's relations with the region and the rest of the world.
In apparent support, the historically anti-Caribbean integration Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has stated, rather diplomatically, that Jamaica and CARICOM can work together for their mutual benefit. But we suspect the JLP would love to "kick CARICOM to the kerb" if it had the power. In a statement, the JLP added it has always been concerned about of unfair trade with its CARICOM partners.
"On each occasion when the JLP has raised concerns about Jamaica's membership in CARICOM it relates to the concerns on trade issues within the CARICOM arrangement, which has seen a consistently significant trade imbalance between Jamaica and its CARICOM trading partners, and in particular, between Jamaica and its CARICOM colleague Trinidad and Tobago", the JLP said in the statement. But in another editorial in 2012, the Gleaner was much more direct. It stated then that "even as Jamaica has its own conversation on regional integration, it may be worthwhile for the rest of CARICOM to question whether Kingston is an inevitable part of the Community and what shape the process might take in its absence. In other words, CARICOM should begin to contemplate the same questions the West Indies Federation had to deal with half a century ago when Jamaica opted out of the union".
So, Dominica-born Irwin Larocque, the recently appointed Secretary General has a hard task ahead. When he was appointed a couple years ago we wrote in an editorial that he has to be careful that he does not become CARICOM's undertaker. For his sake, we hope he succeeds in keeping the CARICOM ship afloat, even without Jamaica.
One of the first impressions that Larocque has to transform is the widespread perception among the public of the Caribbean that CARICOM is merely a talk shop and that there is no commitment from the heads of government to implement the many proposals for the growth and development of the region.
But the real challenge for Larocque and the new CARICOM Secretariat is how that institution can actively involve the people of the Caribbean in every aspect of the integration process so that they, the people, can pull their leaders out of the state of political paralysis that they have fallen into.
But in the final analysis, Larocque and the rest of CARICOM may have to proceed with Caribbean integration without Jamaica. Our survival as small island states depends on our tenacity in the creation of a united region.