Dr. Fraser- Point of View
May 29, 2009
Have we lost our way?

I have already promised myself not to write about West Indian cricket again, at least not in the near future. It is too painful to do, in fact, as painful as watching our young men function like beings without spines. I was, however, attracted by the NEWS editorial last week. The caption of one of the items on its editorial page read: “WI zig zag cricket fortunes.” The first sentence explained:{{more}} “If one thought that only politicians were noted for zig zag behaviour, then one must rethink after following West Indies cricket.” Really, the analogy is not far removed but goes much further than was intimated by the editorial. We should certainly not attempt to examine West Indies cricket in isolation as though it is something far removed from the atmosphere that feeds it. Clearly, the fortunes of our ‘boys’ reflect what is happening in Caribbean society. Like the cricketers we have lost our way. Or more pointedly, our West Indian cricketers have lost their way because we have lost our way.

Have you been following closely the nonsense that is going on with CARICOM, CSME and our Caribbean Leaders? They got to be joking! Each leader appears to be bragging about how much they are doing ‘to observe and comply’ with the provisions of Caricom treaties. Prime Minister Golding of Jamaica was the last one. His big ‘beef’ was that Trinidad was discriminating against Jamaican patties. Apparently they were not allowed entry into Trinidad on the grounds of not meeting adequate health standards. Golding saw red and stated that ‘it was a smoke screen to thwart trading.’ When goods were certified by Jamaican Bureau of Standards he expected that to be respected. Apparently the Trinidadians were planning to visit Jamaica to inspect the facilities where the patties were made. All of this is extraordinarily strange. Am I missing something here? Why are fellow Caricom members not accepting bureau of standard certificates of their fellow member states? Did something happen to have prompted this? Jamaica has been one of the Caricom countries trying its best to tap markets overseas and I would expect that their Bureau of Standards would be of high class.

Then as if that was not enough, the immigration issue has heated up in recent weeks with our Prime Minister suggesting that he might even think of pulling out of the CSME (or is it out of CARICOM?- I am not sure.)David Thompson, in response, perhaps somewhat on the defensive stated that “it has ‘never been and will not now be’ his practice to shout across the Caribbean Sea as a means of speaking to or with fellow Caribbean leaders”. Even though the manner of Gonsalves’ response might have raised some questions, he definitely had the sympathy of Guyanese and others, including Vincentians who have always had a difficult time with Barbadian Immigration officers. Jagdeo, on the other hand, had for some time been complaining about the treatment of Guyanese in the region and so was quick to jump into the fray. Although Barbados was singled out, especially with Thompson’s new Immigration strategy, it is clear that Barbados is not the only offender. Are these things not dealt with at their regional meetings?

But at this stage I am not particularly concerned with the details of the Immigration issue. My concern is what is happening with CARICOM so that these things are surfacing at a time when Caribbean citizens are looking to the body to provide regional solutions to the problems plaguing us. Instead we see signs of growing fragmentation with Barbadians defending their Prime Minister and hitting out at fellow CARICOM citizens.

While all of this is happening, we are hearing from the CARICOM Secretary General that Caribbean integration is not now a matter of choice but one of absolute necessity. Our own Prime Minister is quoted in Trinidad as saying that the economic crisis would lead to regional political integration. Caribbean people must clearly be confused by what is happening. Following the recent CARICOM meeting in Trinidad, Newsday reported: “CARICOM must develop a common economic strategy to help the region better weather the continued onslaught of the world financial crisis. This was the consensus reached by Caricom leaders following a special meeting at the Prime Minister’s Diplomatic Centre in St.Ann’s yesterday.” Amazing! We are now about to enter the sixth month of the year. The global economic crisis has been with us since last year but now we hear Caricom leaders speaking about the need to develop a common economic strategy. I thought that was what they were about. They have now agreed that there has to be a regional solution to the problems of CLICO and the British American Insurance Company. How could it be otherwise? So why are they mouthing these things now? Have they now found out?

Our homeland has become the first country in the Americas to request financial assistance from the IMF under its Exogenous Shocks Facility that provides policy support and financial assistance to poor countries suffering from the economic fallout caused by the global economic crisis. Our Prime Minister is encouraging others to join him and have something of a regional approach, it appears. What is happening? We are obviously filling holes, but the climate in the region is marked by increased crime, and in the case of our homeland publicity about police brutality with the top bracket of our Police Force being prominently pictured on the front page of at least one of our newspapers in fatigue uniform. Trinidad has now topped Jamaica with criminal activity. Need I say more? What signal is the region really sending? Are we developing the right kind of climate to facilitate development? Then to throw something else on to the table the IMF has recently stated that the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union is in a recession which could deepen later this year. The picture does not look very encouraging. Is this behind the immigration bad talk? What else is likely to emerge? Is police brutality going to be another sign of the times? We have really lost our way. So what do you expect from Gayle and company?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.