“TOO MANY TIMES, our countries have acquiesced to the pressures of larger, more developed states. Their approach of divide and conquer has hurt us all.”(Prime Minister of Bahamas addressing recent CARICOM Summit).
“Addressing solutions for our region requires collective intellect and will to act together.” (Extract from address of CARICOM Secretary General to Summit).
While thousands of Vincentians were celebrating the return of their beloved Carnival festival after an enforced two-year absence, regional Heads of Government, ours included were meeting in Suriname for their annual mid-year Summit. Though the Heads also meet in January of each year in what is called Inter-Sessional gatherings and also hold regular consultations using modern technology, the mid-year exchange is the most important one.
Significantly this time of year was chosen to coincide with the date of the signing of the Accord for the establishment of the Caribbean Community on July 4, 1973.This means that CARICOM will, next July, celebrate its Golden Jubilee; not bad for an integration movement of independent states separated by water.
Yet for all too many of us in the Caribbean, the mere mention of the word CARICOM stirs up negative connotations, as if there have been no successes or we do not appreciate the foresight in the establishment of CARICOM and its contribution in promoting and advancing regional integration among these scattered independent entities. Those who appreciate the accomplishments can only shudder to think what the region would be without this inconsistent institution.
There are glaring weaknesses, so succinctly demonstrated in the repetitious gap between word and deed.The quote above from the Secretary General addresses itself to this fact – commitments are made, agreements even signed but action is another matter altogether. The collective will in acting together is all too often lacking.
This also explains the second quotation above, from the Prime Minister of the Bahamas. How many times have we witnessed the capitulation of CARICOM States after publicly stated positions to the contrary? We have had the recent example of the Summit of the Americas as we had the acquiescence to a divisive invitation to selected Caricom leaders by former US President Trump as a precedent.
Then there are the constant repetitions as well. The 2022 Summit made prominent mention of a “commitment to regional transportation”. How seriously do our leaders expect to be taken on this? We played Nero while LIAT burned to nothing, preferring to court all sorts of elusive suitors. Similarly we even published a schedule and timetable for a supposed fast ferry between the islands, concrete dates and destinations, so could we believe in another one?
There is even the simple matter of a CARICOM Day holiday, a region-wide one just as the whole region has common holidays for occasions like Christmas and Easter, though significant sections of the regional population are not Christians. Where are we with that?
So, our leaders, and indeed the entire region face significant challenges and scepticism. But the CARICOM route is the only way to go, it is just that its credibility has been badly tarnished. Our leaders must acknowledge their shortcomings and get our people more involved in resuscitating the regional movement.