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April 9, 2013

PM Gonsalves repents: ‘CARICOM on pause’

Tue Apr 9, 2013

Editor: As a good Catholic, Prime Minister Dr Hon. Ralph Gonsalves was moved to repentance in a February 9, 2012 letter to Ambassador Irwin La Rocque, Secretary General of CARICOM and his fellow Presidents and Prime Ministers of the region, in which he stated:{{more}}

“But surely, the times demand that we move resolutely beyond minimalism which inexorably leads to regression; ‘pausing’ is but a euphemism for standing still, which in a dynamic world is sliding backwards. That, to me, is the evidence before us in CARICOM since its leaders, including me, decided at a special conclave in Guyana about a year ago to put the ‘single economy’ process on pause.”

Throughout the eight pages of soul searching and penance, Dr. Gonsalves removes the trappings of political expediency and garb to exorcise the demon of “in-built lethargy in our collective regional political leadership, bureaucratic inertia and public cynicism” that continues to plague the region’s integration movement. Those who have followed PM Gonsalves long and industrious career, beginning at the University of the West Indies as President of the Guild of Students, through his twelve years as Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, compassing over forty years of political experience locally, regionally and internationally, would no doubt be moved to repeat the comforting words, “Go my child, your sin has been forgiven.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK Guardian newspaper on March 25, 2013 carried two important stories that are of particular relevance to regional watchers and integration protagonists. British Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled new policy initiatives that seek to curb a ‘culture of benefits and welfare’ that has been generously extended to both UK nationals and EU migrants.
Following the thrashing for the Eastleigh constituency by the anti-immigration, right wing UKIP party recently, David Cameron continues to move his party further to the ideological right to appease voters who are wary of ‘Austerity Britain’ and open borders. In other news, the world watches and the market dips as another European country [Cyprus] is faced with the tough [Germanic troika] choice of “cut or go.” As the world economy continues to teeter along a plane of strained financial systems with inflated balances, the big brothers in the EU continue a march of saving the euro above all else. All around the world, the dark days of nationalism are back in style and CARICOM may well have benefitted from their implementation impotence.

The grand integration project visualised in a CSME is an exquisite dream whose oracles are safeguarded in the hallowed halls of the University of the West Indies and other regional institutions, guarded by professors, taught to their student disciples, evangelised by our politicians and rejected by the masses it is intended to save. As you gaze into the darkness of long talk, the nature of which resides in the phenomenon of the ‘same ole khaki pants,’ the obtrusive truth is always in the details. The biblical story of Moses is instructive.
Moses was denied the opportunity to journey over the river Jordan into the promised land. Instead, God chose Joshua to lead the people and to continue the work that Moses did many years earlier. Our current political elite class persists in a rebellious immortally feigned mentality that the decisions they make today are for their personal benefit. As such, CSME and its adjunct narrative and folklore are seen only to revolve around the ‘Moses of now.’ In essence, unless the current heads of CARICOM can put aside their generational tepidness, indifference and classic hero fallacy formed in the cellar of post-colonial postulating, cold-war ideological warfare and specious ‘anointing’, the ‘Joshua-ites of tomorrow’ will neither cross.

Our Condition

Dr Gonsalves continued to lament: “There has been much success in the area of functional cooperation but often one gets the impression that success is assured mainly when the policies, programmes or projects are driven by the funding and will of an external agency.” For those who continue to watch the mirage of a 40-year-old dream fade in the complex socio-economic and political wilderness currently facing individual economies, they would have noticed that we have turned our backs on the biblical and secular ‘Neighbourly Principles.’
For who is my neighbour? Is my neighbour the one whose children play football on the village streets in Vieux Fort, St Lucia or simply the one I see every day? Should I consider the Jamaican in the St Ann’s district burdened, as the country again is wrapped in the clutches of the IMF? Should I consider my comrades in Guyana or Trinidad affected by heinous crimes? Are they not all my neighbours? Instead we have chosen to walk the desert alone, functionally supportive in a parasitic individualistic survival mechanism and dismissive of forming a hybrid associative contributory mechanism capable of helping neighbour and self. It is a Russian roulette, a game of chance, betting on a minimal inter-governmental framework.

Maybe, I approach this matter too simple-minded, innocent and untested. I may not have given much credence to the strengths of the debates that have taken place even before I was born or the work of successive community leaders. It is not difficult to imagine that I am too blinded by the stories of one from ten leaves nought, a failed West Indian Commission, the unattended stack of commissioned reports, including the Rose Hall Declaration towards mature regionalism and more.
Yet, I am still convinced if we take up our bed and walk, then the impossible is achievable and doubters can become believers. As a region, we have been tried and tested and developed out of historical injustices and wrongs that threatened our very existence. We have lived relatively peacefully among ourselves and share a common desire to achieve universal prosperity. Out of this context, why are we saboteurs of our own progress? Are we still engrossed to a ‘Massa’ complex, of an inferiority deficit in our own skills and abilities? If so, when and how will we emancipate ourselves from mental slavery? No doubt we can talk, there are so many different patois across our islands to support this, but, we have been ailing for a long time from a condition of self-defeat.

Sticking points

The cracks behind the toothless communiques and community decisions are evident. On regional air transport, we are divided. We are divided at our borders by the treatment meted out to fellow CARICOM citizens, particularly Guyanese, Jamaicans and Haitians. We have abused our regional institutions like the University of the West Indies by failing to make timely financial contributions and fees. On and on, leaders fail to muster the courage to implement decisions taken at the regional level.
So, for those of us, who as teenagers were taught the saving grace of the regional movement, who would have read about Grenada’s Prime Minister Hon. Keith Mitchell in Common Entrance class or the indefatigable Dr Denzil Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis, are bemused by stories that leaders are yet again recommitting to regionalism. Just as it was almost aghast that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, after leading Barbados for many years, found the BLP to have been deficient of another ‘anointed’ leader lo lead the party in the just concluded elections there.

I recall all the radio promotions, television series and press conferences a decade ago that ushered in a Caribbean jurisprudence to be realised from a CCJ, but alas, even the host country is yet to cut the British umbilical cord. Governments across the region have put up constitutional barriers to accession, but since when these barriers have prevented us from doing anything we wanted to. In Kingstown, the ‘hardworking’ government famously worked on a Sunday to make retroactive legislation before a court matter.
In Trinidad, host of the CCJ, the half baked bread to cede criminal jurisdiction is yet to materialize but the controversial ‘section 34’ was sped through under the radar that even the bill movers later suffered from whip-lash. Opposition and governments continue to play hide and seek on all these critical issues, to our detriment. But, if as a citizen, you express doubt that we will ever get things done, you are labelled and called the worst names, described as backward and other descriptive jargon that singes the ears. If you express disappointment in what can only be ‘political charade’, then your office of citizen is below the threshold to be considered constructive criticism but mischief making.

Time for Action

Dr. Gonsalves ended his homily, “The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that: ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.’ The clarion call of old is still relevant: Time for Action.” Just this week, Dominica has decided it is time for action. Grenada has re-affirmed its commitment, while Haiti and Suriname are pushing for deeper collaboration. Where this new berth takes the regional movement is anyone’s guess. However, what is certain, this year marks the 40th year we have been saying, ‘It is time for action.’ What is also undisputable is well summed up by Professor Havelock Brewster:” regionalism, for all that is said about its survive or perish importance by political leaders, is run on a shoe string and mendicancy.”

I pray that the Joshua-ites will be more than willing to answer the call ahead. In the interim, I hope this opinion serves to jolt our regional leaders to understand that mature regionalism is not obtained through institutions, but through all of us. The time for action is not to implement, but for us to first mature from infantile grandstanding.

Adaiah J Providence-Culzac

Zhejiang University, China

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