IT was no accident that Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley delivered her maiden speech to fellow CARICOM leaders here at last week’s 65th OECS summit. After all, the opportunity arose in the country of the first public political outing (eons ago) of the now-leader of the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Ms Mottley, also an attorney, has more than once revisited – and for more than only political reasons. As a senior Barbados Cabinet minister in 2012, she addressed a then-ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) annual conference in Vieux Fort South; and returned in 2016, as BLP Leader, to support the then-Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) in that year’s General Elections.
The BLP’s history actually places it more akin with the UWP than the SLP. Under the late Prime Minister JMG ‘Tom’ Adams, the then BLP administration of Barbados in 1983 earned the wrath of Labour Parties of the SLP type across the region for its role in the US intervention in Grenada.
But it wasn’t ‘Tom’ Adams who stood alongside then US President Ronald Reagan to give OECS blessings to the US troops that were already under way to Grenada.
Approaching 35 years after Grenada’s October intervention, Barbados, under the current BLP leader, is (again) courting collaboration, albeit of a different type, with the six OECS nations.
Invitations aimed at forging regional unity are always welcome. But the jury is still out on the extent to which the age-old but worthy pursuits by governments and institutions of largely elusive and evasive regional integration have sufficiently borne the required or desired results for Caribbean people.
CARICOM and the OECS have scored noteworthy successes in building worthy regional mechanisms — be it the long-established global stability of the EC dollar, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), or the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
But history has also always thrown-up leaders and ruling parties, over time, whose commitment to regionalism and integration falter when put to the test, less (among them) being prepared to pilot the necessary mechanisms through their national parliaments to give full expression to most of the lofty goals they largely commit to at summits.
Jamaica’s torpedoing of the Federation is still not yet a distant memory. Levels of inequality still breed more suspicion than mutual trust between the private sectors in Barbados and other larger CARICOM states and their much-smaller OECS competitors. Each island still offers the stiffest possible competition for the same regional tourism dollar. Not enough support ceding national airspace to a true regional airline. And none seem ready to even table a real proposal for a regional inter-island ferry service, far less to advocate a return to the ease and certainty of regional travel between Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago on the two ships donated to the region by Canada for the Federation, the Federal Palm and the Federal Maple.
The OECS has constantly strengthened its institutional capacity to better serve its member-states. It’s also done well to develop close and strong working ties with the French Antilles (and succeeding administrations in Paris), as well as with Latin American neighbors.
OECS-Barbados cooperation today, while necessary, has to be seen and treated within the context and realm of existing possibilities. Each nation concerned faces overwhelming national and domestic challenges of various types that eventually limit its will and/or ability to sufficiently walk the talk at the regional level.
Levels and areas of cooperation, therefore, have to be well-selected to avoid the ultimate goal of maximizing regional cooperation being minimized by overdoses of well-meaning but misplaced optimism.