CARIBBEAN Community (CARICOM) Member States appear to share a common affliction – one of many. They seem to have little or no capacity for critical thinking and strategic planning. To paraphrase John Osborne, it would seem that these States spend their time mostly looking forward to the past. What other conclusion can one can reach after reading the statements made at the Opening Ceremony of last week’s Inter-sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government, which was held in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
In his address to that meeting, host Prime Minister Perry Christie called on CARCOM to take action to neutralize any adverse impact that could result from the United States’ decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. The PM urged that “… sooner rather than later (italics mine), CARICOM should engage in feasibility surveys with a view to developing a multi-destination tourism initiative with Cuba.”
Immigration and Foreign Affairs Minister, Fred Mitchell of the Bahamas built on his Prime Minister’s message, noting that the change in the attitude of the United States towards Cuba “… is a significant one in the region that has obvious economic implications, in the sense that there would be a kind of forbidden fruit impact in the first few years of any open relationship with the United States…(so) we must start speaking with Cuba on the synergies that can operate between ourselves and Cuba out of necessity and out of ensuring that our economies don’t suffer adverse impacts, but, in fact, the pie grows bigger by having a larger market.”
If the region had any appreciation of, or affinity for forward planning, these feasibility studies would have been done eons ago, and the region would likely have been locked in a multi-destination tourism initiative with Cuba. After all, Cuba is no stranger to CARICOM. All CARICOM countries have enjoyed diplomatic relations with Cuba for many decades.
Now, one might argue that the region and more particularly, the Bahamas may have feared its tourism would suffer reprisals from the USA if it had established such an initiative with Cuba. But no such reprisals came when Cuba joined the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) in 1992 or when the Caribbean joined with Cuba and others to form the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). Indeed, according to a CTO release issued in December 2014, the CTO has engaged Cuba in its activities in Canada, Latin America and Europe. So the region has had numerous avenues and opportunities to cement a solid partnership with Cuba on many initiatives, before now, and did little. Now that the proverbial horse has bolted and is roaming the open range, the region wants to do something it should have done before. And it wants to do it not NOW, but “sooner rather than later.”
Implicit in PM Christie’s statement is an assumption that Cuba would be willing to participate in a multi-destination initiative. Why would Cuba want to share its tourism pie with the Caribbean? For that matter, which Caribbean destination shares its pie with any other Caribbean destination? All are desperately competing for the same pie, much in the same way that they compete for foreign investment. So why should Cuba be any different?
If Cuba agrees to become involved in any such initiative, it would be out of the goodness of its heart; not out of any deep sense of gratitude to the region. For in truth and in fact, apart from the odd, almost perfunctory calls for an end of the USA’s unreasonable blockade of Cuba, the region hasn’t really done anything of significance for Cuba; certainly nothing that can be said to be anywhere on par with all that Cuba, despite its many hardships, has done and continues to do for the region.
Cuba’s leaders are widely-read and it’s likely that they would be familiar with this passage in Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer Abroad”:
“There’s plenty of boys that will come hankering and groveling around you when you’ve got an apple, and beg the core off you; but when they’ve got one and you beg for the core and remind them how you gave them a core one time, they say “thank you” most to death, but there ain’t going to be a core.”
Cuba would likely be more willing to share more of its pie with the region, if the region offers more of its pie to Cuba. Imagine the difference it would make if Bahamas, Belize, Haiti and Jamaica joined other CARICOM member states that have waived visa requirements for Cubans. Imagine, if acting in a spirit of goodwill and “comradeship” Caribbean countries accepted say 100 Cuban students or artistes as part of an educational/cultural exchange programme; or established joint business ventures with Cuba in farming. Consider how Cuban leaders would feel if, as part of a conscious policy or strategy, Saint Lucia invited at least one Cuban band to perform at its Jazz Festival every year; or if the Saint Lucia School of Music was twinned with a music school in Cuba?
A strategic plan that included these initiatives, on their own merits, would have produced a win-win effect and would have laid the basis for a more rapid expansion of relations between the region and Cuba, in the emerging atmosphere of detente between Cuba and the US. There is still time to pursue such initiatives, based purely on the grounds of reciprocity and not with eyes cocked on Cuba’s pie.
It’s not only the warming of US-Cuba relations that has caught the region with its pants at its feet. Caribbean countries appear to have been totally surprised by the decline in global oil prices, something which was predicted by many analysts years ago, based on supply-demand dynamics shaped by the shale oil boom and the steadily growing use of renewable energy.
Any CARICOM leader who is serious about understanding future trends in the global environment and making timely, proactive adjustments in his/her country policies would be taking urgent steps to build his/her country’s strategic planning capacity. The low regard for this critical analytical and planning tool explains the lack of sound, evidence-based, data at the island/country and regional level. One needs the other. As Star Trek’s Vulcan, Mr. Spock once observed, “insufficient facts always invite danger.”
CARICOM leaders have dilly-dallied enough already. It’s time to face up to the facts. That these facts are being ignored does not mean they’re no longer facts. It’s a fact that many of the problems being faced by the region are of its own making, and are due to the unwillingness of its leaders to act purposefully, even in the face of THE most compelling evidence. The sad state of the CSME confirms this. The fact too is that the policies and programmes now being implemented will not take the region where it needs to be, at the speed that it needs to get there.
The region can move neither fast nor far, with its pants perennially at its feet.
It’s time for critical thinking and for prompt, strategic action.
By The Virginian