IT is said that history provides a window of insight to the present. Our experiment at regional integration through the organization named CARICOM, has in the minds of most citizens of the Caribbean been a failure. Heads of Government meet yearly, decisions are taken, commitments are given, and promises are broken. CARICOM is broken, and the earlier we accept that fact and begin a process of renewal, the better it will be for the Caribbean.
I began to look at our first experiment called the West Indies Federation, to observe the historical issues related to its collapse. This creation of the Federation was driven more by the UK Government as against a rising of regional integration fervor among the West Indian populace. As it was for emancipation, it was a money matter. Coming out of World War 2, the British colonies of the Caribbean were now being seen as a financial burden, and thus the thinking was that if there was consolidation of services in a federal type system, the cost to the Exchequer would be reduced.
However some countries did not see themselves as part of a wider Caribbean. The Bahamas and Bermuda believed their future lay with an association with the USA, Belize saw themselves as a Central American state, The British Virgin Islands believed their future lay with the United States Virgin Islands and Guyana was focused on their independence. The Bahamas, Bermuda, Belize, the British Virgin Islands and Guyana did not participate in the West Indies Federation.
In the late 1950’s the economy of Jamaica was the strongest in the Caribbean, and it was the general belief of the leading politicians of that era, Bustamante and Norman Manley, that there would have been mass migration from the smaller islands into Jamaica. Eric Williams from Trinidad wanted a federal government where there was free movement of people and goods, a matter that brought fundamental differences between Williams and Manley. Both Williams and Manley did not participate in the elections for the Federal Government. The absence of these two leaders paved the way for the entrance of Grantley Adams as the first leader of the Federation and our own Karl La Corbinere as deputy leader.
One would want to believe that Williams, the historian, would have perceived that the Federation would have collapsed and would have known that the core intent of the push by the UK Government was one driven by finance. Both Williams’ and Manley’s eyes obviously were on independence and being the first Prime Ministers of their independent countries. The Federation collapsed in January 1962, with Jamaica withdrawing in 1961 and Trinidad following soon after, with Williams’ famous mathematical pronouncement that “one from ten leaves zero”. It is no coincidence that seven months later, in the month of August 1962 that both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago gained independence.
What lessons can be learned from the collapse of the West Indies Federation? Firstly is the issue of connectivity. The leaders of the West Indies Federation understood that for it to survive you must have a functional regional transportation system. Negotiations were started to purchase BWIA, as they rightly saw air transportation as critical, and the Canadian government donated two ships –The Federal Maple and the Federal Palm. CARICOM to this date has not understood the importance of regional transportation to the integration process. It still takes you six hours to reach Saint Lucia from Tortola, and you cannot get into Grenada or Dominica and leave the same day. As someone who has traveled the Caribbean for many years, it has become an excellent model for the development of patience. Regional travel by sea is non –existent, and this has to be seen as critical in the integration process. It is a matter that the OECS Secretariat must also consider; true integration begins with a proper transportation system. OECS citizens can now move freely within the region, but that is of no consequence if the cost is prohibitive and access is difficult.
Secondly, the issue of size plays a role in how leaders deal with regional partners. Despite all the rhetoric the larger countries do not see the OECS states as equal partners in the region. This is the frank truth. It is ironically the reason that the OECS has been able to survive, in that size of land space, population, and size of economies are not too far apart. With the intense pace of integration within the OECS, it may be prudent that the OECS presents itself as one state with one voice in CARICOM.
What is the future for CARICOM? The organization will be with us in the next ten years, and we will still be discussing about 90% of the matters that are at present at the discussion table. Ten percent would have been accomplished in the next 10 years.
I see a greater role for the OECS Secretariat in the next 10 years. The OECS is now a model for Caribbean integration. The successes of the OECS are outstanding and it is time that greater effort and focus is placed on the proper functioning of the organization. You cannot house such an important organization in these derelict buildings on the Morne. You cannot have these important services scattered in all little spaces. I visited the offices about two years ago, and had to leave the room due to the air quality.
I am again proposing that the new offices at Point Seraphine be used as the new Headquarters of the OECS Secretariat. It is purpose built, with excellent conference settings. I urge the governments of the OECS to pay special attention to this organization, as it is the vehicle for economic growth within the region.
CARICOM will succeed when the OECS is a functional economic and political union. We cannot fail the next generation.
(With the strong urging of my daughter, I have started a website in which all past and future articles are placed for future reading. You may visit it a www.johnapeters.com. I wish to publicly thank my dear Jevonne for being the Web-designer also. )