Letters & Opinion

CARICOM UNITY – Illusion or reality

Guest Commentary

FOR decades there have been attempts by various nations to band together and form a unified approach to how they conduct their affairs; from the Allied Forces of the World Wars to the United Nations and NATO, to the European Union and now CARICOM.

However there is a glaring truth that always emerges, and that is that sovereignty always wins out in the end, or in other words, we always seem to put the interests of our own before any so called ‘greater cause’.

We are seeing it play out today in the United Kingdom with Brexit, which has divided a nation over efforts to exit the much touted ‘European Union’, a body that emerged from a series of off and on partnerships between European Nations which was constitutionally formalised under the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009.

Barely ten years later and the people of the United Kingdom have indicated that they want out, they don’t want to share, they don’t want people to freely cross their borders and they don’t want to be told what to do.
Closer to home we see the already fragile bonds of CARICOM facing its latest test. This after U.S. President Donald Trump hand selected a group of Caribbean Leaders to meet with him on U.S. soil, supposedly because they were sympathetic to the US position on Venezuela, but which involved more in depth bi-lateral talks that saw President Trump promise to further co-operation with these leaders.

Those who made the guest-list included Jamaica’s Andrew Holness, Saint Lucia’s Allen Chastanet, the Dominican Republic’s Danilo Medina, the Bahamas’ Hubert Minnis and Haiti’s Jovenel Moise.

It led to an outcry from the leaders who were not invited, ranging from Trinidad and Tobago’s Dr. Keith Rowley’s philosophical approach that his country has ‘never stood taller, and has never stood prouder’, to Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s more aggressive assertions that he felt ‘embarrassed for those weak-minded leaders who allowed themselves to be used…’

So the big question is, has President Trump somehow ‘interfered’ with CARICOM because he reached out to those who were of a like mind regarding a very serious diplomatic development in our region? Who would he reach out to then, if not those who he could relate to?

Many ‘observers’ have knocked the five gentlemen, in particular Holness and Chastanet saying they ‘disrespected’ CARICOM in the first instance, and (in the case of Chastanet) the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in the second, and that only designated persons can speak on behalf of CARICOM. But the question I ask is this; who from the group really went there to speak about CARICOM anyway? The leaders have said most of the talk centered on trade and investments, with the US committing to sending a representative from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to visit each of those nations.

So is the President somehow ‘rewarding’ these leaders for their positions? That’s a bit insulting to the five gentlemen isn’t it? That’s implying that they cannot hold strong opinions on their own.

In fact, amidst all the cross-talk, Saint Lucia’s Chastanet made a very poignant point. He said very clearly, “At the end of the day I was elected by Saint Lucians to represent Saint Lucia.”

‘Nuff said!

I don’t know that there is any threat to CARICOM, because truth be told what is CARICOM in the first place? For three decades the body has struggled to implement even the simplest of measures, one of the most telling being the Free Movement of People, but even that has its problems.

I was speaking with an Antiguan citizen recently who said that even though she had her CARICOM Skills Certificate she was told in no uncertain terms by an immigration official in Trinidad that ‘that don’t mean nothing here.’ So what exactly are we arguing over?

We need to accept that we remain sovereign nations and independent people in a grouping that just has not delivered, and that has not inspired and motivated unity the way persons like Sir Shridath Ramphal envisioned when he presented his landmark work on unifying CARICOM called “Time for Action.” I daresay the time for action has long gone, and as we muddle over what CARICOM should be, we cannot impose restrictions on leaders who at the end of the day, are elected to represent their own people.

Britain has shown that this is not just a ‘Caribbean’ thing; it is a real issue.

The fact is that globalization has been suffering over the past few years while ‘internalization’ has been growing, and no one has been a greater champion of looking inward than Donald Trump. So the gentleman knows a thing or two about treating with individual leaders.

If CARICOM is indeed worth the paper the Treaty of Chaguaramas is written on then it should see this as an opportunity to unite, call a meeting of Heads and allow those who went to the meeting with the U.S. President to advise on how all 15 states can capitalise on their improved relationship with the United States.

In other words, can unity ‘trump’ individualism this time, or will we continue to waste time pandering to our illusions?

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