THE volcanic activity in neighbouring Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has triggered an outpouring of kindness from countries in the English-speaking Caribbean that warms not only the heart, but sends a direct and strong signal to the citizens of these countries that they are all one people despite their separation by water.
For the past nine days or so, echoes of assistance to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have reverberated along the chain of islands dotting the Caribbean Sea. Countries up and down this archipelago have opened their doors to Vincentians saying firmly, “come, we are willing and ready to help you.”
While we understand that a ‘willingness to serve’ is different to a ‘readiness to serve’ the stance taken to date by the various Caribbean countries is exemplary and should be noted.
But looking deeper, the disruption of life and the other hardships forced upon Vincentians by the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano, should give governments of the region reasons to pause, reflect and re-examine the roles they have played in groups like the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
As a smaller country both in physical size and economy, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines identifies with other countries under the umbrella body known as the OECS. These countries are basically the same. Their size and micro economies, taken individually, make them extremely weak and vulnerable to natural and man-made shocks. But as a collective, these countries can weather some of those shocks, which they have done in several areas by having a single, central bank, supreme court, stock exchange, securities market, telecommunications authority, civil aviation authority, harmonised policies on procurement of pharmaceuticals and fishing, climate change, and more.
The OECS, for many years now, and despite its oneness in several areas, as listed above, still continues to struggle in finding its purpose, which is to end poverty and create a brighter future for the citizens of its nine members. It also recognises that to do that it needs to deal with a range of social needs that require strategies that for some reason or another, are not as easily implemented as the OECS Commission would wish.
What the current situation in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has also revealed is the need for governments of the region, particularly those in the OECS, to do less talking and engage in more action to bring into force this much talked about common market that involves the free integration of people and labour.
While it will be quickly pointed out that significant strides have been made over the years to secure the foundation for a thriving common market – resulting in the successful establishment of the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union in January, 2011, which promises greater trade, business, and economic opportunities, the ugly truth is that the fabric of this integration movement could be unraveled by the insularity of the politicians that make up the governments of the OECS as each group of politician tries to protect their respective turf for their own political gain.
It is hoped that the eruption of the volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines would show the movers and shakers within the sub-region how ridiculous insularity, protectionism and procrastination are regarding the integration process, since their very own country could face a disaster of similar magnitude tomorrow.
It is further hoped that what is happening in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines would move these very same movers and shakers within the OECS to recognise how essential it is for them to hasten the integration process. As noted earlier strength cannot be attained by standing alone. It is only attained through the combined efforts of many.