Caribbean Integration Promises not kept: CARICOM needs a Renaissance
Ambassador Curtis Ward
(Full text of Podcast)
(26 March 2022) — The Treaty of Chaguaramas, signed, July 4, 1973, by four Caribbean visionary leaders, establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), setting out their vision, hope, and optimism to create regional integration, by creating an economic and cooperative arrangement after the demise of the West Indies Federation more than a decade earlier, was an historical achievement for the nascent independent democracies of the Caribbean region.
But nearly five decades later, integration of the former colonies, now independent sovereign states, as envisioned by prime ministers Errol Barrow of Barbados, Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Michael Manley of Jamaica, and Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad & Tobago, remains an unrealized dream. With CARICOM now comprised of 14 independent countries plus Montserrat, the promise made to the people of the Caribbean – regional integration, which we wistfully refer to as ‘one Caribbean’ – is largely unmet.
Now, more than ever, in an unstable global environment in which the challenges to small vulnerable states are compounded by the geopolitical and severe economic impacts caused by military conflicts on battlefields thousands of miles away and the existential threats from climate change right there at home, Caribbean regional consolidation and unity should be priority for political leaders across the region. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is desperately in need of a renaissance!
Who among current Caribbean leaders will take the region out of its malaise is difficult to determine, as each country’s leader seems more interested in leveraging its bilateral and multilateral relations to serve its narrow national interests even at the expense of regionalism and in disregard of the legal commitments they have made under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas?
With a new Secretary-General in the CARICOM Secretariat, perhaps she will use her good office to constantly remind the leaders of the commitments they have made and cajole and persuade them to implement them. Perhaps she will not remain silent on the implementation deficit of each member state, and she will publish a scorecard so the people of the region may be fully informed of their own country’s lack of implementation. Hardly anyone in the region knows what is agreed and what is being implemented, or not, and by whom. Informing the public is long overdue.
We hear often about the implementation deficit. Despite the many well-meaning declarations and renewed commitments made by Caribbean leaders, over the years, regional integration remains elusive. The realization of the dream is due primarily to the lack of political will and insularism as governments across the region, rather than lead in this noble endeavor, frequently pursue narrow national interests, often for short-term political and marginal economic gains rather than advancing regional progress.
This is not what the original signers had in mind even though cognizant of the history and legacy of the failed West Indies Federation just over a decade earlier. They knew at the very outset there would be obstacles and sacrifices necessary to overcome insularity and make regional integration a reality in order to maximize the potential benefits of this new Caribbean Community construct for the people of the region bonded together as one Caribbean not only words but deeds.
Dr. Eric Williams in welcoming Caribbean leaders to a CARICOM conference in Port of Spain in 1974 appealed to his colleagues to move the integration process forward without delay. He expressed optimism that the future of Caribbean regionalism could progress if the political will existed. He told his colleagues that thy have “a very formidable agenda on very crucial issues facing the entire commonwealth Caribbean region at this particular time.” He went on to say, “I merely express the hope that at this very long meeting scheduled for this week we’ll have constructive decisions that would allow the cooperation and integration to proceed more rapidly than it had in the past because of the pressing issues in the outside world we all have to face.”
(Dr. Eric Williams can be heard on my Podcast “Real Talk with Ambassador Curtis Ward” as he welcomed his colleagues to Port of Spain.)
A decade later, Michael Manley a tireless advocate for one Caribbean, though committed to regional integration as an important feature of the region’s future prosperity in a challenging world environment, realized that the slow pace of regional integration was untenable. He consistently urged his Caribbean colleagues to move the process forward. Speaking on CARICOM Day on July 4, 1979, a decade-and-a-half after signing the Treaty, Manley made the case he had made many times before. Manley said:
“In spite of the many problems, and the inevitable problems, I must say that I have a basically very positive view of what has been taking place. I think there are very, very positive developments that have been taking place that must not be allowed to be overshadowed by the difficulties. I look for instance at the development of trade within the region which I think has been very significant and which must be good for the economic development of the area. … In some of the international bodies, the Caribbean is beginning to develop a voice and a presence that is something more perhaps than the sum total of its parts because of the CARICOM element of the total experience.
‘Obviously, the integration side of the process has been the area of weakest performance, and we have to be patient because this is the hardest thing to make work. The thing that I would most like to urge in all humility and every respect is that we all continue to have confidence in ourselves, in the region, and in the fundamental worth of CARICOM. I think that we have to be patient with the difficulties but above all have faith in the eventual outcome. It is a good thing and I think it’s going to be a great midwife of regional development of which we will all benefit in due course.”
(Michael Manley can be heard on my Podcast “Real Talk with Ambassador Curtis Ward” speaking on the importance of Caribbean integration.)
Several years later, it was Jamaican prime minister P. J. Patterson who kept the fire burning for Caribbean regional integration. He entreated his colleagues at every opportunity to move the process forward. He was joined to varying degrees by prime ministers A.N.R. Robinson of Trinidad & Tobago, and Owen Arthur of Barbados. Despite Patterson’s unwavering commitment and advocacy, CARICOM sputtered.
Yet, Caribbean regional integration continues to be an imperative for the region and its people. In his book “My Political Journey,” published in 2018, former Jamaican prime minister P.J. Patterson described the Caribbean region and its people in these words. He wrote,
“Nowhere else on the planet is there a region where encounters between people of different cultures have been as challenged as to make sense of human existence in modern times as in the Caribbean, where such encounters between Africa, Europe, and Asia and they, in turn with the indigenous Native Americans (Caribs, Arawaks, and Tainos) have resulted in dynamic interplay to produce a new and unique people shaping what many of us describe as a Caribbean civilization.”
In his closing argument to CARICOM leaders, prime minister Patterson said,
“It is to that civilization that a reformed CARICOM must pay far more attention if that sense of self and society embedded in a strong regional consciousness is to be fostered. For it is such regionalism, rooted in psychic and intellectual commitment, that will sustain the institutions that are vital but by themselves will mean nothing without the passionate commitment by those who must lead, manage, operate and constantly evaluate them.”
Mr. Patterson’s words ring true today.
Caribbean integration is an issue which affect the future of the Caribbean and its slow pace is of great interest in the diaspora and in the region. Mr. Patterson recognized the deficiencies and weaknesses in the Community’s decision-making, and the lack of authority in the CARICOM Secretariat to implement the decisions made.
To fix these problems, former prime minister Patterson, in July 2003, as chair of CARICOM, on the cusp of the Community’s 30th Anniversary, submitted a document entitled “CARICOM beyond Thirty: Charting New Directions” offering several recommendations to address weaknesses in CARICOM’s implementation mechanism. One such recommendation was that
“the community’s institutional machinery be further strengthened by the establishment of a CARICOM Commission in the near future in order to introduce a meaningful executive function at the regional level and strengthen implementation in the community.”
Not all Caribbean leaders were prepared to take this giant step forward and this recommendation has not been acted upon.
Two and half years later, in January 2006, Mr. Patterson in his final CARICOM meeting before his retirement, again exhorted his colleagues, as follows:
“I implore you never to abandon that passionate commitment to the full advancement of the region…” and warned that, “The people we serve will judge us on the basis of the actions we have taken to enhance theirs and that of future generations.”
He implored his colleagues that they should “together advance, with courage and determination.”
In retirement, the former prime minister continued to advocate for reform of the Community and for the integration process.
While crediting the Community on successes of the regional functional organizations it had established, He issued words of dire warning in a speech he gave in Georgetown, Guyana, in 2013.
In his speech entitled, “A Cri de Coeur for CARICOM: Lest we wither on the Vine”, he detailed some “decisive steps” that he said were “urgently required to rescue CARICOM, or else life support may come too late to prevent coma.”
Some argue that CARICOM is now in a coma.
Mr. Patterson warned that regional integration will not “be achieved without a renewal of political commitment; implementation of long outstanding decisions and the design of fresh initiatives that can ignite the imagination and meaningfully engage the interests of our people.”
He implored Caribbean leaders to combine their efforts, “to move our Caribbean people on the path of economic prosperity and social progress to ensure that we fashion a Caribbean civilization embedded in strong regional consciousness and rooted in the promotion of human dignity for those who call the Caribbean their home.”
I had the opportunity to interview former prime minister Patterson for CaribNation television in his office in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2017, reflecting on his long record trying to advance the integration movement. I asked him to share his thoughts on the future of CARICOM.
Mr. Patterson highlighted a few areas where progress could be made and was hopeful that a report by another former Jamaican prime minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, who chaired the “Commission to Review Jamaica’s Relations within CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks”, would be a stimulant to regional integration.
Mr. Golding’s report, given to prime minister Holness in March 2017, confirmed much of what we already knew – there was an “implementation deficit” in CARICOM. Mr. Golding’s Executive Summary was explicit on the importance of regional integration. He called out Caribbean leaders who were “… unwilling to let go of our insular and protectionist predilections yet constantly reciting cliché declarations of commitment to the integration effort” which he said was not sustainable.
The Golding Commission made 33 recommendations to cure CARICOM’s “implementation deficit.” Suffice it to say, five years later, there is a deficit in implementing those recommendations.
In more recent times, there have been worrisome signs of Caribbean insularity and disunity. We have seen where some political leaders in the region have allowed themselves to be used and manipulated in the geopolitical competition of major economic powers. New levels of Caribbean disunity and dysfunction were exposed during the shambolic foreign policy of the Trump administration. A minority of Caribbean political leaders allowed themselves to be bamboozled into support of Trump’s chaotic regional and global policies. The awkward and infra dig scene at Mar-a-Lago of four Caribbean leaders marked a low point for CARICOM. It was not a proud moment for the Caribbean region and the diaspora.
Now, faced with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and despite the brave resistance of the people of Ukraine to Russia’s empire expansionism and their defense of democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of weak states, CARICOM members are again displaying disunity and exposing the weaknesses of the integration movement.
CARICOM needs a Renaissance!
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post