Yet again the importance of regional integration and the challenges raised with regional travel were among the talking points when regional leaders and stakeholders gathered here in Barbados this week for a series of events.
There is perhaps no bigger advocate for finding solutions to those problems than Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, who holds lead responsibility among CARICOM Heads for the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. Since coming to office, she hit the ground running, preaching to all and sundry of the need for the region to unite – to fast track regional integration and better facilitate intra-regional travel. To some she may sound like a broken record and more work will have to be done to get those persons on board, but there are others who truly understand that there is strength in numbers. If we are to ever see this elusive concept finally come to fruition, they must help to spread the message far and wide, for if we continue to fail at getting a proper grasp on integration, it will be to the further detriment of our region.
Face it, we have simply paid lip service to the integration movement, and done just the bare minimum to really come together as one, sending many studies that have been done to file 13. But as small island developing states who share a common geographical space, it is in our interest to join forces and work together for the benefit of each other.
Now it has been suggested that one of the reasons why the efforts to integrate have failed, is because they have been government led. What is needed is for the efforts to get the buy-in of the people and then to be advocated for by the people. If the people do not agree with, believe and internalise the precepts of regionalism, then it will not be successful.
The fact is there is much insularity within the Caribbean, which has bred xenophobia. But we are all one – all that really separates us is the ocean between us. Regional heads talk about coming together, but there are some not willing to open their doors so far as the free movement of persons is concerned – but you cannot pick and choose when to be part of the collective.
So if we are to be successful in the regionalism thrust, we need to promote regionalism at the level of the household, explaining to them the benefits that can be achieved through full regional integration. If each and every man, woman and child can be encouraged to support the concept, then it takes root in their psyches and eventually in our countries. To help in that effort, CARICOM Day must take centre stage and be truly celebrated across in our countries, for as it stands now, the day goes by virtually unnoticed.
The fact is that few Caribbean nationals know that July 4th is CARICOM Day. Sadly, for them when they think of that date, it is the independence of the United States that comes to mind, not the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas which created CARICOM.
That Treaty was a defining moment in the history of the Caribbean, but much of what it was expected to achieve in many ways have not touched the average people in the Caribbean. Today, if you ask someone on the streets of Bridgetown, Kingston or any of the other capital cities of the CARICOM Member States what the Treaty of Chaguaramas is and the intended goals, it is unlikely that any of them will be able to give you a clear picture. The people need to feel that they are part of the process, including the meetings of the Heads of Government and the various arms of CARICOM – if people are brought into their confidence, then they feel part of the process and are willing to help lead the charge.