Clear vision needed for regional bloc

There is much to discuss at CARICOM’s 28th Conference of Heads of Government meeting later this week. The pre-released itinerary indicated that, among other things, the treaty enabling CARICOM member countries to issue arrest warrants across the member states will be on the agenda for this year.

However, we would imagine that recent political tensions in Dominica and serious crimes reported in several CARICOM countries will be on the minds of attendees, if not formally addressed. The charges levelled by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt of Dominica are serious and disturbing. According to his statement in an address to the nation, Prime Minister Skerritt has point-blanked declared the protests, which turned violent last Tuesday, as an attempted coup by the opposition parties, while leader of the United Workers Party Lennox Linton has emphatically denied the accusation. The protests and subsequent detainment and release of UWP legislator Dr. Marcus Fontaine are deeply concerning to any one in the region wary of the problems this tension can create. CARICOM has recognised this and issued a statement expressing ‘deep distress’ over the developments.

In general, it has been said that the only thing that joins these little nations in the region better than anything is cricket, even as the West Indies team’s fortunes have waxed and waned. Over the years, CARICOM has evolved – some might say stumbled sluggishly – into a regional bloc that advocates for Caribbean unity. The other common factor has been a generally shared history that connected us under the ties of colonial (largely) British rule. Our political advocacy as a region is seen in the consistent calls over the years for the removal of the trade and economic embargo on Cuba by the United States or as a unified voice of small, island developing states/developing nations bemoaning climate change and pushing towards renewable energy. Our humanitarian outreach to member states affected by natural disasters is a good example of being our neighbour’s keeper, and we have seen a freer movement of professionals across the region that has facilitated citizens’ ability to find work in other countries.

Though CARICOM’s Secretariat has been engaging in workshops around the region recently to train school teachers in some countries on the Caribbean Single Market (CSME), the grouping has always suffered for not connecting with the wider Caribbean public on what the community entails and the necessity for banding together. The full implementation of CSME – the single market and economy – was to be a key, defining moment of unity for our countries. Instead, it has stagnated, with members dragging their feet and the citizenry of each country seemingly as unenthused. Meanwhile, though the Caribbean Court of Justice has been created for intra-regional, judicial matters, only Barbados, Belize and Guyana are the few states out of 15 that recognise the CCJ as their highest court of appeal. St. Lucia and Grenada have taken steps to follow suit and Dominica has signed on to the CCJ’s Appellate Jurisdiction.

There are many regionalists who decry the lack of urgency with respect to full commitment to the bloc, while member states continue to treat CARICOM in a dispensable manner. All too well do the members of this grouping know how drugs, mounting crime, political instability and economic fallout can affect our small nations. In a time of uncertainty over the future of our region with Brexit and the election of a nationalistic US president, time will tell if we make CARICOM a serious agency or advance one step forward and take two steps back.

Barbados Advocate

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