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Recalibrating Caricom in the midst of confusion

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Close Caricom-watchers were justifiably sceptical about the prospects for anything positive or overly meaningful emerging from the 29th Inter-sessional meeting of regional leaders in Haiti which ended yesterday.

The pre-conference dispatch from Caricom public servants did its best to put a brave face on a rather grim scenario, but no serious observer would have been impressed … or fooled.

Both Grenada and Antigua & Barbuda are on the home-stretch to general elections due on March 13 and 21 respectively; Jamaica and T&T are grappling with varying degrees of failure on criminal violence; Guyana is almost entirely distracted from the regional process on account of an imminent oil and gas windfall and president Granger indicated early he would be absent “to focus on domestic issues.”

Barbados is meanwhile likely to enter election season soon just as raw sewage dampens its tourist shoreline and opposition parliamentarians vow to stay off the job. It was there last week that St Vincent prime minister Ralph Gonsalves faced the wrath of women protesters drawing attention to the Yugge Farrel judicial travesty via rather politely-worded posters calling for “gender justice” and “justice for all.”

It is difficult to escape the metaphor of turbulent waters and of ships on the verge of running terminally aground. The storms of 2017 may yet pale in comparison and no better place than Haiti to host and anchor the imagery.

Port-au-Prince has hardly ever been a picture of peace and serenity. As important as the malpractice of international aid workers is, chronically dysfunctional institutions of democracy only just hold the semblance of a coherent state together in a country that recently earned obscene global mention.

Additionally, just as inclined as we have been to conflate the issues of criminal violence and the threat of “terrorism” the conference agenda, in tagging its main features, failed to make the technical distinction to produce meaningful discourse. It’s almost as if our acting commissioner’s pre-Carnival declaration of criminal terror—of criminals “terrorising” innocents—has, by external edict and verdict, been graduated to finely-orchestrated murderous Caribbean reality.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not that there have not been longstanding connivances to replicate an international as opposed to domestic “hotspot” right here, but failure upon failure has correspondingly characterised our collective actions to stem the flow of blood at the hands of criminals.

In a sense, denial of this belies our own culpability in taking us to this point. It cannot be, we often contend, that it is we who have spawned such ubiquitous danger and tragedy.

Then comes the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) with Jamaica’s perennial self-doubt once more on public display through the (Bruce) Golding Report on the island’s relations with Caricom and the Caribbean Forum within the ACP-EU process.

The report is not easily dismissed, though, especially as it draws attention to several key realities of the single market project that are of relevance to other members of the grouping including, and especially, T&T. 

Regrettably, having effectively relinquished a leadership role in the process, T&T remains recalcitrant, fretting observers rather than active agents making sure it works on our behalf. This did not begin yesterday with the appointment of an uninspiring minister, but is part of a process that gained new traction between 2010 and 2015.

Yet, even though the bare bones of the existing CSME infrastructure have yielded net positive results for T&T, there is vacuous, ill-informed public discussion on this critical regional mechanism. Here, the Chamber of Commerce, the TTMA and other stakeholders need to work harder to engage their publics in enlightened discussion and debate.

I can guarantee that we will make an absolute mess of any attempt to replicate the Golding Report here, despite our more seasoned engagement of the CSME process over the years.

If the Haiti Inter-sessional achieved one thing, it ought to have been getting all of us, as interested parties, to read what the Jamaican elite have produced as their considered position on the regional project.

Ironically, the next substantive Caricom Heads of Government Meeting takes place in July in Jamaica where, by then, the political smoke would have cleared in more than one country and a clinical analysis conducted to achieve what the Golding Report describes as “a firm but calibrated response” to the CSME challenge.


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