“Caribbean people are already integrated. The only people who don’t know it are the governments.”
These are the words of George Beckford, a great Caribbean thinker. He was referring to the way in which the domain of culture and of popular intercourse among Caribbean people, converges; while it diverges from the world of politics and government. Beckford’s insight is a useful point of departure for my reflections. … Read On
"Crisis" is one of those words that is used so much that it has practically lost its meaning. And if there were a competition among regional organisations on which was most often said to be "in crisis", my bet would be on Caricom winning by a wide margin.
In the run-up to the half-yearly meetings of Caricom leaders, we have become accustomed to a flurry of reports, studies, speeches and media commentaries bemoaning the sorry state of the regional movement and promising renewed attention to the dying patient.
Latest in the procession are two reports in the regional media appearing in late February, just a fortnight before the March 8-9 "Intersessional meeting' of Caricom heads of government in Suriname.
Veteran regional columnist Rickey Singh is quoting at length from a letter said to be sent by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines to newly installed Caricom Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque. The letter is said to letter offer a "blunt assessment" of Caricom.
According to the Prime Minister, "Caricom's current mode of marking time at an historical moment of overwhelmingly awesome challenges for our region which compelling demands a more profound integration, is mistaken…"; and further that "Minimalism in integration has its attractions but in our regional context, it can be fatal to our people's well-being."
One must commend Prime Minister Gonsalves for caring sufficiently about Caricom to take the trouble to craft this letter, and for his candour. But one is hard put to find anything in the extensive passages quoted that hasn't been said before.
Neither is there any hint of what specific actions Mr Gonsalves is proposing in order to salvage the regional enterprise.
I also wonder if the Prime Minister is aiming his guns at the right target. Seems to me he should be addressing his fellow heads of government directly; and with concrete proposals about how to move out of the present malaise. As everyone knows, the way that Caricom is structured endows the Secretary General with very limited authority to act on his own. More of a 'secretary" he, than a 'general'.
In any case, the expectations that accompanied Secretary General LaRocque's appointment some months or so ago, have all but dissipated. Seems to be business as usual!
Prime Minister Gonsalves concedes that he himself took part in a collective decision in 2011 to put the Single Economy "on pause"–a decision which, ironically, was taken at a Special Retreat hosted by then President Jagdeo of Guyana, which had precisely the opposite objective.
So what reason do we have to believe that the latest letter, sincere though it may be, will make one iota of difference this time around?
The second news item, coming out of Bridgetown on February 22, tells us that a "Project Management Team" has warned that "without a "fundamental change", CARICOM could expire slowly over the next few years as stakeholders begin to vote with their feet…".
Well, well. I wonder which planet these gentlemen inhabit. Don't they know that stakeholders have been "voting with their feet" for some time? Whatever happened to the Caribbean Business Council, brainchild of former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur? How active are the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce, the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce, the Caribbean Congress of Labour, the Caribbean Policy Development Centre? These organisations have just about given up on the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Don't they know that the OECS is prioritising their own union? That three CARICOM countries have joined ALBA, with two more in the queue? That Guyana and Suriname are founding members of the Union of South American States (UNASUR), and looking southwards? That Belize looks as much—if not more—to Central America as to the Caribbean? Isn't it already "every man for himself"?
I have some other news for the Project Management Team: its all been said before.
For instance, here is what the present writer wrote seven years ago:
"The pessimistic scenario is for fragmentation of the Community and eventual abandonment of the CSME as an objective. This could result with loss of momentum in the integration movement due to the difficulties discussed in this paper, the growth of 'implementation fatigue' among governments and of 'implementation cynicism' in the regional public, waning political support for integration, and increased economic divergence."
Long before that—twenty years ago, in fact, there was Time For Action – Report by the Independent West Indian Commission–which spoke at length about the 'Implementation Deficit' as the Achilles Heel of Caricom. More recently, one can point to any amount of studies, comments and warnings by regional media commentators, business leaders, academics, statesmen, leaders and former leaders. These have grown in the light of the still incomplete project to complete the Caricom Single Market—supposedly inaugurated by the governments in 2006–and the frequent missed targets for completing the Caricom Single Economy, first set for the end of 2008.
So what's new? Well, if the "Project Management Team" is supported by external donors, and has some foreign consultants among them, its report may be taken more seriously. A cynical view might be that "Aid-driven integration" and "colonial mentality" could succeed, where all else has failed. Even so, I wonder if the PMT is being correctly reported in their conclusion that "Hopes for arresting the crisis depend on a willingness on the part of Heads of Government to bite the bullet on the elusive issue of "fundamental changes" in the management structure and operational modalities of the Georgetown-based Caricom Secretariat."
I have to ask if this isn't putting the cart before the horse. The Caricom Secretariat is a means to an end, not an end in itself. How can decisions be taken on its structure outside of the context of larger decisions about the course that integration should take over the next 5-10 years; the priorities; the road map; the method of governance of the Community and the degree to which regional organs will be legally endowed with the authority to exercise 'collective sovereignty', in order to solve the recurrent problem of 'implementation deficit'?
In reality, the "bullet" that needs to be "bitten" is the necessity to share sovereignty in designated areas of regional action, and to put structures of governance in place to give this practical effect. Anyway you look at it, a revision of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas is inescapable. And possibly a revision of several national constitutions as well.
A tall order, perhaps. But to pin hopes on a reformed secretariat outside of this framework looks to me like a recipe for wasted investment, heightened frustration and continued decline.
So people, as the Suriname meeting approaches, dream of the best, but expect more of the same. Don't hold your breath. You might be waiting to exhale for a long time.
Gonsalves – frankly speaking on Caricom; by Rickey Singh, Trinidad Express, February 21, 2012).
"Caricom Crisis Confirmed",
Norman Girvan, "Whither CSME?", http://www.normangirvan.info/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/whither-csme-2005.pdf
James was an ardent West Indian nationalist at a time when to be a nationalist and to be a regionalist were one and the same. (That is still the case; I have always held that people who see a contradiction between nationalism and regionalism are either unaware of our history, or choose to deny it.) James’s return to the region in 1958 after an absence of 36 years was to attend the ceremonies inaugurating the West Indies Federation. He stayed on to be General Secretary of the West Indies Federal Labour Party; the party of Manley, Williams and Grantley Adams; the nationalists and social democrats. He edited the PNM newspaper, The Nation; from which platform he carried out an ultimately successful campaign to have Frank Worrell named captain of the West Indies cricket team—the first black captain. He travelled and lectured in various parts the region; he held classes, he published.
Grantley Adams, Eric Williams, and Norman Manley huddle on Federation
Three months after his return there is a record of his having given several lectures in British Guiana, as it then was. The date is June 1958. At least one of those lectures has survived; the title is “Federation (The West Indies and British Guiana)”. James published the lecture himself: he had an eye for political education, and for history. The Foreword to the Pamphlet was written by Forbes Burnham; it is significant that James should have invited him and what Burnham had to say was also very significant. It reads in part:
“A special invitee to the opening of the first Federal Parliament in Trinidad last April, (Mr. James) took the opportunity of visiting British Guiana, and his public lectures on “Federation”, “Literature and the Common Man”, “Political Institutions in the advanced and underdeveloped countries and the relations between them” were a source of controversy and education for many Guianese. Many of the latter for the first time recognised the possibilities and scope of our national movement and its intimate relation to that in the Caribbean in particular and the colonial world in general”.
I very much doubt that in later years James would have been proud of this association with Burnham. But this was 1958, Federation was a hot topic in B.G.; and when you read on you begin to see why James spoke as he did and why Burnham said what he said. The reason can be summed up in a single word: race. James:
“In Europe and the United States we discussed Federation for years before World War II and I cannot remember a single occasion in which it ever crossed our minds or the issue was raised that British Guiana would not join the Federation. …But after the war, and especially during recent years, there began to be sounded a note which has grown in intensity. We heard that the East Indians in British Guiana were opposed to Federation (because)..They had a numerical majority over the other races, they hoped to establish an Indian domination ofthe colony; Federation would bring thousands of Africans (or people of African descent) from the smaller islands to British Guiana, ..They would place the Indians in British Guiana in an inferior position…
We heard also that the African population of British Guiana was now eager for Federation particularly for the reason that it would bring this reinforcement from the smaller islands… I have heard these arguments constantly repeated. That is to reduce the great issue of Federation to a very low level.”
He goes on to say:
“It has been observed that when a colonial country is approaching national independence, there are two distinct phases. First, all the progressive elements in the country begin by supporting the national independence movement. Then when this is well under way you have the second stage. Each section of the nationalist movement begins to interpret the coming freedom in terms of its own interests, its own perspectives, its own desires. Thus the accentuation of racial rivalry at this time is not peculiar to British Guiana or to Trinidad…..
This political excitement, however, carries with it certain dangers…..”
He points out that in British India, Hindus and Muslims lived together in relative peace and harmony:
“Yet in the days before World War II there sprang up the movement for a Moslem state which finally succeeded and resulted in the formation of Pakistan. I do not wish to say that there were not honest and sincere elements in the movement. But in it there were three types against whom I want to warn you here in British Guiana—fanatical racialists, scheming and ambitious politicians, and businessmen anxious to corner for themselves a section of industrial and commercial possibilities.”
I do not think James could have said it any more plainly. It was a warning about those who fan the fires of racial or religious animosity for reasons that are less than noble. The ethnic violence that broke out in Guyana in the early 1960s lay in the future. James was prescient in the way that only a man of his genius could be. He was warning the Guyanese, he may well have been warning Trinidad and Tobago. He was probably in the presence of Forbes Burnham and I would guess that his audience was mainly Afro-Guyanese. In 1958, Burnham had already split from Jagan and the PPP. We do not know if he was one of the “scheming and ambitious politicians” that James was talking about—CLR was a master of oblique reference where he trusted his audience to know the meaning. I would guess that he meant his audience to understand people from both sides of the political divide.
His observations clearly continue to have resonance. An ethnic sub-text continues to lie beneath the discourse on integration. But that subject is for another occasion. What I propose to do is to look at James’s position on Federation in the light of what has happened since then and the situation today.
The preceding is an excerpt of an address given by Professor Girvan at the C.L.R. James Memorial Lecture hosted on May 11th 2011 at the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies, Valsayn, Trinidad and Tobago.
It has become evident that our world is caught up in a crisis of multiple dimensions—ecological, financial, economic, social and political. They are all interconnected—recent political eruptions of one sort or another reflect crises of inequality and social exclusion exacerbated by economic pressures on ordinary people everywhere that are rooted in the crisis of finance capitalism and its consequences including rising food and energy prices, growing unemployment and cuts in the social wage. Neither are these social and economic pathologies solvable within the terms set by the current, ecologically unsustainable model of capitalist accumulation (‘growth’); which has already resulted in exceeding the limits of our planet’s carrying capacity, with increasingly catastrophic effects. Ultimately, what we are seeing is a crisis of the values on which world society is to be constructed—the values that govern relations among people and between humanity as a whole and ‘Mother Earth’. That’s why more and more people are speaking of an ethical crisis, or a civilizational crisis; and are pointing to the activities of people in various parts of the world to build new ‘orders’ that are just, harmonious and sustainable and that draw on the rich and diverse cultural forms that are the common heritage of humanity.
As one of the most open societies in the world, our Caribbean is inevitably—and immediately—impacted by the multiple interconnected global crises. And in the months and years to come, we can expect these ‘crisis events’ to continue, and to intensify. While the focus of this blog is on Caribbean Political Economy, we have over the years taken on board hemispheric and global issues which affect our region and its Diaspora. Our underlying belief is that our people and states are as capable as any other of responding to these challenges; that better understanding is a necessary precursor to action; and that we have a duty and a responsibility to contribute to this understanding and to the exchange of relevant experiences.
All of which is to explain why we plan to re-name our ‘Global Economic Crisis’ as well as our ‘Globalisation and the Caribbean’ category (both on the left sidebar of the Home page) as simply ‘Global Crisis’; and to post on them items that comment on different dimensions of the crisis. The aim is to draw attention to the interconnectedness of events that are often presented as separate phenomena, or at least as ‘problems’ that are amenable to ‘solution’ by disconnected ‘policies’—and to flag global issues that have a direct bearing on our own reality.
For a start, we post a recent analysis of the global crisis by Samir Amin, known to many readers and regarded by many as one of the most knowledgeable and insightful contemporary thinkers in the world. Samir’s article is not the proverbial ‘easy read’. It requires a prior knowledge of Marxist theory, of his previous work and of a literature not always familiar to Anglophone readers. But I believe it is worth the effort. We further post Horace Campbell’s thought-provoking and highly researched analysis of the meaning behind the downgrade of the U.S.A.’s ‘triple A’ rating by a leading credit ratings agency. The third recent item is a revealing statistical analysis of the grotesque inequalities in income and wealth in the United States; background to the ‘crisis of regulation’ of finance capital and of the fiscal crisis of the American state.