Saint Lucia
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Half a Century of CARICOM

Let me begin with a question: How many here today remember when four prime ministers of our region together gave birth to the Caribbean Community and Common Market? The leaders who would be forever remembered as the fathers of regionalism were Errol Barrow of Barbados, Forbes Burnham of British Guiana, Michael Manley of Jamaica and Trinidad’s Eric Williams who hosted the historic occasion.

They came together in the town of Chaguaramas, in Trinidad, to sign the Treaty of Chaguaramas which gave birth to the Caribbean Community and Common Market—CARICOM. Having announced the withdrawal of his country from the 1958 established Federation, Prime Minister Eric Williams had proposed the creation of a Caribbean Community. With the earlier mentioned other leaders, he convened the meeting that delivered CARICOM’s predecessor CARIFTA. On 3 July 1973, the Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed, thereby establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market. 

Now, while we often overlook the significance of the full title of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, it is important to recognize that up to this day we have one Member State that is a member of the Caribbean Community, but not a member of the Common Market.  Given that the purpose of this lecture is not to go into the bosom of the nuances of membership, I shall only state here that as a Community, we represent sovereign states while espousing the benefits of working collaboratively to address pressing needs, capitalize on economies of scale and promote one Caribbean identity.

In Article 6 of the Treaty that establishes CARICOM and its subsequent 2001 revision, it is stated that the objectives of CARICOM are to improve standards of living and work; achieve employment of labour and other factors of production; accelerate, co-ordinate and sustain economic development and convergence; expand trade and economic relations with third States; enhance levels of international competitiveness; organize for increased production and productivity; achieve a greater measure of economic leverage and effectiveness of Member States in dealing with third States, groups of States and entities of any description; enhance co-ordination of Member States’ foreign economic policies; and enhance functional co-operation, including: 1) the achievement more efficient operation of common services and activities for the benefit of its peoples. 2) The promotion of greater understanding among its peoples and the advancement of their social, cultural and technological development. 3) the intensification of activities in areas such as health, education, transportation, and telecommunications.

I am certain you will agree that any critical review of the accomplishments of CARICOM will result in mixed propositions, but there will be a significant preponderance of opinion favoring the view that the community has not achieved all it was set up to accomplish.  In his 2015 lecture titled Delivered or Denied—The Dividends of Integration, Dr. Kenny Anthony stated: “The Caribbean is, and has for too long, been stalled at a crossroads of indecision; stalled for so long that we are in danger of becoming anachronistic—literally out of time—and out of step with the rest of the world.”

 Sir Shridath Ramphal, somewhat ominously, said: “The Heads of Government and CARICOM have to recapture the vision that led a generation of Caribbean leaders to the understanding that we haveto have functional unity if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st Century . . . We seem to have lost our way in governance at the regional level in economic integration which is the heartbeat of CARICOM . . . We have lost our inspiration within the developing world . . . and perhaps worst of allCaribbean people are losing faith in the political leadership of the region.”

I should remind you that The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas identifies three pillars as providing the framework for CARICOM regional integration. Fulleconomic integration is to be achieved through the implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). Functional cooperation embraces working together in several areas including health, education, sports and culture, that contribute to enhancing the quality of life of Caribbean peoples. The coordination of foreign policy and external economic relations seeks to find common ground on individual national positions and on a myriad of hemispheric and international issues of great importance to the Community, and in 2017, a fourth pillar, crime and security, was added by the Conference of Heads of Government and provides for a multilateral response to the crime and security priorities of the region.        

The question is often asked: Over its 50-year lifespan, how has CARICOM served the ordinary citizen? Let us understand “ordinary” as defined by Cambridge: a person not different or special or unexpected in any way. As for “citizen,” I refer to someone who is a citizen of a particular country and has rights because of his having been born there or has been given certain rights.

As for the question, it can first be found in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas—the document that establishes CARICOM. Its provisions secure for ordinary CARICOM citizens, the freedom to travel unhindered within the Community, to establish businesses, to live and work in any of the Member States of CARICOM, and to engage in non-wage activities in any member state of the Community.  However, it is important, for citizens to be seized of both knowledge of and familiarity with the provisions of the Treaty that guarantees their rights. 

CARICOM cannot be of service to the ordinary citizen, if the ordinary citizen is unaware of his or her rights.    Which is where we arrive at a major challenge—that of communication and public education, which I must admit is critical yet woefully inadequate.  CARICOM has been under a bushel, for far too long hidden from the sight of the ordinary citizen.   

I like to think of regional integration as a journey, not a destination. Based on that prism, integration is never complete.  If we accept regional integration as a journey, then we can accept that the right to stay for a period of six months is a solid foundation to build on, which is encapsulated in the slogan for the 50th anniversary of CARICOM: 50 Years Strong—A Solid Foundation to Build On. You are doubtless aware that at the recently concluded 45th Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government in Trinidad the Heads agreed to full free movement by March 2024.

Most of us will recall the matter of Shanique Myrie vs the State of Barbados, in which a Jamaican citizen claimed that on March 14, 2011, she was subjected by border officials to treatment that amounted to a serious breach of her right to free movement under Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The court ruled in favor of the complainant and ordered she be paid pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. But why do we need a Treaty to allow us to move freely and establish businesses in the region?       

At his inaugural speech to a CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government in March 2000, then prime minister of Dominica Rosie Douglas, admonished his fellow Heads: “Firstly, it does not require a rocket scientist to determine that individual micro-states in the Caribbean stand little chance of achieving the aspirations of their people if they stand alone and operate like Lebnitzian Monads, locked up in themselves and incapable of relating to others. Caribbean leaders have talked the talk of union and its benefits to the entire region from the halcyon days of the Caribbean Labour Congress in 1947. Over a half century later our leaders are still drearily repeating the same cliches about unity, the sole difference being that these statements are now dressed up in the bureaucratic jargon that seems to be a fashion of the new millennium. Take, for example, the freedom of movement of persons. In 1957, at a Pre-Federal Conference in Trinidad and Tobago, this matter was hotly debated by the leaders of our region, who agreed that it was a sine qua non for regional integration.

“At that time the vocabulary used was that of a Federal Union. Little has been done by way of positive governmental action. Looking at the Caribbean today, ordinary men and women have been moving from island to island on their own volition, in the majority of circumstances illegally. They have been living, working, loving and marrying persons from other islands and are happily integrated. This aspect of integration is taking place in spite of the ineffectiveness of the leaders of this region in taking the necessary steps to bring it to fruition.

“Our leaders must not be obstacles to what ordinary men and women in the Caribbean want, that is to be associated with each other at work and at play. We must take the necessary steps to legally effectuate this reality.  It is fundamental that governments exist to serve human beings and not to deal in abstractions. Let us release the energies of the people of this region in this ever-expanding world of trade liberalization and globalization by freeing them to live and work wherever they choose.”

Given Douglas’ admonition and what we know to be the natural predisposition of Caribbean people, our sense of regionalism remains a solid part of our fiber while we no doubt espouse nationhood, what Anthony Payne refers to as the simultaneous stamp of integration and fragmentation. This is particularly so since the era of political independence from our respective colonial oppressors.  And no, colonization did not have a conscience—certainly not a conscience that sought to liberate the oppressed. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire reminds us that oppression and by extension colonialism is dehumanizing. But I digress . . . Rosie Douglas’ pregnant desire for the formalization of that which has been occurring organically is about to be delivered.  In delivering the decision to formalize free movement by March 2024, the prime minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, also Chairman of the Conference said: “We believe this is a fundamental part of the integration architecture, and at 50, we could not leave Trinidad and Tobago and not speak about the core of regional integration movement that is people’s ability to move freely within the Caribbean Community.”

What that means is, the single community space which was the desire of the founding fathers of CARICOM will finally be achieved.  Attendant to full free movement will be access to services such as guaranteed secondary education, primary healthcare, and other social services.  

When I asked a group of friends what CARICOM meant to them, this was how one responded, in effect: she knew little about the impact of CARICOM on his island home. He vaguely recalled conversations about a common market and free movement of people but went about his own daily business oblivious of how he was personally impacted. He acknowledged his need to educate himself on the subject, for his own benefit—especially in this time of unprecedented global challenges.

Through its regional institution on telecommunications, the Caribbean Community has successfully negotiated better roaming rates with two major service providers in the Caribbean, namely Cable and Wireless and Digicel.  The declaration, which was signed on February 2022 in Grenada, requires the telecommunications companies to recognize, among other considerations, the unpredictable cost of mobile roaming that serves as a deterrent for CARICOM citizens to use their mobile phones as they travel through the region. CARICOM citizens sometimes suffer “bill shock” at the end of a CARICOM trip. Roaming charges could be more transparent and affordable. The ability to roam among the CARICOM States at reasonable costs is an essential characteristic in promoting greater connectivity within the CARICOM Single ICT Space and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy

Those of you in the arts will be familiar with the biannual hosting of the Caribbean’s biggest cultural festival called CARIFESTA.  Since the 1970s, CARICOM has provided an unparalleled space for creatives to place their artistic prowess on display. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed us a bit and a CARIFESTA has not been held in a few years. We are hoping to stage another edition of this iconic cultural festival in the coming year or two. 

If I was asked to identify one glaring and unambiguous example of our Caribbean identity being shaped by our collective conscience and sense of our forward march, I would have to settle on our home-grown education system. 

In his remarks delivered at the 43rd Meeting of the Conference of Heads of CARICOM in Suriname last July, Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre reminded us: “We must not allow our enforced circumstances of day-to-day survival to dull our memories of the reasons why our past leaders pursued the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, and why they saw it as the most optimumanswer to the question, What is the next stage of Caribbean development in light of all the global changes that have taken place in the decades since the initial treaty which established CARICO? At the centre of the thinking behind the CSME was the need to create the conditions for the free movement ofpeople and capital and the need to establish a single economy as a unified space for joint growth and development for Caribbean businesses and more importantly for the improvement of the quality of life of Caribbean citizens.” 

If there were any doubters among his audience Prime Minister Pierre drove home that “Saint Lucia will always be less than it can be without CARICOM.