CARICOM Affairs - Thursday, October 30, 2008 22:17
On CSME, the harsh reality is – Barbados can’t do without itBy Ashmita Maharaj, Deputy Editor
Amidst the criticisms of the Caribbean Single Market & Economy and the nationalistic loathing visited upon it by opinionists in the region, it behooves us to take a cogent look at our current situation as isolated small island developing states and realize that (1) no one cares about the West Indies, but the West Indies and (2) we are far too small to even contemplate being so nationalistic that we think we can do without others – especially our Caribbean neighbours.
The nation state is dead. Long live the nation state!
State-centric rhetoric that put nationhood before all else, shunned foreigners and projected national interests at all costs have their place in the annals of international relations’ history and no where else – not least in the Caribbean. Economic crises loom in the North and will shortly visit the South, Caribbean populations meanwhile – seemingly oblivious – continue to surge, while the borders we are so keen to protect and insulate from ‘foreigners’ (read: West Indians) are bursting at the seems with involuntarily unemployed and highly-skilled nationals who can hardly find work in some of the more well-off territories, a case which is particularly pronounced in Barbados.
That Barbadians then should seek to take such a cut and dry approach to any discussion on the CSME is as disappointing as it is ahistoric. Its two greatest leaders, Errol Walton Barrow – “the Father of Independence” – and Grantley Adams, the President of the West Indies Federation, were staunch regionalists, and it takes little to imagine that they are now both rolling in their graves at the temerity of modern-era Barbadians who appear to despise the very thought of a closer regional union.
Clinging to a thinly-woven fabric of a Barbadiana gone by, some Barbadians now choose to be ignorant of the lessons of the failed Federation, when a then-prosperous and arrogant Jamaica dismissed regional union – only to suffer an unfortunate turn of fate that now sees it woefully trailing its neighbours in Human Development indices and socioeconomic development. Not only are they blind to history, but appear to believe that Barbados is immune to a similar fate and that, even in the midst of global turmoil, Barbados needs no one, especially not the West Indies.
The nation-state may be dead, but this will not stop the stubborn from flogging it.
Let’s examine the facts.
Barbados’ unemployment figures have risen to 8.6%, inflation is approaching double digits and economic growth has halved. Every other day, a Barbadian in abject poverty appeals for handouts in the daily paper, while some UWI graduates become cashiers with first class honours degrees, while more-sustaining jobs remain elusive. Healthcare is in shambles and as centenarians celebrate their 100th birthdays with increased vigour, the burdens of an ageing society put increasing demands for a bigger workforce, albeit with nowhere to go thanks to a small international business sector and a maddening focus on the tenuous tourism industry – Barbados’ sole claim to fame.
Yet, none of these issues worry the anti-CSME cohort, not as long as street gatherings “wukkup” instead of going to a Jamaican “passa passa”, so long as one is greeted with a Bajan accent on the telephone line to a Bajan company and so long as Guyanese do not roam to and from work that Bajans would not do, the nation-state’s interest is served. Shockingly, this world-view that has since been shunned by all other advanced states in the world is now being perpetuated by some in the Caribbean as intelligent thought, stoked by populist opinionists who do nothing but stoke the flames of fear and misnamed “patriotism” that thrive in ignorance. (The Republicans used this to great effect to start two wars that helped to sink the great American economy – so much for precedent.)
The fact of the matter is this – Barbados is no more immune to implosion than any other small island developing state. At the crux of all that is held dear to nationalists’ hearts – the “strong” Bajan dollar, free education, free healthcare, “peace” and “stability” – is money. Barbados is no more guaranteed financial security than any other Caribbean island, and is perhaps now even more vulnerable in the midst of global turmoil as tourists refuse to splurge on expensive white-sand vacations on its shores. In the interim the economy needs to attract new companies (not just luxury hotels, but actual businesses with a substantial workforce, job security and diverse skill requirements to soak up idle UWI graduates), it needs foreign exchange (thus, a real manufacturing sector with more goods fit for export to pay off its insatiable foreign debt habits), it needs technical assistance in agriculture (the lack of which now results in the incredible cost of basic food commodities) and above all it needs jobs for its people (locally or regionally) to shore up disposable income, boost remittances and stave off economic malaise when too little money chases too many goods. Not surprisingly, the CSME offers Barbados the chance to do all this, and more.
The ire visited upon the West Indies by the growing number anti-regionalist Barbadians is neither warranted nor appreciated. Barbados already owes 40% of its exports to the Caribbean (and its Prime Minister would do well to put a dollar value to these exports, just to demonstrate how much the island is already supported by its neighbours), and the island has a massive comparative advantage to exploit the benefits of CSME, much more than any other territory can claim in a packed-to-capacity, prohibitively expensive and “region-phobic” Barbados. Yet, it serves the Bajan nationalists none to step down from their pedestals to see that the region is – for better or for worse – largely at Barbadians’ disposal under a CSME framework, and that opportunities abound to stave off Barbados from certain collapse as its growth rapidly becomes unsustainable. Indeed, it is the other member states who have ought to be annoyed and yet, remain silent.
In the end, history will show whether the great ship that is Barbados prefers to sink with its Bajan flag still proudly on the mast, or stay afloat under a CARICOM banner. As to which end will befall it, your guess is as good as mine.
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