PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, March 11, 2015 (AMG) —While the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) prepares to observe its 42nd year of existence, St. Lucian Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, has expressed what he calls an increasing view that the development of the region is being held hostage by member countries not willing to commit.
“It is my view, and I am not alone in this, that the Caribbean is, and has for too long, been stalled in a crossroad of indecisions,” Dr. Anthony said on Tuesday during a distinguished open lecture series featuring CARICOM Leaders hosted by the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.
Dr. Anthony, who has been Prime Minister of St. Lucia for 14 years, with a break from 2006 to 2011, minced no words as he explained that such indecision has left the region in a position where it appears to be out of time and out of step with the rest of the world.”
Secretariat financing: Shifting his focus to the CARICOM Secretariat located in Guyana, Anthony said regional leaders had been advised that the central institution of the movement “lacks a structure which would enable definitive outcomes,” further adding, “[it] now require[s] stronger management at the centre, and the urgent prioritisation of what matters most.”
The Prime Minister was cautious to avoid blaming the institution itself but, while flexing his biblical knowledge, accused member countries of asking the Secretariat to perform miracles “even without the requisite five loaves, and three fishes.”
Before the commencement of the recently concluded 26th CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in the Bahamas, the Bahamas Information Service reported on its website that the “Financing of CARICOM and other Institutions” had been included on the agenda of that meeting. This is one of the major problems faced by the CARICOM Secretariat, especially as Prime Minister Anthony recalled that member countries sometimes default on their dues to the regional institution.
The result, according to the Saint Lucian Head of Government, is that “decisive action has been replaced by procrastination often disguised as documentation.”
Dr. Anthony saw this problem linked to the apathy of CARICOM as he expressed that if the region is to move forward, it would requires member countries to become actively involved in the domestic affairs of their sister nations.
“We have confused conversation with implementation and eventually our diluted commitment, limited resources and chronic avoidance produces a cynicism at home and abroad and undermines the credibility of the regional apparatus and its operators,” he explained.
Lost opportunities: Dr. Anthony urged for an overhaul of the way the region does business while recognising that “our most pressing problems should tell us that these are the very concerns to which you should collectively attend.”
Labouring this point, he explained that CARICOM had lost “a golden opportunity” by simply ignoring the economic issues faced by member countries today, especially as energy security in the Caribbean has been a topic of most resistance.
In his address, while mentioning that it has been some 50 years since most of the region’s nations have gained independence, he rightly stated: “we are still engaged in major battles against the region’s worst enemies: poverty, ignorance, pride, disease, and death.”
The St. Lucian leader linked these realities to what he believed was the “the root” of the region’s dilemma. He recalled the words of Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who said during a June 2014 visit to Jamaica: “The Caribbean has had a tendency to get stuck in the doldrums of stagnation, low growth, high debt, low competitiveness, [and] high unemployment.”
Dr. Anthony called for the region’s leaders to “tackle our most fundamental aspirations not singly but together.” Further selling the point of transformation, he urged: “We must embrace systemic change if we are to effect real transformation and enable our region to survive in this current hostile environment.”
Haiti and the Dominican Republic: AMG caught up with the Prime Minister after his address for comment on whether an opportunity was not similarly lost by the region to stem the tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
CARICOM had been criticised for its reluctance to respond to a 2013 ruling by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic which threatened to place Dominicans of Haitian Descent and Haitian Immigrants in a position of statelessness if they were not regularised by February 2015.
This did not prevent the arbitrary expulsion of Dominicans of Haitian Descent and Haitian Immigrants from the Dominican Republic by police authorities.
When asked if the region is ready to commit to free movement of people, especially considering the New York Times’ recent report on similar “anti-Haitian” measures being adopted through Bahamian Immigration Laws, Dr. Anthony called the situation a delicate one and stated that he can only reiterate the position of CARICOM.
He did say however that CARICOM has maintained its trade relations with the DR, a country with a pending application to the regional bloc, but he added that there has been no change in the posture taken by CARICOM since recent statements.
Following the Bahamas meeting, CARICOM issued a statement expressing concern for the “resurgence of anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic” as the DR is reluctant to extend the deadline of regularisation even though that process has been marred by low turnouts. The number of at-risk Haitians descendants and Immigrants is well over 100,000.
The Dominican Republic seems none too concerned by the stance taken by the soft power of CARICOM, as AMG reported earlier this month that the DR is en route to becoming a regional powerhouse, all to the detriment of CARICOM.
Possible solutions: Offering solutions to the issues highlighted, Dr. Anthony affirmed the need for revamping “both our institutions and our thinking” as he believes the region needs to “contemplate our economies naturally across sectors.”
He called for the region to see their economies not as “engines driven… just by oil or tourism but by information, innovation and creativity, investment and technology, human development and competitiveness.”
The Prime Minister added that these developments must see similar responses from regional institutions “so that CARICOM comes to see itself increasingly as a catalyst and a facilitator and less as a filter or arbitrator, or worse a prisoner, of divergent political interests, positions and economic agendas.”
“It is vital that the role of CARICOM evolve not only to keep up with the times, but also to shake the times. Both CARICOM and its constituent nations must now turn considerable attention to strategic issues affecting the practical lives of regional people and their survival”, he added.
The Prime Minister cautioned that his presentation should not be taken as an “unbridled critique” of an institution which he believes has served the region well, but as an “examination of what needs to change if the ideal of a unified Caribbean is to be realised through the various institutions we have created in the name of regionalism.”
Anthony noted that critical evaluation of the institution is necessary since it “provides the valuable insight we need for survival in this global climate of rapid and irrevocable change.”
Cover image: Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Honourable Dr Kenny Anthony & His Excellency, Mr Stefan Schlüter, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Credit and copyright: Horst M. Vogel