Something has gone seriously wrong with immigration policies within CARICOM when staff and students of The University of the West Indies (UWI), of all places, could be blocked at the point of entry. For, of all the categories of regional travellers, those within the UWI system have long enjoyed the privileges that come with being priority agents of integration.

The harsh truth is that it is a privilege that has been squandered by UWI’s own failure to play its part in anchoring the integration movement through its generations of graduates, its research and curriculum agenda, and its role as a champion of regional integration. Having participated in whittling away its own authority on the regional question, UWI now finds itself in the ironic and inevitable position of queuing up with “the others”.

The new tone of belligerence within CARICOM  immigration circles has emerged of late as a nationalistic backlash to the CARICOM Court of Justice’s (CCJ) judgement in the Shanique Myrie case.

Stung by the enormity of their legal commitments to regionalism under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, island officials are openly trying to wiggle their way out by means both fair and foul.

Integration as policy and people

In Trinidad, the problem is far greater than the arrogant simple-mindedness of Gary Griffith, Minister with responsibility for immigration. Griffith is merely the most vocal member of a substantial constituency throughout the region that has stood outside the door while, inside, the integration conversation proceeds among ranking officials.

Ever since the British began preparing to leave the Caribbean, those who have been charting our future, first through Federation, and when that collapsed, as a free trade zone under CARIFTA and then CARICOM and its single market and economy, have approached integration as a policy without people, dispensed from top-down, with the emphasis on economics and politics.

On the ground, there has been quite another reality of people, their culture and society, organically building on the layered history of collaboration that knows that long before we were divided, we were integrated.

History of Caribbean integration

For the First People, the Caribbean Sea was a single integrated space of many communities to be negotiated by foot and canoe. Division came with the arrival of Europe and its many warring flags: Spanish, Dutch, French, British, Danish and German.

On the ground, in the shadow of the flags, integration persisted as an act of subversion among the conquered and enslaved. The grandest among them was the material and tactical support given by self-freed Haiti to Simon Bolivar in his wars of Independence in Latin America. More than a century later, in 1937, workers collaborating across the waters of the British West Indies, organising and plotting for better lives, would, on cue, trigger their own rebellions against the status quo, thereby changing the region’s history forever. Throughout it all, the movement of people has been a primary feature of Caribbean society.

Today, many Trinbagonians and other CARICOM citizens have relatives in Panama where ancestral uncles went to help build the Panama Canal. In Guantanamo, Cuba, the game of cricket survives as a memory of those who left the British West Indies to settle there, in search of work and a better life.

This Caribbean culture of inter-culture offers the most relevant cultural base for building an integration movement solidly from the ground up. Instead, taking their cue from the British colonial federation agenda, the region’s political elites have single-mindedly pursued a borrowed template for economic integration at the expense of cultural integration. Locked out of the process, the people derail this notion of integration at every opportunity to do so, even as they pursue their own ideas of integration.

Relevance of the Shanique Myrie case

The Shanique Myrie judgement is indeed a watershed case- both for CARICOM governments who have been sauntering towards integration, making as if, and for us, the people, who have not been paying attention to what our governments have been doing in our name.

In this twilight zone of integration, along has come the CCJ with the Myrie ruling to blow the lid off CARICOM’s Pandora Box and shake us out of our complacency. Suddenly, governments are face-to-face with the binding consequences of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to which they have committed themselves while we, the people, are brought rudely awake to the realities of free movement.

Not for the first time, we have the unseemly spectacle of politicians having come to office with little to no information relevant to the task of governance. The current administration might well be worse than most in terms of its unpreparedness. No series of retreats or crash courses have been able to compensate for its lack of knowledge about the processes, protocols, laws, treaties and other instruments of government.  Sadly, it is a feature of our politics that political parties prepare themselves mostly for winning on the assumption that once they’re in, they’ll have absolute power to do whatever is to be done.

Clearly, we can’t go on this way, with ignorance piling up on ignorance. At some stage we must grasp the responsibility for knowing more in order to do better.

The need for popular support

The hostility that is now threatening to engulf the integration movement needs to be understood for what it represents- as the absence of people in the integration process. As committed as we might be to regional integration, we have to accept that it cannot be forced along without popular and meaningful support.

If the integration movement is to endure, it will need us to take a deep breath, call off the dogs and open up the issue for public debate. It is time to put regional integration on the political platform. If we believe in it, we should also believe we can persuade each other that it is better to face the future together than to do so alone.

Copyright, Sunity Maharaj

Rethinking Caribbean Regional Integration

Sunity Maharaj

Sunity Maharaj is the Managing Director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies, and the former Editor-in-Chief of the Trinidad Express, News Director of TV6 and Group Executive for Editorial & Content Development at One Caribbean Media.

Category: Argument & InsightPolitics
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  • “Caribbean Integration”, CARICOM, CSME – these terms offer nothing – absolutely nothing – for the better or more prosperous lives of Caribbean peoples. The are not indicators of innovation or codes for political or economic creativity, that reflect either a deep understanding of our developmental potential or the yearnings of the peoples of the Caribbean to be able to attain their best lives in their home countries or within the region.
    The first problem is meaning, but before that, we must address definition of the goal implied by that meaning: It has never been determined whether “integration” means Liberalisation or Harmonisation.
    Liberalisation means “limited integration”. It means, we determine select areas of commonality, but remain significantly or largely separate.
    Harmonisation means absolute integration or a complete merging of economies and systems of governance, and so means literally the subsumption of our individual sovereignty into a single sovereign entity.
    Since we never decided which of these options to pursue, our CARICOM initiatives, including CSME, are a dissociated ‘Hodge Podge’ of feckless flights of fantasy, reflected in a bundle of disparate actions, aimed at no discernible destination.
    The CSME is the least well thought out of the known policy objectives launched by CARICOM. It has four planks, each of which displays an egregious cognitive dissonance and a lack of vision in respect of the basic tenets of any of the varieties of integrative options:
    a. Free Movement of Labour (UWI Graduates). First, that UWI – a school in a shabby and disgraceful state – cannot emerge as the principal learning institution for the Caribbean is itself a sign of the futility of CARICOM these many years. Guyana and the Bahamas have launched their own institutions, neither of which are likely ever to match UWI’s double Nobel Prize winners, or its depth as a contributor to the intellectual life of the region.
    That our nations cannot construct a simple model that accepts the federal authority of UWI, whilst developing local institutions, seems tiresome, seedy and just plain foolish. This failure shows flashes of the underlying enmity, sense od distain and mistrust between our countries that undermines the meaning of CARICOM in the first instance. Last, why in the digital age, when small Caribbean nations are suffering “brain-drain”, would we advance a policy likely to worsen that phenomena?
    The policy of free movement is pre-Internet in character and shows the relicsomeness of CARICOM’s developmental blindness.
    b. Unified Court – The corruption of Caribbean courts is the most reliable truth of our pretense at independence. In almost every Caribbean nation, since independence, governments have used foreign judges, with no prominent or permanent immigration status in our countries as judges of our courts. It matters not whether some justice minister blabbers on about how upstanding judges are. If there is a judge on the court of a Caribbean nation, merely on a contract, with no permanent immigration status in that country in which he or she serves, that court is corrupt and the “security of tenure” of that judge is imperiled. I see no reason to combine a bunch of courts from CARICOM nations that enjoy nothing like the confidence of their citizens into a single meaningless court, the emergence of which does not announce the dawn of a new jurisprudence in the region. Nothing in the setting up of this Caribbean court has served as a corrective on principles of justice long absent in the Caribbean; most notably in administrative law, individual rights and the notion of the rule of law applied to the Executive.
    c. Common Foreign Policy – Not a single country in the Caribbean actually has a foreign policy. We have foreign relations. We attend international meetings, organised by others, on their own agenda and our policy – largely – has been to determine which Prime Minister gets to stand next to the American or European and now the Chinese leader. The core of our international actions consistent of disgraceful begging and shameless mendicancy. The greatest fear of our leaders seems to be that our countries shall exceed the economic criteria for receiving handouts, which our people yearn to produce for themselves; or at least they used to. The OECD, IRS, IMF issues around financial services; The Antigua WTO situation; the Cuba question; The unconstitutional FATCA, amongst so many others, are all examples of the impotency of our leaders in developing or enacting a foreign policy. In fact, the very myopia that limits us in exploiting the obvious benefits of UWI, are the self-same coordinates of stupidity and infantile egoism that prevents the emergence or acquittal of a meaningful foreign policy. So soon as one or more of our nations takes a stand, their partner CARICOM nations will go ‘cap-in-hand’ offering a willing lackydom to the interests of a foreign power for a temporary pittance.
    d. Common Currency – Of all of the elements of the CSME, the most outrightly ridiculous, sophomoric and intellectually pretentious is the ‘common currency’. (Europe was foolish enough to have gone down this road and paid dearly for it to this day). With countries in this region of such differing sizes, performance matrixes and all of which have large swaths of grey economic activity, the best of which is Barbados, which is nonetheless a basket-case, it is absolutely stunning the anyone with an inkling of an understanding of economics could have proposed such a galloping nonsense. (If it were at all possible, it could be so only under the rubric of integration by “Harmonisation”. In this respect, I trust you can see how critical the definitional goals are to any meaningful prospect of integration).
    Let’s turn to the meanings of the Caribbean:
    It is an abject nonsense to claim that we are a common peoples. The Bahamas is an “American” centric country, in which what is foreign is better than what is local even when the superiority of the local is obvious. This means a preference for what is American over what is Caribbean generally. Some Bahamian lawyers exhibit this self-hating psychosis that is rampant in Bahamian society when they suggest a hierarchy between lawyers trained at UWI and those trained in England; even though none of them have managed to prevent the country’s justice system from becoming a moral pigsty. Jamaica – which ought to be the most international (Hong Kong-like) of all CARICOM nations – has become a theatre of human suffering, the plight of which seems little more than to test our poor Jamaican brothers and sisters faith in God. Jamaica – together with Cayman Islands – should have been at the forefront of Cuban economic development, leveraging our developmental experience, unlocking hundreds of billions of dollars in economic value. Yet, Jamaica – having foolishly devalued its currency again – can hardly now fend for itself. For all the claimed and acclaimed “brilliance” of its leaders, they all have managed to reduce the prospects of only genuinely creative peoples in the Caribbean Basin to another decade of aimless suffering.
    Of the ‘Big Five” (Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados), the two resource giants that should be leading CARICOM into an era of energy innovation, Trinidad and Guyana are broken by all the elements of cronyism and corruption aforementioned, and worse, in those countries the progeny of Indian indentured servants seem to have re-imagined themselves – impossibly – as Brahmins, and have tried to reinforce their false identity in a racial zero-sum game against their African brothers and sisters. I can say this unabashedly: I hate – did you hear me? HATE! the very notion of Black people mistreating each other along the very lines and basis of racism, from which we have all – Black, White , Brown – suffered for so long.
    This brings me to Barbados, which should be to Jamaica, what Singapore is to Hong Kong. Barbados is the most well ordered society in CARICOM. It has led the world in literacy for nearly two decades. It produced Sir Courtney Blackmun, a genuine global personality. Yet, for all of its “markbook” brilliance, they cannot make a toothpick. Why? You have never seen black people treat each other with such disdain as so-called upper class Bajans treat those who did not attend Harrison or Queens; but really those who are light-skinned against those who are dark (and lovely). Let us not venture to discuss the treatment of Guyanese in Barbados or Haitians and Jamaicans in The Bahamas. In Barbados – to belabor the point – they spend so much time obsessing about working for a ‘named institution’ (Barclays, CIBC etc), that they have missed their true calling which is to become to South America, what Singapore is to China. They are like the visionless people in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and for this the rest of the Caribbean suffers.
    The smaller nations in the Caribbean linger in limbo between the energies of the Big Five. There is no direction, no vision and no leadership. Once I sat on a panel at College of The Bahamas (soon to anoint itself “University”), with CARICOM Secretary General – as then he was – Sir Edwin Wilberforce Carrington – who, even though he was meant to be leading CARIBBEAN integration had every title the English could confer, expect King! Tell me in God’s name, how can a man so adorned dressed in the regalia of Britain, speak to Britain with force? That his name could be Wilberforce adds farce to foolishness.
    During that conference I asked him:
    What is the 10-year strategy for CARICOM? Nothing.
    What are the three or four industries in which CARICOM will become market leaders? Nothing.
    What will be the education and technology focus of CARICOM to cultivate strategic advantages for our region?
    Nothing. Nothing NOTHING!
    But ask yourself since you do not need English titles to think:
    Why have we not developed across CARICOM streamlined policies on teachers, nurses, police and fire personnel training?
    Why not procure our Stop Signs, Stoplights and other road signage and signals together to reduce cost AND to cultivate leverage?
    Why have we not pooled 10% of our Special Drawing Rights (SDR)s at the IMF to begin a regional development fund?
    Why have our banks merely copied Scotia or Royal or CIBC, rather than invested in the ideas and visions of our peoples?
    The reason is because we never assessed ourselves, defined our objectives, committed to transparent governance or considered our true potential out of a true love for our peoples.
    Our countries were bequeathed systems aimed at our control and punishment. And our leaders adopted those systems, mastered them loving the shrill, carnal powers they allow; and those powers have and have shown no capacity to move our nations to the cutting edge of an innovative spirit that lies dormant in the minds of our long-suffering peoples.
    When we add Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba to our mix, our failure for 50 years to think through our objectives, means they join an undefined, ill-defined CARICOM, and I can assure all who are capable of reason, they will not fail to force into being what they regard as best for their existence, survival and success; nor should they.
    I am willing to bet, there is nothing in CSME for them. IF there is to be a CARICOM therefore, it does not yet exist.

    Professor Gilbert NMO Morris

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