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CARICOM oxymoron

It is a brave leader who will take words that are used religiously to criticise and poke fun at him and persons of his stature and used them publicly as a clarion call within that same group.

Last night, when on the eve of the Caribbean Community’s 40th anniversary, the political leaders of the region met for the 34th summit in Port of Spain, the birthplace of the regional integration movement, Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart did just that.

He quoted from one of the most powerful songs ever, Seawater and Sand, from one of the region’s foremost social commentators, Dr. Hollis Liverpool, otherwise known to Caribbean people as Mighty Chalkdust.

After looking back at the slow march of CARICOM since the signing of the original Treaty of Chaguaramas, Stuart said:

“Upon the shoulders of the present generation of the leaders of the Caribbean devolves the awesome responsibility of remaining faithful to the dreams and aspirations of the people of the Caribbean, especially the youth of the Caribbean.

“While not sacrificing our sense of urgency, we must steer clear of over-ambitious undertakings, manifestly unrealistic deadlines, and the colliding agendas of a fruitless multiplicity of meetings.

“To do otherwise is the surest way to set our people up for disappointment — the surest way to open the door for a disturbingly increasing number of Jeremiahs in this region who let slip no opportunity to spread unnecessary alarm, despondency and despair.

“The way forward is not going to be easy. But then, life never promised any one of us to be easy. Easter would be a philosophical absurdity if there was nothing called Good Friday! Child birth without labour or caesarean section is an infantile fantasy!

“Even the European Union knows well the truism that ‘Rome was not built in a day’! What is important for all human beings is to be able to see that mix of ultimate benefits that give meaning and justification to their sacrifices.”

Then he quoted Chalkdust’s own criticism to these same leaders, albeit of an earlier generation:

“Some people does play zest

They feel that their country is blessed

‘Cause they have more foreign exchange than the rest.

Others walking high and mighty, claiming they have stability

‘Cause their dollar in US is worth plenty.

And they meeting regularly, drawing up all kind of treaty

And after they drink their whiskey, the treaty dead already

At their Heads of Government conference is mere shop talk and ignorance.

Lots of talk but no action ever commence”.

While we support the Prime Minister in calling his colleagues to arms, he ought to resist the urge, which has now apparently become second nature when he speaks on even the most innocuous topics, to hurl insults at anyone who takes a position contrary to his — or his Government’s.

For while Stuart invokes the admonitions of Chalkdust, if he took the time to listen to the rest of the song he would recognise that Chalkie clearly sets out in verse after verse why he was not impressed with the results of our regional leaders.

That too is the case with, to use the Prime Minister’s own words, “a disturbingly increasing number of Jeremiahs in this region” who feel let down by the heads. In fact, one only has to listen to the leaders when they speak between summits to see that they too have major disappointments.

There can’t be many people in the region who don’t support integration. Caribbean people know their fortunes are better when linked. In fact, some of the most lowly people in the region have long proven this with their interactions — while the same leaders struggle to codify what has long been an integral part of regional life.

Our leaders should resist the urge to criticise ordinary people who express disappointment, after all it is not John Public who has been at the centre of LIAT’s dispute with so many regional governments for so long. It is not the man in the street who is responsible for the LIAT/CAL battle or the Air Jamaica/CAL feud. Jamaican patties tied up in Trinidad ports, or Bajan milk spoiling for want of a label change to enter Trinidad is not caused by the farmer or pastry maker. The endless hassle Caribbean people endure at each other’s airports is not manufactured in Caroni, Conneltown or Corentyne. That after all these years of “drinking whiskey” twice a year at head conferences so many governments have not signed on to the Caribbean Court of Justice does not inspire confidence in ordinary people.

So the CARICOM heads should spare us the bull, do what is needed to build confidence and you would be shocked to see that the “disturbingly increasing number of Jeremiahs in this region” would soon start to diminish.

A final note: One would have to stretch the bounds of poetic licences way beyond its natural limits to associate the phrase “sacrificing the sense of urgency” with CARICOM activity. Urgency? In CARICOM? That would be the ultimate oxymoron.

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