CARICOM – now more than ever
Something extraordinary happened to me on Sunday. I caught the 8:30 a.m. Society bus from town. When the bus got to Salters in St. George, there was a father with his son at the bus stop. The father stopped the bus and inquired about getting to a particular destination. The driver told him it was not the right bus and suggested which one he should take.
He closed the door and we continued the journey but he started to go over the situation to himself. He was concerned that there was a rain cloud in the sky and that the bus the father wanted, was scheduled to come again in two hours. The driver was so disturbed by the plight of the father and son that he sought the guidance of his supervisor, got permission, turned around the bus and went back to get them.
I want to let the driver of BM 121 know in this public forum that you blessed my Sunday morning. You must be a very caring person in your personal life and you held the banner of your employer high Sunday morning. I salute you on a job well done.
I was driving along the highway where Abijah lost his life last week. I just want to say, he truly was a special child. He went to lessons with my two sons. They were good friends and I remember him for his playfulness and ‘oldtimishness’. Abijah taught my children how to catch lizards, an extension of the boyhood of old Barbados that is fast dying. Rest well, little one! You live on in the minds and memories of your friends.
The highway is now decorated with welcome billboards for the various heads of government of CARICOM. I am not sure why we are spending money and resources to host another CARICOM meeting. CARICOM is as useful to the region as the one cent is to Barbadians. After former Prime Minister Owen Arthur was voted out by the people of Barbados in 2008, CARICOM ceased to mean anything tangible to the region. The Caribbean Single Market phase of the CARICOM project was implemented on January 1, 2006. The economy aspect of the ambition is yet to be achieved. Without the leadership of Mr. Arthur, the feasibility of the economy phase of the plan seems doubtful.
I may just not be as enthusiastic as I used to be in my younger days to seek out information about CARICOM. It may be that the economy aspect of the project is alive and well and nearing implementation but the ‘everyday’ people who live and work across the islands have no clue. More than the issue of effective communication with the public that the CARICOM project has, the overarching crisis is that CARICOM has not remained relevant to its constituents.
Caribbean people still marry each other. They still trade and create business with each other but I am not sure if we can boast that the CARICOM project or the Caribbean Single Market is in any way systematically responsible for this. The current Secretary General of CARICOM is quiet. The staff of CARICOM is quiet. The Prime Minister of Barbados is quiet. All this in a time when the economies of the islands are precariously perched and crime and other issues such as border security and gender based equality are proving troublesome and difficult to remedy.
It makes no sense erecting billboards and holding heads of government meetings that remain underproductive or unproductive. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I remember being incensed that the rebuilding of Haiti was not being coordinated by CARICOM. Some may argue that CARICOM did not have the financial might to perform such a role but I believe that there is something more important than money.
The belief in the ability of ourselves to collectively solve our problems is what I was so disappointed not to see. Even when we have the mechanism established to create a unified force for strength, we are comfortable to hold our caps in our hands and submit to the will of whichever international power shows up with the largest sum.
I suspect it will take the same intervention of the international community to mediate the crisis brewing in the Dominican Republic. A law passed about Haitian immigrants and their offspring living in the D.R. has in effect rendered a few thousand people stateless. Haiti, still trying to house people who were left in tents after the earthquake, is being forced to prepare for the mass influx of Haitians.
Haiti is a full member of CARICOM. There has been no sensitization programme to educate the rest of the people living in the region. Occurrences like this must make us question the state of the integration project. This cannot be the reason we continue to spend money to convene heads of government talks that result in ‘file 13’ fillers.
The fact is that the elephants still remain in the room. How soon after a fully integrated single market and economy should we aim for political integration? Which currency would we use to effect the single economy? These, along with the historical mistrust manufactured in Caribbean people against each other, keep us far removed from the goal of Barrow, Burnham, Bird and other sympathizers of the need for closer collaboration among the islands.
The goal posts have not changed. We need Caribbean integration now as much as we ever have. History will be unforgiving if we do not get our house with its many mansions to live in and work as one. Does anybody know how much the billboards cost and if the Hospital got alcohol yet?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email email@example.com)