CARICOM has not gone very far
By Peter Espeut
Twelve of the 14 CARICOM countries in 30 days (all except the Bahamas and Haiti)! It’s been a whirlwind tour as I do some work for the Caribbean Community. It has given me a chance to look at how far Caribbean unity has come in 44 years, and how far we still have to go.
The first thing that strikes you is how difficult it is to get around the region. CARICOM’s headquarters is located in Guyana, an air traveller’s dead end. There could hardly be a more inconvenient location for a head-quarters; whoever made that choice was not trying to make it easy for CARICOM to function.
There is one flight to Suriname from a CARICOM country; it arrives after midnight. To travel between Suriname and Guyana – two adjoining countries – required a day’s layover in Trinidad; to travel from Dominica south to St Lucia (with only Martinique in between) required a trip far north to Antigua. To go to Belize (headquarters of CARICOM Fisheries) from anywhere else in CARICOM, one has to go through Miami. If we traded more with each other, if there were more business connections, it would be easier to move around. So much for the Caribbean single market!
Almost all CARICOM airports were redesigned for the Cricket World Cup, but clearly not with transfers to other CARICOM countries in mind. If you are changing airline to connect to another country, you have to go through immigration, clear your suitcase through customs, and tote it outside for what seems like half a mile to check in with the next airline. Not much Caribbean integration after 44 years! You should be able to check your bag through to your final destination, and get your boarding pass in an intransit area. Cricket World Cup was a great opportunity to really do over our airports, but we missed it.
Although there is something called a CARICOM passport, CARICOM citizens still have to fill out emigration/immigration forms in each country.
So much for free movement of people! True, CARICOM nationals join one immigration line and visitors another; I’m not sure who that is supposed to benefit. During Cricket World Cup, travellers received an armband when they first entered CARICOM space, and were thereafter spared immigration hassles. That, it seems to me, was for the benefit of the cricket tourists; it disappeared with them.
The 14 countries have nine different currencies; the six OECS countries use the Eastern Caribbean dollar, while the others have their own currencies, ranging from the Bahamas which has parity with the US dollar, to Guyana which is 200:1. So much for the single Caribbean economy! Try to convert one CARICOM currency directly into another and see what happens!
Plug in your laptop in your hotel room, and it better be able to switch between 120 and 240 volts; the countries are split about half-and-half; of course, the plug sockets are different, so you better have an adaptor. In Suriname (240 volts) they use the European round two-pin plug, requiring a special adaptor. Don’t expect that in CARICOM you can move around easily with your appliances. Be very careful where you charge your cellphone; the charger usually can’t switch between 120 and 240 volts; you could fry your phone and charger!
There is no consistent procedure to dial telephone numbers between CARICOM countries; all except Belize, Haiti, Guyana and Suriname have the same country access dialing code (1 or 001) while the four countries named have their own unique codes. As for cellphone connections, that is spotty; not all cellphones automatically interconnect as the Digicel-Lime wars in each country are not all resolved.
English is spoken in all CARICOM countries, although Dutch is the official language in Suriname; official documents (like laws and regulations) will be written in Dutch. In Haiti it is French. The European Union can deal with 23 different languages, but I don’t think we are doing well with our three.
In fact, if you compare our 44-year-old CARICOM with the 51-year-old European Community we have not really come very far. The EU has long developed a single market ensuring freedom of movement of people, goods, services, and capital. It maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. Sixteen member states have adopted a common currency (the euro) and 19 have abolished passport controls at their borders.
Whither CARICOM? (Jamaica Gleaner)
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development consultant. Feedback may be sent to email@example.com.