Labouring in the vineyard: The 2012 Dr Eric Williams Memorial Lecture (Part 2 of 3)
By Sir Shridath Ramphal
(Continued from last Sunday)
But, besides Sir Arthur’s particular questions are others which we cannot avoid; questions not only for Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, but for all of us; questions which probe whether as independent countries we have done as well individually as we might have done collectively.
To mention only a few, starting with the specific and contemporary:
Had there been a Federation, with a region-wide regulatory agency, could it have done better in preventing the debacle of CLICO and BAICO and the terrible consequences for ordinary people now being felt throughout the region, including here in Trinidad and Tobago?
Would we have been in a better position to feed our growing population by mobilising the land resources of Guyana, Suriname and Belize, the capital of Trinidad and the skills of Barbados and other countries to create a viable food economy that reduces our import bill of over US$3 billion?
Would we have been better able to manage the security of our borders, and to exploit the possibilities afforded by the Exclusive Economic Zone authorised by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, by the establishment of a seamless maritime boundary across much of the Eastern Caribbean island chain?
In the UN Climate Change negotiations, and at the upcoming Rio+20 Summit on Environment and Development, would we have been listened to with greater respect and attention, speaking as a single voice from a bloc of island states and low-lying countries whose very existence is threatened by climate change, and having a common climate change mitigation and adaptation regime governed by a common political authority?
Would the Federation not have created a larger space for the creativity, productivity and advancement of our people, especially the youth? And, could we not have done better in keeping at home the over 60% of our tertiary educated people who now live in the OECD countries?
Would not our Caribbean companies been more competitive in the global community than our locally-placed nano-industries?
Would what Eric Williams described as a single centre of decision-making vis-à-vis the outside world have been able to bargain more effectively in the global community — including with the World Bank and in the WTO, with the European Union and now with Canada and China — for better terms and conditions for trade, aid and investment than our individual states with their smaller resources have been able to do?
With its greater resources and larger pool of human talent, would the Federation not have given us a wider field of opportunity and greater protection and prospects than our individual states have provided?
Of course, not all will agree on the answers. Separatism has its beneficiaries: in political establishments, in commercial sectors, among anti-social elements that prosper in environments of weakness. That has always been the allurement of ‘local control’. But what of the West Indian people – the ones for whom Norman Manley spoke when he looked to federation as providing a wider field for ambition?
Whatever our speculation – and it can be no more than that – 50 years ago the moving finger of history wrote out ‘federation’, and having ‘writ’ moved on. But in writing out solutions, history does not erase needs. What about those needs of which Eric Williams wrote in 1969, within 7 years of Independence?
How have we done in our separate independences in responding to the real case for unity that he saw in the creation of a more united front in dealing with the outside world – diplomacy, foreign trade, foreign investment and similar matters?
How have we responded to his view that “to increase the countervailing power of our small individual units… requires nothing less than the creation of a single centre of decision-making vis-à-vis the outside world”?
How have we acted to change the present disgraceful state of fragmentation of the Commonwealth Caribbean countries of which he wrote with trenchant authority? Having disposed of federation for better or for worse, have we retrieved through economic integration the gains we had hoped for from federation?
What success has attended our labours in the vineyard? Have we been labouring? These are all aspects of the second question; and our answer can, indeed, be more definitive.
Within three years of the dissolution of the Federation, these imperatives had actually ensured the resumption of the Caribbean dialogue of unity through the Antigua/Barbados/Guyana initiative of 1965 which led to the establishment of CARIFTA – the Caribbean Free Trade Area, in which ultimately all the previously federated territories would be involved. But CARIFTA was just the beginning. The Agreement establishing it had expressly foreshadowed the ultimate creation of ‘a viable economic community of the Caribbean territories’ – a Community itself enabled by closer economic integration between its units.
When Eric Williams inscribed “From Columbus to Castro” to me in 1970, the Caribbean Community and Common Market was on its way to being agreed. The vineyard was being planted; but the labour of nurturing would continue. Work on the Treaty to formalise and fill it out was in hand under the guidance of William Demas at the Secretariat – another brilliant son of this soil who toiled in the vineyard of regional economic integration and inspired a generation of West Indian regionalists: economists and others.
The Treaty was signed at Chaguaramas on July 4th 1973 – the original Treaty of Chaguaramas – signed initially by Prime Ministers Barrow, Burnham, Michael Manley and Williams. The signing of the Treaty has been described as ‘a landmark in the history of West Indian people’; and so it was.
And it was a highpoint of regional unity and confidence. In that same year we were negotiating with the still new European Community as one Caribbean – with our own Community – and using our oneness to forge the unity of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (the ACP) – reducing the developing countries negotiating the Lomé Convention with Europe from 46 to 1.
And we were holding our own at the UN in New York and Geneva in the international ‘make-over’ debate on a New International Economic Order. And, just months before the signing of the Treaty, on Guyana’s initiative Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago had defied hemispheric opinion and broken the diplomatic embargo against Cuba in December 1972.
And there was more. Long before US President Ronald Reagan’s Caribbean Basin Initiative we had advanced proposals for an Association of countries of the Caribbean Basin, with Trinidad and Tobago offering to host the defining Summit Conference.
But we had flattered to deceive. Within years, we had relapsed into inertia and worse. For 7 years, from 1975 to 1982, the Heads of Government Conference – with the Common Market Council, CARICOM’s ‘principal organ’ — did not meet.
This is not the time or place for an inquest into Caribbean dissipation; the excuses were multiple: the enlarging economic disparity between Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana and Jamaica in particular; the virus of ‘ideological pluralism’ that infected the integration process; the divisive effects of the emergence of Grenada’s Revolutionary Government specifically, and the threat of a return of the region to external power rivalries; the deterioration of personal relations between Caribbean leaders to the point of incivility.
By the end of the 70s it was realised that an impasse had been reached in Caribbean affairs and the CARICOM Council turned to William Demas and a team of regional experts to “review the functioning of Caribbean integration…..and prepare a strategy for its improvement in the decade of the 1980s”.
The Group’s findings were blunt and worth recalling:
“An analysis of the performance of CARICOM in its three areas of activity shows that, although gains were registered in many aspects of functional cooperation and to a lesser extent with respect to inter-regional trade, inadequate progress was made in production integration and coordination of foreign policies… The misunderstandings… that characterised certain initiatives taken by some member countries in the field of external economic relations also gave a poor public image to the Community.”
But their conclusions contained seeds of hope:
“The fact, however, that the institutional framework of the community remains intact, that an inter-governmental dialogue was and is being sustained and that intra-regional trade and functional cooperation continue to show resilience and in some cases growth, indicate that the foundations of the movement are still intact.”
But hope was misplaced. The Grenada invasion in 1983 effectively put paid to any “re-launch” of CARICOM. As Professor Anthony Payne commented in his indispensable 2008 Political History of CARICOM:
“It was not just that the region disagreed about what to do in Grenada once the internal coup had taken place, but that the countries that actively supported and promoted the idea of a US Invasion (Jamaica, Barbados and the OECS states) deliberately connived to conceal their intentions from their remaining CARICOM partners – Trinidad, Guyana and Belize… No mention was made of such a commitment during the CARICOM discussions, which focused exclusively upon the sanctions which could be brought to bear on the new military regime in Grenada.
In these circumstances, the other leaders – especially George Chambers and Forbes Burnham…. understandably felt that they had been made to look foolish. Bitter recrimination followed… Many commentators wondered whether CARICOM would finally fall apart. The critical factor was whether anyone would actually work to destroy it…. A number of (leaders) came increasingly to suspect that (the then Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga’s) real aim was the replacement of CARICOM with a looser organisation embracing non-Commonwealth countries and excluding any existing member state that was not willing to accept US leadership in regional affairs. He fuelled these fears by speaking of the possible creation of CARICOM Mark II, arousing the suspicion in Trinidad and Guyana that he was making a threat directed mainly at them. … The Region was left in no doubt that during the 1980s CARICOM matters were a much lower priority in Kingston than the question of Jamaica’s dealings with Washington.”
I have quoted at length – and from such a dispassionate source – because we need to remember how we used our separateness, some will say our sovereignty, against each other.
No wonder that CARICOM languished during the 80s as well; but towards the end of the decade fortunes changed. Michael Manley replaced Seaga in Jamaica and in Trinidad A.N.R. Robinson entered the vineyard lamenting CARICOM’s lack of not only political but philosophical underpinnings.
Manley brought Jamaica back to its Caribbean roots; but it was Robinson that helped CARICOM return to its intellectual moorings. His Paper addressed to the 1989 Heads of Government Conference at Grand Anse, Grenada, which he entitled The West Indies Beyond 1992 was a ‘wake-up’ call to the region. It stressed that:
The period since political independence has been one of continuous awareness of the common identity which distinguished the Caribbean people, and the structural constraints imposed upon them as small units in the international community.
It warned that:
“Against (the) background of historic change and historic appraisal (in the world) the Caribbean could be in danger of becoming a back-water, separated from the main current to human advance in to the twenty-first century.”
It called on West Indians to:
“prepare for the future … to consider how best to bring about real betterment in their condition of life, to achieve their full potential as free people responsible for their own destiny, and to improve their Region’s place in the community of nations.”
And it proposed that a West Indian Commission be established to help the people of the West Indies to prepare for the 21st Century. In adopting this proposal, CARICOM Heads mandated that the Commission should formulate proposals for advancing the goals of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. We were back in the vineyard, led by another Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago; another regional labourer. And this time Caribbean political leaders went further; they decided on the tasks they would undertake and set targets for their completion. In the “Grand Anse Declaration and Work Programme for the Advancement of the Integration Movement”, they asserted that:
“…. inspired by the spirit of cooperation and solidarity among us (we) are moved by the need to work expeditiously together to deepen the integration process and strengthen the Caribbean community in all of its dimensions to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by the changes in the global economy.”
This cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric. It was followed by clear commitment and a comprehensive Work Programme which stated:
“We are determined to work towards the establishment in the shortest possible time of a single market and economy for the Caribbean Community. To that end, we shall ensure that the following steps are taken not later than 4 July 1993.”
(To be concluded next Sunday)