Saturday, March 8, 2014

Fred Mitchell discusses CARICOM’s survival

Saving CARICOM, pt. 2

• This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell’s address was on “Saving CARICOM”.

Stay with me for a minute here.

We in the Progressive Liberal Party returned to power in The Bahamas in 2002. We had lost to the Free National Movement 10 years earlier in 1992 which ushered in a more conservative and laissez faire attitude toward governance.

The leader of our party Lynden Pindling, who had founded the modern Bahamian state, was thrown out of office unceremoniously in 1992 after 25 years, and within eight years was dead of prostate cancer. When we came back in 2002, the CARICOM leadership of Manley, Burnham, Williams, Barrow had all passed on and we met a new order.

The new order was Kenny Anthony, P.J. Patterson, Jean Bertrand Aristide, Ralph Gonsalves, Patrick Manning, Owen Arthur, all a new generation of CARICOM leaders, all forged in the crucible of the region’s premier institution, the University of the West Indies, with the exception of Mr. Aristide.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister P.J. Patterson explained that Haiti had no other natural allies than we in CARICOM in the sub-region and he believed that it was necessary that they not stand alone and he persuaded them to join us.

Amongst these new leaders was a commitment to the CARICOM project. Even when there were strong disagreements around the table you got the feeling that no one would leave. There were some strong disagreements as in the meeting in St. Lucia in 2005 when P.J. Patterson sought to bring the leaders of the opposition together with the prime ministers in order to forge a consensus on the Caribbean Court of Justice. The meeting got off to a rocky start when one of the leaders of the opposition said he would not sit next to that prime minister because that prime minister was trying to put him in jail.

We stayed in office until 2007 when we lost to Hubert Ingraham, the leader of the opposition and once prime minister again. It surprised everyone in the region including us.

However, we might have seen it coming, for a trend against incumbents had started to develop: St. Lucia had elections in December 2006 and Kenny Anthony lost, then we lost in Nassau in May 2007. Then there was a loss by Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica in September 2007, and then by Owen Arthur in Barbados in January 2008. Said Musa lost on February 7, 2008 in Belize and then a loss by Keith Mitchell in Grenada on July 8, 2008.

Patrick Manning, the then prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, speaking at a political rally in Port of Spain reminded his party how up to that time he had bucked the trend. Here is how the press reported the statement by the then prime minister on Sunday, July 13, 2008: “Prime Minister Patrick Manning said yesterday that his controversial actions in the selection of candidates in the last general election were vindicated by the results of the elections across the Caribbean.

“Addressing the PNM’s 42nd Annual Convention, Manning noted that many people questioned the strategy he employed in the selection of candidates, which saw many senior MPs and Cabinet members rejected.

“Let me ask you this question, where is the last government of Belize?” Manning enquired. ‘Gone!’ the crowd replied. ‘The last government of The Bahamas?’ he asked. ‘Gone!’ was the refrain. ‘The last government of Jamaica?’ he enquired. ‘Gone!’ shouted the crowd. ‘The last government of Barbados?’ he asked. The response was the same. ‘The last government of St. Lucia?’ ‘Gone!’ they shouted. ‘Where is the last government of Grenada, my dear friends?’ ‘Gone!’ the crowd chorused. ‘Where is the last government of Trinidad and Tobago?’ Thunderous applause drowned out the words, ‘Here, here.’”

Of course, history now shows that in 2010, a trend had indeed developed and that trend continued in Trinidad and Tobago. My larger point here is that we can detect the shifts in our societies by looking at one another.

Another example is how Jamaica started to develop a crime problem in the 1970s; and many of them as they fled Jamaica and came to Nassau would warn us that we too would face the problem of bars on our windows and crime out of control. We are seeing these same pathologies today in The Bahamas.

My point is that on this anecdotal level, trends seem to develop in our region and it tends to start south and move north.

The trend reversed itself somewhat within five years when beginning with Kenny Anthony some of the men who had lost power five years before were back in power again. Kenny Anthony described it on July 4, 2012 in St. Lucia as returning to power following a period of political metanoia. This inspired us in The Bahamas. In addition to Perry Christie, Portia Simpson Miller has returned and so has Keith Mitchell of Grenada. Of the original group that were Perry Christie’s peers in 2002, only Ralph Gonsalves and Denzil Douglas are still there uninterrupted by the vagaries of democracy. Everyone else had lost elections.

What we do then in The Bahamas is we look at the CARICOM region and what is happening here because it has been a fairly reliable predictor of what may transpire in our own society.

In fact, the talent to run our election campaigns has often come from Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados.

You may also know that the Progressive Liberal Party was founded following a visit in 1953 to Jamaica by the founders of the party and talks with the then leadership of the People’s National Party.

My thesis then is that the development of the CARICOM project is a natural projection of what has been done on an informal basis by people over the years as they migrated from one territory to the next.

Who can forget how the lives of the region and of Trinidad and Tobago were influenced and transformed by the man now known as the Mighty Sparrow who hailed from Grenada.

I have styled this lecture rather grandly “ Saving CARICOM”. That has elicited many responses from many people but most people have said “how are you going to do that?” I argue that it does not need a savior, contrary to the harsh judgment issued by the Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul in his essay “The Killings In Trinidad”. CARICOM is a project that grows itself. The project is organic and when one looks at the history of the events, it shows that the Caribbean ethos causes it to survive, compels it to survive.

In this effort I adopt the history as outlined by the distinguished Secretary General of CARICOM Irwin La Rocque.

In an address delivered right here in Trinidad on October 3, 2013, the secretary general gave the summary narrative of the founding of the modern CARICOM project. I think that one decision that should be made is to adopt a common narrative about the founding of the organization and spread the story. It is important for the history to be reduced to a bite size. It makes for part of the wider understanding amongst the younger people of how we came to be where we are. The secretary general wrote: “Ladies and gentlemen, in real terms our integration process can be regarded as beginning 81 years ago, given that it was in 1932 that the first concrete proposals for Caribbean unity were put forward at a meeting of Caribbean labor issues leaders in Roseau, Dominica.

“It was the labor movement which championed and pioneered integration as a means of self-governance for the West Indian territories. At congress in the late 1920s and 1930s, Caribbean labor leaders went from discussion of the idea to actually drafting a constitution for the unified terror territories, aided in large measure by a young economist from Saint Lucia, Arthur Lewis, who later distinguished himself and the region as our first Nobel laureate.

“Progress stalled with the intervention of the Second World War but shortly after its end in 1945, momentum was regained towards independence as a unit. This was the main theme of a landmark meeting which took place in 1947 at Montego Bay, Jamaica. Out of that meeting, the process began towards the West Indies Federation. This federation would eventually involve the British colonies, with the exception of then British Guiana and British Honduras, and came into being in 1958. Its goal was independence and some services were established to support the West Indian nation, including a Supreme Court and a shipping line. In preparing for independence, a plan for a Customs Unit was drawn up but during the four years for the federations (sic) existence free trade was not introduced among the islands.

“The end of the federation in 1962 brought a close to this phase and to this approach to integration. In many ways, however, the end of the federation led to the beginning of another chapter in the integration process which would evolve into the Caribbean Community. The need to maintain and possibly expand the Common Services that existed during the federation was the catalyst for that (1963) Common Services Conference which I mentioned earlier. The UWI and the Regional Shipping Service along with the Caribbean Meteorological Service, which began one year later, kept the embers of integration glowing along with the so-called Little 8, comprising the Windward and Leeward Islands and Barbados which stayed together after the dissolution of the federation.

The Little 8 folded in 1965 and later that year, the premiers of Barbados and British Guiana and the chief minister of Antigua and Barbuda Messrs Barrow, Burnham and Bird respectively, agreed to establish the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA). It was the first attempt to integrate through trade. The other territories joined the initiative and CARIFTA was launched in 1968 along with the Commonwealth Caribbean Regional Secretariat, which became the CARICOM Secretariat.

“During that period, ‘regional nationalism’ was alive and well. It was a nationalism born out of a common desire and recognition of the imperative to forge our individual nationalism within a regional context. There was a political chemistry among our leaders.

“Eight years later, recognizing that CARIFTA could only carry us thus far, our leader felt confident enough to move on to a Common Market and Community and deepened integration arrangements on the basis of three pillars: economic integration; foreign policy co-ordination and functional co-operation. The Treaty of Chaguaramas formalizing this new agreement was signed in 1973. That treaty which reflected the aspirations of the time could only carry us so far. It included a Common External Tariff (CET) which incidentally requires member states to give up some sovereignty. However, decisions were largely unenforceable and dispute settlement arrangements were weak. Trade barriers among members were also rampant and many of the provisions of the treaty were best endeavor clauses.

“Sixteen years later, the watershed meeting of Heads of Government at Grand Anse, Grenada in 1989 set the region on course towards the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). Grand Anse was a bold response to the circumstances of the day. The community was faced with a changing global economic environment while the performance of the regional economy was sluggish. The traditional market for our commodities was threatened with the advent of the European Single Market, and discussions continued on the global trading arrangements. Both of these developments would result in preference erosion for the commodities the region had come to rely on so heavily. Grant assistance was also declining. Our leaders recognized that we needed to become more self-reliant for our development. A deeper form of integration was the logical answer to those challenges.

“To accommodate this even deeper form of integration, the treaty was revised significantly and was signed in 2001. That revision of the treaty set out the objectives for the community, including the Single Market and Economy. These include improved standards of living and work; full employment of labor and other factors of production accelerated, coordinated and sustained economic development and convergence; enhanced co-ordination of member states’ foreign policies; and enhanced functional co-operation. That last objective recognized the need for more efficient operation of common services and intensified activities in areas such as health, education, transportation and telecommunications.

“In 2006, five years after the signing of the revised treaty, the single market was ushered in. Twelve of our 15 member states form the single market, while Haiti and Montserrat are working towards putting it into place.

“In the midst of these various transitions in the wider region, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), whose members are either member states or associate members of CARICOM, have also been strengthening their integration arrangements which were first codified with the Treaty of Basseterre in 1981. In many ways the OECS has moved beyond CARICOM with the Revised Treaty of Basseterre Establishing the OECS Economic Union, signed in 2010, which among other things has granted free movement of persons within the member states. This is an integration group that has had its own single currency and institutions, such as its Central Bank, Supreme Court and Stock Exchange. There is much to be learnt from the progress being made at the level of the OECS which could assist the wider integration effort.”

I would only argue also that along with the common narrative on the founding of the CARICOM project, there was the parallel story of the emergence of the Pan African Movement across the Caribbean and the struggle for national independence, the negritude movement, the civil rights movement in the United States and the common cause found in the struggle of the Indians who had come to this part of the world as indentured workers. All of those blended together to produce what we now call today CARICOM.

• Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

March 06, 2014

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 1

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 3

-Saving CARICOM pt.4

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 5