Opinion: Stronger together

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(Guyana Chronicle Editorial, 2 July, 2018) TODAY, Guyana joins the wider Caribbean family in celebration of CARICOM Day. It was indeed a most significant development, coming as it did just over a decade after the demise of the West Indies Federation. The failure of the federation was a major disappointment at the time, but it did not daunt the spirits of the political actors. They quickly regrouped and founded the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) which would evolve into CARICOM.

Guyana played a leading role in both CARIFTA and the founding of CARICOM. That the secretariat of the latter organisation has been housed in Guyana since its formation is tribute to the persistent commitment of successive governments to the idea and practice of integration. This is a small but important fact that should not be overlooked. Guyana was also an early member of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and an enthusiastic proponent of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.

CARICOM has a lot to be proud of over the last 44 years. Despite the inherent challenges of integration movements, our union has survived. That is in itself a towering achievement, given both the internal and external hurdles we have had to confront these past four and a half decades. Having evolved as separate nation-states that are often forced to compete against each other for markets for the same products, we have in the final analysis done a very good job at balancing our domestic interests with the regional requirements.
Today we know each other better as a Caribbean people. There is much more movement of peoples, goods and services within the Region. Indeed, CARICOM has widened to include non-English speaking countries such as Haiti and Suriname, thus broadening the base of the emerging single market. This can only serve the larger socio-economic interests of the peoples of the Region.

Over the years, CARICOM, through the Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM), has been able to negotiate with our larger partners on matters of common interest to the Region. Together our voice has been stronger and our leverage has been larger. In many respects, we have been a model for others to follow on this score.

While the CCJ has not yet gained favour in all our member-states, the signs in that direction have been very encouraging. We hope that in the interest of the survival of the court as a living and relevant institution that more countries quickly come on board. Already the CCJ has made some landmark rulings, which have had significant bearing on civil rights and liberties and which have consequences even for those countries that are not yet members of the court.

Despite our successes, many have called for a further deepening of the movement to include closer political union. That remains a desirable dream that would require more political maturity on the part of the leaders. As we have seen in Europe, there seems to be a global nationalist wave that is threatening the spirit of integration. We in the Caribbean need to guard against that, for as small underdeveloped economies we stand to lose more from a fracturing of the integration movement.

Over the last four decades, we have overcome moments of insularity which are inevitable in spaces of integration. The most vexing area of contention in this regard has to do with migration. Inevitably, countries that have done better economically have tended to frown on migration into their jurisdiction, particularly those who are migrating from the most economically challenged member-states. This of course flies in the face of CARICOM charters, bringing to the fore the tension between the national and the regional. It is an area that requires more intense work.

In the final analysis, we are stronger together. In the face of a global order that is hostile to smallness, CARICOM is a beacon of hope for our Caribbean family. We have come a long way, but we have much more to do. As a Region, we survived the inhumanity of slavery and the harshness of indentureship, so surely, we can overcome the challenges of globalisation and structural adjustment.

Happy CARICOM day.

CARICOM Today Note:  The Office of Trade Negotiations has replaced the Regional Negotiating Machinery

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