MSJ Political Leader, David Abdulah’s statement on CARICOM’s 40 Anniversary…
The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) recognises the significance of the 34th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, given that this Meeting is taking place on the occasion of the Fortieth (40th) Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which Treaty brought Caricom into existence. The original Treaty signatories were Prime Ministers Dr. Eric Williams ofTrinidad and Tobago; Michael Manley of Jamaica; Errol Barrow of Barbados; and President Forbes Burnham of Guyana.
Citizens of the Caribbean are no doubt asking the question today – “Forty years after Caricom, what does it mean to me?” Such a question is extremely valid. We are quite sure that all the Heads, during their speeches and press conferences over the next three days, will make all the right statements and speak of the strength of Caricom and how much has been achieved. We, however, do not believe that citizens of Caricom will take those statements very seriously.
It is abundantly clear to the vast majority of citizens that Caricom seems to be drifting aimlessly along, with no clear sense of direction. This is the logical outcome of the absence of a vision for the region. Moreover, this absence of a vision is underpinned by the lack of a philosophical understanding of regional integration. Notwithstanding the faults of the four leaders who signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973, it must be admitted that they had both a vision and a philosophical belief in regional integration. They were all for integration. They addressed their citizens on the importance of such a project and involved their parties and government in the process. Williams, Manley and Barrow were undoubtedly political leaders of stature who also lent their own personal strength to the regional integration process.
Today, we ask how many of the Caricom leaders can claim that they are following in that tradition? Here in Trinidad and Tobago we can say with absolute certainty that Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar neither has a vision nor philosophical grasp of the imperative of regional integration. Not after her very first comment at a Caricom Summit that Trinidad and Tobago is not an ATM machine. Nor has she made any serious effort to educate and involve citizens in the integration process.
The MSJ, on the other hand, is rooted in a tradition of integration. For it was the early labour movement in the region that first articulated and fought for an agenda that saw integration as being not an add-on goal but central to the achievement of social justice, equality, democracy and independence. We cite the Conferences of West Indian Labour Leaders – 1926 in British Guiana, Dominica in 1932, Trinidad in 1938, Jamaicain 1944. Indeed as the celebrated West Indian economist Arthur Lewis wrote in 1939:
“In 1938 – the British Guiana and West Indies Labour Congress resolution included demands for: Federation and full elective control; Adult suffrage; Nationalisation of sugar factories and public utilities; Dismemberment of plantations and creation of co-operative peasant community; Provision of Old age pensions; health and unemployment insurance; Reformed labour legislation…It is mainly on the development of this united labour movement that future progress in the West Indies depends”(Labour in the West Indies by Arthur Lewis)
What is striking about this Resolution passed 75 years ago is that the labour movement had a vision and an agenda for the future progress of the entire society, which vision and agenda focused on the improved wellbeing of ordinary citizens – working people, farmers and the poor. And while the four leaders who signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas 40 years ago may not have fully shared that vision and agenda at least they took steps to bring about the future progress of the region.
In the late 1980’s it became clear that the process of Caribbean integration had stalled following the political divisions and fall out of the destruction of the Grenadian revolution and the invasion of Grenada by the United States. To his credit, in 1989 the then Prime Minister ofTrinidad and Tobago, ANR Robinson, proposed that Caricom do an urgent stock taking and plan a way forward. That proposal was adopted by Caricom Heads in the very important Grand Anse Declaration of July 1989. This resulted in the establishment of the West Indian Commission chaired by Sir Shridath Ramphal, who reported in a vital document in 1992 entitled “Time For Action”.
Amongst many of the recommendations in that Report was the urgent establishment of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. It then took more than 10 years to bring the Single Market into existence while 20 years after “Time for Action” the Single Economy is a distant thought. Indeed, Caricom Heads have collectively failed the people of the region by their inability to implement what they have agreed to. It is significant that at the very moment when the integration process should have intensified following the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which brought the Single Market into existence, the momentum was slowed and then virtually brought to a halt by an external factor.
That factor was the insistence by the European Union (EU) to the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries that we must, by January 1st 2009, sign on to the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The EPA was in essence a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and ACP countries. Of the ACP countries only the Caribbean countries – Caricom plus the Dominican Republic known as the Cariforum group – agreed to and signed an EPA. The EU’s threats that duty free goods sold by ACP countries to Europe will after January 1st 2009 attract very high duties turned out to be hollow. The African and Pacific countries called the EU’s bluff and therefore protected their self interest. We in Caricom ran scared and signed the EPA. The time, energy and human and other resources expended by Caricom countries on the EPA could have instead been directed at implementing the Single Economy. That opportunity was lost as we collectively danced to the European’s tune. Today three and a half years later we have no Single Economy, the Single Market is not being deepened and the EPA has not been implemented as most Caricom countries are unable to put in place the legislation and administrative arrangements required by this international Treaty.
It is the view of the MSJ that just at the labour movement’s agenda for regional integration in the 1930’s placed the well being of people as the raison d’etre for integration, so too today the interests of ordinary citizens must be central to any discussion of or agenda that addresses the issue of “whither Caricom?”.
We believe that it is absolutely imperative for countries of the global south and, in particular, small states to integrate in order to survive what is a very challenging global environment and thus ensure the well being of our citizens. When we examine the global scene we see the European Union on the one hand, and the emergence of trade blocs such as the Pacific Rim countries that will bring together the United States and major Asian countries. We note as well that these integration processes are being driven by the interests of large transnational capital and, as evidenced by negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the failed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), are definitely not in the interest of small states and our people.
Caribbean integration is therefore an imperative. This must start with the Caribbean Single Economy and Market and be broadened to include the countries of the Greater Caribbean (the Gran Caribe as is the Association of Caribbean States). The Caribbean integration process must also look towards other countries in the global south and in particular Latin America. Thus the MSJ supports the development of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Bolivarian Alternative to Free Trade (ALBA) as two processes that provide serious options for countries of this hemisphere to engage in economic development and trade on terms that are fairer to small states and our citizens.
From the information that has been made available to the public we see no evidence to suggest that Caricom Heads will address the achievement of “growth and development” in the region. We boldly state that no amount of tinkering will achieve the desired results. Most Caricom countries are in serious economic crisis as evidenced by: large fiscal deficits; debt that is at unsustainable levels; high unemployment; weak foreign exchange earnings; vulnerabilities to external shocks such as global economic problems and natural disasters. Unless something significant is done quickly then we will be condemning our citizens to lives that are “nasty, brutish and short”. A concerted effort at regional integration is a necessary pr-condition to our economic well being.
The MSJ therefore states that the following matters must not only be discussed but a clear programme of implementation, including timelines be announced at the end of this Caricom Summit. Our list is developed on the basis that integration must be about people and for people.
- Free Movement of People: We cannot have integration unless people are integrated and for this to happen there must be free movement of people. The implementation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas has placed the interests of business before the interests of people. Thus there is the free movement of capital and of goods. Restrictions still abound when it comes to the free movement of labour. The MSJ calls for the long talked about proposal for Caricom citizens to travel freely in the region using only acceptable ID and not passports to be implemented and that Caricom citizens engaged in legitimate travel are not subjected to being hassled when they arrive at a port or airport of another Caricom country. Further, we call for the full implementation of the system whereby Caricom nationals can work in any Caricom country.
- Regional Transportation: There can be no real freedom of movement if the cost of travel between Caricom countries is so high. It is totally unacceptable for the airfare from Port of Spain to Antigua to be higher than from here to New York! The MSJ calls for the various airlines – Caribbean Airlines, LIAT, Suriname Airways – to be brought to the table in order that there can be collaboration to the point where Caribbean airfares become affordable. The regional shipping system, inclusive of intra-island ferry services must also be overhauled to support both people traveling and the transport of goods.
- Single Market and Economy (CSME): Unless and until we can mobilize all the region’s resources – human, financial, physical and natural – in a common effort to reduce our food import bill and achieve food sovereignty; and create sustainable economies that provide decent jobs – we will forever be in positions of persistent poverty. The MSJ therefore calls for the roll out of simple and clear work plans to achieve these objectives within the context of the CSME.
Finally, the MSJ welcomes the participation of His Excellency Nicolas Maduro, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela at the Caricom Summit. We believe that President Maduro’s presence can have very positive and beneficial results given that his predecessor Hugo Chavez Frias, initiated important integration processes such as ALBA, Petrocaraibe and CELAC. We trust that Caricom and Venezuela will work together for the deepening and strengthening of those integration processes that benefit ordinary people.
Movement for Social Justice