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Supporting regional integration isn't about protecting sovereignty

Published:Monday | May 18, 2015 | 5:00 AMRichard Blackford

I noted the opposition leader's expressed compulsion to affirm his underpinning nationalism and his unapologetic stance in his declaration of putting Jamaica first and "that our priority as a people should be to consider and pursue that which is in Jamaica's best interest at all times". These comments were expressed by Andrew Holness in a letter published in The Gleaner on Friday, May 15, 2015. The stance, I believe, is shared by a majority of Jamaicans, including myself, whether at home or in the diaspora. The majority of us Jamaicans, though, find ourselves participating in a dance, the music to which is determined by people like Andrew Holness, who we foolishly elect as 'selectors' every five years. Unfortunately, for the great majority of Jamaicans at home who depend on people like him to make decisions that we (foolishly) hope will operate in our collective best interests, the history is against us.

I find it interesting that Mr Holness considers himself a student of history and would hope that his scholarship would inform him that in the 54 years since the referendum vote on which the cheque to Independence was written, it appears as if successive political administrations not only cashed the cheque but have continued to squander its proceeds. Since 1962 when the goods-producing sector contributed 46 per cent to exports, times have changed dramatically.

Today, fewer than 26 per cent of our exports are actually goods produced locally. Now, we function as a receiver of the lion's share of CARICOM's exports, with more than 60 per cent of what Jamaicans eat being imported. It would be instructive that Mr Holness note the turnaround in US policy towards Cuba after more than 50 years of intransigence.

The move provides a huge portal from which regional governments must now be seriously looking at the Caribbean as a whole with a market of more than 23 million people. This shift in US policy, Mr Holness, beggars a relook at ourselves and our proven attitude in providing leadership within the region. Policies and decisions made 50-60 years prior are not inscribed in stone.

 

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

 

Can we as a country seriously not afford to embrace this region, now expanded to a serviceable market of more than 23 million people, simply because 54 years ago another generation of Jamaicans (most long dead) voted in a referendum that we should go it alone? Can Jamaica, with a current per-capita GDP of US$5,140 - compared to Antigua and Barbuda US$12,640, the Bahamas US$21,280, St Kitts-Nevis US$13,330 , and Trinidad & Tobago US$14,400 - afford this haughty posture that you are stating?

I am unable to agree that regional integration is an elusive dream. Politically, such a view may be in step with that of the JLP over the last half a century, but all that such an attitude succeeds in doing is to deepen the dissent among Jamaicans to integration and to entrench resentment among our neighbours.

The Caribbean Court of Justice, by itself, does not constitute CARICOM, but the attitude of the JLP towards its establishment is based on the premise you have outlined in your unforced correspondence.

Embracing the elements of regional integration is not about relinquishing sovereignty, Mr Holness, but about taking advantage of the economic opportunities present in our own backyard. Changing your attitude and breaking with established JLP tradition may just help to create more development opportunities for Jamaicans everywhere and place you on the right side of history.

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