Fri | Sep 21, 2018

The problem with CARICOM (Part 1)

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMBruce Golding
Whether in lecture halls or at the annual carnival road march on campus, the University of the West Indies, Mona, is a melting pot of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities, but that regional diversity and unity does not hold sway in general life for the average Jamaican, many of whom don’t even know a single West Indian from another country, argues former prime minister, Bruce Golding.
Ralph Gonsalves’ “idea of a political union of the Caribbean” as an “inescapable destiny” is a matter of caution and concern for guest columnist Bruce Golding.

The disagreement between the Government and Opposition about the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is merely a symptom of a deeper divide about the Caribbean Community, what part Jamaica should play in it, and, indeed, whether we should be a part of its formal structure any at all.

We are wrong if we think it is just an age-old political quarrel between the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Sharply conflicting views about CARICOM and its relevance to Jamaica permeate the society. It goes even beyond any evaluation of the good or harm that it may have brought us.

Caribbean integration has been a work in progress ever since the early 1900s when the idea of a West Indies federation was vigorously promoted by the likes of Theophilus Marryshow of Grenada and Arthur Cipriani of Trinidad, and long before it was formally proposed by the British colonial secretary, Oliver Stanley, in 1945. From the outset, and in its very concept, the idea has been bedevilled by problems that have not been overcome, in part, because we have failed to even acknowledge some of them.

While there are commonalities among the people of the Caribbean, there is still much that differentiates us in terms of history, ethnicity, language, culture, political and legal systems. We were all at some stage the objects of imperial conquest and exchange, but in that process we have been shaped and acculturated by different influences - English, French, Spanish and Dutch.

One of the flaws of the regional integration effort, as far as Jamaica is concerned, has been the attempt to integrate at the top while the bottom remains so separate and apart. I recall stressing this point at a breakfast meeting I hosted for fellow heads of

government during the 2010 CARICOM conference in Montego Bay. To illustrate the point (and it was done completely on the spur of the moment), I called the six waiters who were in the room and enquired whether any of them knew anyone from any CARICOM country. They all said no.

This is not difficult to understand. Jamaica is the same distance from Barbados as it is from Atlanta. We are nearer to Houston than we are to Guyana. New York is closer to us than Suriname. As a result, there is very little genealogical linkage between Jamaica and the other countries of CARICOM. Very few Jamaicans have traceable ancestors in any of the other countries, and vice versa.

The UWI, Mona, campus once served as a useful melting pot for interaction between students from Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. That is much less so today since the campuses, primarily for economic reasons, have been 'nationalised'. Fewer than six per cent of those currently enrolled at the Mona campus are from other CARICOM countries.

The situation is much different in the Eastern Caribbean. The distance between St Vincent and St Lucia is the same as that between Kingston and Porus, between Antigua and St Kitts the same as that between Mandeville and Sav-la-Mar. This proximity has allowed for much greater interaction and migration among Eastern Caribbean countries than has occurred between those and Jamaica. Eighteen per cent of Antigua's population was born in other CARICOM countries. It is very common to find a Barbadian with Vincentian roots or a Trinidadian with Grenadian roots. The Mighty Sparrow, for example, although a Trinidadian, was born in Grenada. Former prime minister of St Lucia, Sir John Compton, hailed from St Vincent.

more difficult integration

The inescapable fact is that integration is much less challenging for Eastern Caribbean countries than it is for Jamaica and, I would dare say, Belize and The Bahamas. The West Indies Federation could possibly have survived Jamaica's withdrawal in 1961 were it not for the fact that Jamaica accounted for more than half its total population and Trinidad's Eric Williams, more of a nationalist than a regionalist, was not prepared to shoulder the burden alone, hence his famous declaration, "1 from 10 leaves 0".

It is easy, therefore, to understand the emergence in 1981 of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) - a community within a community - comprising the seven Leeward and Windward islands of CARICOM.

The JLP is often accused of hoisting as a bogeyman the fear that regional integration is designed to ultimately lead to some form of political federation. I have always had in my mind a clear line of demarcation between the two, but the expressed desires or intentions of some CARICOM leaders (not to mention those that have not been so expressed) do nothing to allay the fears of those who see no such demarcation but rather a gradation.

Said Ralph Gonzales on the 20th anniversary of the OECS: "For over 30 years I have been a passionate defender and promoter of the idea of a political union of the Caribbean and, more urgently, of the Windward and Leeward Islands, be it in a unitary, federal or confederal political form ... . This is a great cause and it is the inescapable destiny of our Caribbean people to be so united."

In 2009, Patrick Manning publicly called for the establishment of a political union involving Trinidad and Tobago and the OECS countries "and any other Caribbean country that may wish to join". St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada quickly signified their concurrence.

A two-man team of Dr Vaughan Lewis and the late Dr Cuthbert Joseph was mandated to design the modalities for such a union to come into effect by 2013. I politely but firmly indicated that Jamaica had no interest in becoming a part of that union. So long as such desires or intentions not only lurk but are expressed so openly, the JLP's view that an arrangement such as the CCJ is but one more step towards that goal is not difficult to understand, and the fear that it will one day be urged to go the full hundred to be "on the right side of history" is not far-fetched.

The inclusion in CARICOM of Suriname and Haiti has made the integration process even more complex. For example, it has created an anomaly within CARICOM where the CCJ, its most significant institution, may be appropriate to some but not applicable to all. Unlike the other member countries that operate under the common law, both these countries practise the civil law, with Haiti's legal system being heavily influenced by the Napoleonic Code. In addition, the fact that Haiti's population is almost twice that of the rest of CARICOM is bound to affect the integration process in a way that CARICOM leaders, for reasons of empathy and diplomacy, have been reluctant to confront.


For example, Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas envisages the free movement of people among CARICOM member states as an essential element of community rights. What this would mean for The Bahamas, which is in proximity to Haiti and has a per-capita income 30 times that of Haiti's, clearly wasn't properly thought through. Hence, it came as no surprise when The Bahamas opted not to be part of the single market and economy, although it remains a member of CARICOM. Barbados has often cited the pressure that free movement will exert on the social infrastructure (health services, school places, etc.) of the receiving country.

The disparities and peculiarities that exist in the different CARICOM countries do not necessarily make regional integration impossible, because there can be unity in diversity, just as there is often dysfunctionality in similarity. But they most definitely define the type and scope of integration that is possible and explain why so many of the lofty objectives of CARICOM can, and will, never be realised.

I am of the view that regional integration as conceived in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas is unworkable. But, equally, I believe that much good can be achieved through functional cooperation not just within a

re-engineered CARICOM but, also, through CARICOM, with other countries of Central and South America. The CCJ, in my view, fits within that framework of functional cooperation, which is defined by CARICOM as "the efficient operation of certain common services and activities for the benefit of its people".

I will examine these issues in more detail in Part 2 and look at the experience of other nation blocs that have had to confront similar challenges.

- Bruce Golding is a former prime minister of Jamaica. Email feedback to