Mon | Apr 23, 2018

Don't subject CARICOM to ideological views

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2013 | 12:00 AM
CARICOM headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana. - File

Hilbourne Watson, Guest Columnist

Ronald Mason is entitled to his personal opinions, but he's not entitled to pick and choose facts to reinforce his ideological views on why Jamaica must leave CARICOM. The capitalist organisation of the global economy is inherently uneven. The European Union (EU) and NAFTA reflect in the most concrete ways the spatial unevenness that capitalism reproduces.

Let us start by clearing the air about who was responsible for the collapse of the Federation of the West Indies. Before World War II ended, Britain recognised that it could not maintain its far-flung empire, and began steps for an 'orderly' dissolution of the British Empire, mindful of US interests in the Caribbean.

Beginning in 1947-48, two visions for federating British West Indies (BWI) colonies emerged. One came out of the 1945 gathering of the Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC) in Barbados, where the labour delegates declared that only a united socialist Caribbean Commonwealth could rescue the BWI from the conditions that had triggered the 1937 working-class rebellion. The delegates met at Montego Bay in 1947 under British colonial supervision expecting to plan for a labour and working class-based federation.

The other plan came from the British and the US, with Washington objecting to the BWI plan, and in favour of a federation with a weak central government combined with strong internal self-government for each territory, and excluding any meaningful working-class and labour involvement. The Anglo-American plan, which had taken shape in the outcome of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission meeting held in the US Virgin Islands in 1944, deliberately compromised and severely undermined the federal initiative before it got off the ground in 1958.

In 1948, at the UN Special Session in Paris, Grantley Adams drove another nail in the coffin of meaningful regional integration by openly sabotaging the CLC and the fledgling BWI working-class movement, helping to shift the balance of power in favour of the anti-working-class trade union movement consistent with the Cold War project for bringing the Caribbean under American hegemony and away from the old imperialist arrangement.

The BWI decolonising elite embraced the weak federation/strong internal self-government plan, which Norman Manley exploited in asking London how it felt about Jamaica building on self-government with its gaze fixed on independence, while supporting a weak federation. The UK responded affirmatively to Manley's query.

The federation offered a way to manage the disintegration of the British empire in the Caribbean. From Jamaica to Trinidad, the real victims would be the working class and defenders like Richard Hart and others that lost the battle to save the CLC.

The British Guiana crisis, which erupted in 1953, found almost all BWI leaders joining the anti-working-class Cold War project, signalling the federation as a potentially stillborn emergence in 1958. In fact, British Guiana was the real test case for BWI unity in colonies with a low capacity for modern industry to sustain any real federation. Jamaica did not cause the demise of the federation, no matter what discord Bustamante tried to sow in the minds of segments of the Jamaican population.

The reality is that a real pan-Caribbean integration would only put a dent in the problem for Jamaica or any other Caribbean country, given the capitalist organisation of the global economy, considering that total investment, production and trade in the entire Caribbean are very limited in global terms. The Dominican Republic is deeply integrated with North America, the EU, and Central America, and Cuba has close economic ties with Canada and Latin America and parts of Europe and beyond. They can hardly afford to look to Jamaica for answers to their economic problems.

Mason is not "afraid of globalisation", citing bauxite and other commodities Jamaica exports. Lou Anne Barclay and Norman Girvan explain that Russia and especially China in Asia have acquired dominance in the global bauxite industry, with North America losing "its dominant position in world alumina and aluminium production; its global market shares falling from 29 and 45% to 6.8% and 15%, respectively, during 1980 to 2007.

In the case of Jamaica, the country's share in world bauxite production shrank from 13.5% to 6.8% over the same period." (Transnational Restructuring and the Jamaican Bauxite Industry: The Swinging Pendulum of Bargaining Power, 2008).


The distance from Jamaica to the Eastern Caribbean definitely affects the movement of goods with implications for transport cost because of the extremely small market and limited production. In global terms, distance is of relative significance with attention to scientific and technological change and relentless innovation that trigger transformations that result in lower production and transportation costs that accelerate the movement of goods and people in more competitive ways.

The Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach has closer links with distant Japanese and Chinese ports than it has with the Port of Baltimore; distant global financial centres like London and New York are closely integrated and London has more in common with New York than with Birmingham or Liverpool.

The creation of the OECS was a way of responding to what the OECS governments felt was a need to respond to problems arising from the spatial unevenness that marked their relationship with Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, and Barbados; it had nothing to do opposition to Jamaica or Jamaicans.

Jamaica and the OECS, viewed apart or together, are small players on the global economic and financial stage - Mason must understand that his fixation on interstate competition can lead to misleading analytical outcomes.

The business initiatives emanating from Trinidad towards Barbados, Jamaica and any other CARICOM members reflect the search for profitable opportunities. Certain Trinidadian businesses currently dominate in key areas of economic activity in Barbados, signalling that closer regional integration requires greater capital mobility and must accommodate labour mobility.

The unevenness which inheres in capitalist production and accumulation, rather than the nationality of capital is the main issue: nationalist sentimentalism makes it impossible to appreciate how sovereignty and capital interact.

Mason thinks that contradictions arising from regional cooperation within CARICOM work against Jamaica, failing to appreciate that capitalism does not create a level playing field on which social classes or governments can interact. Norman Girvan notes that in the highly charged environment of immigration that characterises Barbados-Guyana and the wider Barbados-CARICOM relationship, certain Barbadians reap most of the benefits from its professional workers who sell their services in the other islands.

However, some Barbadians appeal to their sense of exceptionalism, in responding to the presence of CARICOM nationals in their midst, opportunistically blaming them for every problem, as though prostitution, drugs and other social problems are alien to Barbados. National states are most sovereign when they cater to the needs of especially capitalist business interests.

A recent United Nations/World Bank report on drugs, crime and violence in the Caribbean highlighted the costs of doing business in the Caribbean, noting that certain Jamaican businesses lament the cost to their operations from crime and violence, including the need to pay protection money to certain elements in order to stay in business (UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and Latin America and the Caribbean Region of the World Bank. Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean. Report No. 37820).

Like Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad are plagued by violence and insecurity from guns, drugs, and other crimes that signal the deepening crisis for masses of working-class people throughout the region, in contrast with the growing concentration of wealth at one end and marginalisation and destitution at the other, which is basic to how capitalism's social hospital operates.

The 'shiprider' initiative confirmed that the Treaty of Chaguaramas, like its revised version, has often been observed in the breach in matters of trade and foreign-policy practice by CARICOM states, which consistently cite sovereign rights to justify their behaviour, clinging to a romantic notion of sovereignty as supposedly inviolable, irreducible and non-negotiable.

In fact, capitalist globalisation exposes the inequalities that inhere in sovereign state power and highlights the ability of certain states and transnational corporations to reshape the contours of sovereignty and impose their will on other states.

Hilbourne A. Watson is professor of international relations at Bucknell University. Email feedback to and