IF ECONOMICS is the dismal science, then politics is the dismal undertaking, since, for both practitioners and observers, it is marked more by failure and disappointment than by success. There has been no clearer indication of the bleak nature of politics, than the historic reversals and setbacks to Caribbean economic and political integration since the Federation of 1958.
Indeed, in the last five years, given the “great fall” from the high energy of the movement towards the CSME, the Caribbean Court of Justice, and the work on a new model of regional governance, the sting of politics as a dismal undertaking has been particularly sharp. Thankfully, such moments of despair are periodically punctuated by high points which serve to strengthen the disheartened, rekindle hope, and spur new generations to higher levels of optimism. Over the last week, one such oasis in an otherwise dispiriting desert was the recent commitment by OECS Heads of Government to bring a single economy with free movement ofcitizens into full effect by August 1 – Emancipation Day – 2011.
The OECS has always been a far more progressive group on the question of economic and political integration, than any other sub-group in CARICOM. Ironically, one of the factors accounting for this is that being defined as “lesser developed countries” the OECS states began their political lives with a poignant sense of themselves as “miniaturised sovereignties” and incomplete states. Small size, small economies, dependent agricultural bases, and inadequate human resource bases, have resulted in a diminished sense of sovereign arrogance, that is evident among some of the so-called “more developed countries”. This sense of “political inadequacy” as one writer Tony Thorndike has put it, has also been buttressed by a number of historical and institutional forces which have forced the OECS region to see itself as a common political space. Most significant of these is the shared currency of the Eastern Caribbean dollar managed by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.
A common Judicial Services Commission and Court of Appeal are some of the institutional realities which OECS citizens accept as the natural order of things. The birth of the OECS itself – in 1981 – coincided closely with their independence, creating a regional outlook.dFor these reasons, OECS citizens are often shocked by the ease with which other Caribbeanleaders cling to the frail flagpole of sovereignty as an instinctive weapon against any demands for the deepening of the regional integration process.
It is often surprising to students of Caribbean politics when they discover the high numbers of non-Antiguan Caribbean citizens resident in Antigua. Conversely, accustomed as they are to close association with their OECS neighbours, OECS citizens are genuinely offended with the label of “foreigner” in other Caribbean countries.
OECS “smallness” has bred political commonsense. It is the “law of historical compensation” at work. Forward ever!
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill specialising in analysis of regional affairs.