OUR CARIBBEAN: Caricom – Advance of ‘pause’
WE ARE in that annual season of CARICOM “summitry” politics when official rhetoric is being sharpened on the need for vigorous action to achieve set goals for ‘economic integration’ and meaningful ‘functional’ cooperation.
As is often the case, the host country for a Heads of Government Conference attracts significant responses prior to this event, the latest scheduled for Barbados over three days next week starting on Thursday, July 2, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Fruendel Stuart.
And politicians and social commentators become more energised in pointing to the pluses and minuses of this regional integration movement that has grown from an original quartet in Trinidad and Tobago in July 1973 to 15 member countries, now comprising a combined population of some 16 million with French and Creole-speaking, poverty-afflicted Haiti accounting for approximately half of the total, and Dutch-speaking Suriname numbered among the 14.
For instance, the former three-term prime minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, who, for more of his tenure in office, held lead responsibility for inauguration of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) – a goal that continues to be elusive and breeds cynicism among the disappointed – has already opted to alert Barbadians against what he described as the Government’s “ducking” from its rising debt obligations since regional indebtedness would be high on the agenda for the coming summit.
That discussion will surface when the politicians and technocrats settle down to examine required responses, including recommended initiatives, outlined in the report of a top-level Caribbean Commission that included quite informed experts from regional and international financial and educational institutions.
How they achieve progress in their deliberations would very much depend on new efforts to move away from a regressive “pause mood” on advancing the CSME – a surprising and distressing decision they had adopted during a special summit in Guyana some four years ago – the rationale being unpreparedness to effectively respond to identified fiscal and economic management challenges as well as on functional cooperation.
However, apart from addressing imperatives on the CSME work agenda as well as functional cooperation issues – such as regional air transportation, although some progress seems to have been achieved on the irritating hassle-free immigration front – there remains the need for urgent relevant action on social/political issues.
Foremost, at this time, seems to be the lingering, arrogant determination by the Dominican Republic to ignore a deepening crisis involving inhumane race-based discrimination against thousands of black Dominicans.
The victims are citizens of Haitian origin – by birth, residence and work. At least 200 000 of them are currently facing deportation because they are not in possession of new travel documents, under a controversial law that makes it extremely difficult and impractical to obtain for them to freely leave and return to the DR.
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who initially became personally involved back in 2013, is engaging the government of the DR to make necessary adjustments to the law, and like CARICOM governments and human rights and other civil society organisations, has deemed this latest ordeal facing DR citizens of Haitian origin as “simply unacceptable”. He would be among CARICOM leaders expected for next week’s summit in Barbados.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.