By Raffique Shah
Sunday, June 14th 2009
CARIBBEAN unity is an imperative for the survival of small island states like ours. But it seems to be coming apart at the seams, thanks to our tactless and egotistic leaders. Our disintegration comes at a time when much of the world is moving towards some form of unity, if only to sustain their economies in a time of crisis and in the longer term. We are drifting apart as never before. From the draconian immigration policies of Barbados to confusing signals on free and fair trade between Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, our leaders seem to be working overtime to dismantle what little unity we now enjoy.
Here in T&T, most citizens believe we do not need closer ties with our “poor-ass” Caribbean neighbours. There are two camps that oppose any integration. The first comprises people who are convinced that with our gas-and-oil generated wealth, other Caribbean countries seek only to ride our backs.
The second group, comprising mainly Indo-Trinidadians, see dilution of their political clout in any move towards further integration, and more so in Prime Minister Manning’s initiative towards an undefined political unity with three OECS countries.
While it is true oil and gas make us the strongest economy in the region, reality is these two commodities are wasting assets. And our government seems intent on utilising gas at a rate that is not sustainable. Unless we discover one trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas every year, we’d hardly be in a position to carry consumption of this critical commodity beyond 15 years. Those who believe we shall forever remain “sheiks of the Caribbean” must be prepared to contribute their personal “methane power” to the grid (if you don’t know how, ask the experts!), because we shall soon run out of steam, quite literally.
As for Indo-Trinidadians who see self-preservation as being more important than survival of the Caribbean, they live in as unrealistic a world as their gas-forever counterparts. I fully agree that Guyana and Suriname must be part of any deepening of Caribbean integration. But so must the other islands, however poor in resources they may be. These same islands form the biggest market for most of our manufactured products, as they will remain for some time.
This brings me to the apartheid-like immigration policies of the Barbados Government that has the support of the majority of Barbadians. Illegal immigration is a global problem, especially in countries whose economies seem to be doing well.
Should Trinidad and Tobago decide to expel illegal immigrants the way Barbados proposes to do, thousands of our Caricom brethren would be booted back to the small islands, to Guyana and Suriname. No country wants to be swamped by illegal immigrants who deny its citizens jobs, school places and more. But any clampdown on visitors who have run afoul of the immigration laws must be fair, not targeting only Indians and small-islanders.
Our Bajan friends would hardly act in a similar manner against Whites who breach their immigration laws. Have they considered, too, that should Trinidad seek to repatriate Barbados-born residents or citizens-something we’ll never do, such are the good relations we share with them-the stress that country’s economy would face?
Tit-for-tat is not our way treating with our Caricom neighbours. And since most of those targeted happen to be Indo-Guyanese, it seems that Prime Minister David Thompson has not considered how important Guyana will be in the future-food-equation for the Caribbean. Nor has he looked at the extent a backlash from prosperous Indo-tourists would have on the struggling-but-vital lifeblood of Barbados’ economy.
I have stayed away from Barbados because I do not feel welcome there-quite unlike the comfort I enjoy in other Caribbean countries. But there are more contentious issues than Barbados’ selective xenophobia. Recently, T&T authorities “detained” a shipment of Jamaican patties saying they wanted to examine the facilities where the patties were manufactured. What if Jamaica wants to inspect our plants for every product they import from us? Where is the free trade element of the CSME that all Caricom countries signed on to?
Not that Jamaica’s PM, Bruce Golding, is without sin when it comes to regional integration. Eminent Jamaica-born Professor Norman Girvan, in a brief paper on Caricom’s integration challenges, cited Golding’s opposition to the “E” factor in the CSME, the virtual standstill on the freedom of movement clause, and the non-acceptance of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) by most member states. While we quibble over the extent to which the Caribbean should have cooperation if not integration, other “blocks” are forging ahead on the road to unity.
Hugo Chavez’s ALBA is marching on, even with MERCOSUR already in place. The idea of a Bank of South America is very much on the cards. As Girvan pointed out, we rushed to sign on to an EPA with the EU, but we fail to put our own houses in order. The EU is expanding even as it jettisons the age-old sugar protocol, leaving many CARICOM countries in the lurch. But we Caribbean crabs-in-a-barrel are fighting over a handful of illegal immigrants, fair trade and speedier integration. Talk about a backward people saddled with myopic leaders.
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