By Anthony L Hall
I read with a mixture of dismay and bemusement about the goings on in Haiti this week at the Twenty-Fourth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government. This Conference is the de facto
central government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and is responsible for setting its policies.
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com
Perhaps you have read reports on discussions the Heads had on redoubling integration efforts, strengthening regional crime and security measures, bolstering regional trade, preserving tax haven status consistent with extraterritorial demands from the United States, among other items.
I found particularly noteworthy their declaration of support for Antigua and Barbuda (Antigua) in its ten-year fight at the WTO against the United States, as well as their expression of “grave concern” about the four-year domestic quarrel the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is having with its constitutional parent, the United Kingdom.
More to the point, though, I was dismayed because I know all too well that, despite the seriousness of these matters, discussions on them among the Heads hold no real consequences. For nothing has distinguished CARICOM throughout its forty-year history quite like the failure of lofty words to find habitation in actual deeds.
From day one, for example, the Heads spoke of the “free movement of skills and professional persons” as a founding, fundamental principle. Yet since then more discussions have been held at CARICOM meetings on ways to limit such free movement than on ways to facilitate it.
Of course, I am mindful that my take on this legacy of futility is hardly authoritative. Therefore, I trust you will find it instructive to know that no less a person than Edwin Carrington, former Secretary-General of CARICOM (1992-2010), felt constrained to lament the following in June 2001 -- more than 35 years into “the ongoing project we call the CARICOM Single Market and Economy” and its precursor, the Caribbean Free Trade Agreement:
I am convinced that the dream which was shared by our predecessors of CARICOM being a people and a region united in a common bond promised a great deal which has not yet been achieved
. (ANSA MACAL Breakfast, CARICOM Secretariat, June 22, 2001)
In other words, despite decades of groundhog meetings like the one that was held in Haiti this week, Hell will freeze over before CARICOM fulfills its founding promise of regional integration. And all indications are that Carrington’s lament is as relevant today as it was when he made it 13 years ago.
The current chairman of CARICOM and host of this meeting, Haitian President Michel Martelly, brought this into stark relief in his opening remarks as follows:
I begin by quoting the problem of movement of persons and goods. Our countries are in a paradoxical situation: so close but yet so far!
(Caribbean News Now, February 20, 2013)
Frankly, it speaks volumes of about this futility that the nations of Europe -- with their warring history, many languages, and different cultures, have integrated their economies, but the nations of the Caribbean Commonwealth -- with their common history, common language, and common culture (rooted in slavery), have been unable to integrate theirs. (FYI: Haiti only became a full member in 2002, a year after Carrington’s instructive lament.)
As it happens, I too have felt constrained over the years to lament this legacy of futility -- as my catalogue of published commentaries on CARICOM will attest.
But I am one who believes in cleaning up his own mess before complaining about that of others. Therefore, I shall note foremost in this context my lamentation about The Bahamas, the country of my birth, seeking more ways to opt out of CARICOM agreements than ways to codify the common bond among member states. (See, CARICOM’s CSME contra NAFTA, EU
, Caribbean Net News, November 8, 2005)
I have been no less sparing, however, in my criticism of the virulent strain of myopic nationalism that has misled all member states to either cling to their former colonial master, the United Kingdom, or seek an equally dependent relationship with the world’s only super power, the United States – both at the expense of forging greater regional integration:
As regards the former, I have bemoaned the failure of far too many CARICOM countries to reject the UK Privy Council in favor of the Caribbean Court of Justice as the region’s court of final appeal. (See, No more Privy Council; take care of your own judicial mess
, The iPINIONS Journal, October 8, 2009; and Idle-minded debate on Privy Council continues
…, Caribbean News Now, July 1, 2011)
As regards the latter, I have observed that the reason the CARICOM Single Market and Economy remains a pipe dream is that each member state seems wedded to the prospect of deriving more economic benefit from bilateral deals with the United States (or China) than from any regional deal. Incidentally, this is why the most important person at this meeting was not any of the Heads, but the disarmingly solitary figure of the “special guest,” US Attorney General Eric Holder.
Which brings me to why I was bemused. For nothing demonstrates how hollow the words of these Heads are quite like those pronounced in support of Antigua in its fight against the United States. Because their words are clearly betrayed by the mere presence of Mr Holder, the man directly responsible for executing America’s unilateral decimation of Antigua’s gambling industry, which in turn has devastated its economy. Forget the fox guarding the hen house; this is rather like other CARICOM hens inviting that fox in to have its way with Antigua. (See Antigua v. United States re: online gambling … continues?
Caribbean News Now, February 1, 2013)
Then there’s the patent misguidedness of the TCI looking to CARICOM to help it sort out its (still-dependent) relationship with mother England. After all, this is rather like a housewife looking to family members to help her sort out her relationship with her chauvinistic husband.
Even worse is the TCI looking to CARICOM to repeal the UK-imposed VAT, which it claims will destroy its economy. After all, some of the most powerful CARICOM economies rely on VAT, and its sister nation of The Bahamas is planning to implement it there too. (See Turks and Caicos looking to CARICOM (et al) repeal VAT?
Caribbean News Now, February 5, 2013)
CARICOM…? What a regional farce!
No more Privy Council
Antigua v. United States
TCI looking to CARICOM