By Ian Francis
Comrade Prime Minister “Ralphie” from St Vincent and the Grenadines continues to receive my admiration and support. Having known him for the past thirty years, he remains consistent and committed to the ideals of a strong regional integration movement.
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
However, Comrade is also cognizant of the many parochial barriers and self-seeking interests toward building such a viable integration movement. The existing dynamics between the More Developed Countries (MDC) and the Least Developed Countries (LDC), therefore, it is not palatable to embrace CARICOM as the saviour for the integration movement.
In the global community, there is something commonly known and referred to as the “development model”. It seems befitting that Comrade in his current capacity as chairperson of the Castries-based Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has a unique opportunity to sow and advance the seeds of “model development” through the OECS. In my humble understanding of the regional scene, both CARICOM and the OECS are two different and independent regional outfits, although they are engaged from time to time in functional collaboration initiatives.
Frankly speaking, it is indeed insulting to the populations of OECS nations when issues of the regional integration movement are raised by OECS leaders with the hope that an MDC nation will come on board. There are many fallacies within the OECS and CARICOM that must be highlighted in this article. The issue of foreign policy coordination will never be realized and such a concept must be seen as a “hoax”.
Looking closely at the conduct and management of foreign affairs within the Caribbean region, it is diverse and will continue to remain that way, as independent Caribbean nations must first seek their own bilateral interest. This is why, over the many years, Jamaica, Trinidad and to a lesser extent Barbados have all nurtured their bilateral relations with Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil and other Latin nations.
In the case of bilateral relations amongst CARICOM nations, Jamaica and Trinidad have for many years enjoyed strong diplomatic and bilateral relations through the exchange of resident High Commissions. If my memory serves me right, Jamaica might be the only CARICOM nation with a resident diplomatic mission in Trinidad.
What does the above indicate? Jamaica and Trinidad have both valued the importance of maintaining strong bilateral relations through the establishment of resident diplomatic chanceries. The OECS and other independent nations seem to be suffering from some form of foreign policy impotence that limits their understanding that effective bilateral relations amongst regional nations can significantly contribute to the reality and sustainability of the regional integration movement.
My disagreement with Comrade’s outburst on regional integration is that the OECS can enhance and contribute to the regional integration movement without the MDCs. Jamaica’s 50-50 is understood and Comrade must recognize that Sister “P’s” first loyalty is to her electorate and regional integration may be next.
Given Comrade’s current ecstatic glee with new OECS tightness and likelihood of new associate members to come on board, I am at a loss to understand Comrade’s urging of Trinidad to come on board. It is understood that the former administration of Manning made certain commitments on strengthening Trinidad’s relations with the OECS. However, there is a new regime in Port of Spain that seems to have taken a different track and the OECS should understand the dynamics.
There is indeed a regional feeling and recognizance that the regional integration movement initiatives are chopped up and need to be pieced together. Rather than relying on the next step of the larger nations, the OECS has the ability to act on its own and could become very pivotal in showing some “development models” to the other delinquent nations.
My recommendation to Comrade is that the time has reached when the OECS should file the reference, get an interpretation from the OECS Court and bravely march to the headquarters of the Caribbean Court of Justice. This will be a historic moment for regional integration.
Then it is hoped that, given Grenada’s sudden float in $760 million dollars, Comrade and Tilly can work out a deal to assist other suffering OECS nations with their financial problems. If this occurs, it will be an ideal demonstration for membership cooperation and regional enhancement.
The issue of ALBA membership should be debated in many regional forums. As chair of the OECS, Comrade is in an enviable position to influence a discussion on this organization as three OECS members already have membership and a fourth is considering. I agree that leaders should step up to the plate, discuss membership and make a firm decision. There should be no reservation or deep hearted concern amongst OECS in agreeing to a consensus for discussion on ALBA membership.
The pending move by the French and Dutch governments to allow their departments and colonies to obtain observer or associate membership in the OECS is a move that should be embraced by the OECS. At the same time, as a Caribbean man in the Canadian Diaspora, I have some serious concerns regarding the recent technical agreement signed between Spain and the CARICOM Secretariat. Given that the OECS was previously engaged in multilateral discussions with Spain, how will the recent agreement dovetail into the regional strategy? Like the EPA agreement, I strongly dubbed the sentiments of Comrade as the Spain/CARICOM agreement leans in this unfortunate direction.
In conclusion, I urge my Comrade to aggressively and diligently pursue the strengthening and sustainability of OECS in the regional integration movement and understand that the success of the movement should not be on the goodwill of the MDCs.