By Adaiah J. Providence-Culzac
Lost in a myriad of geography, culture and political philosophical conventions, the islands making up the Eastern Caribbean collectively known as the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), namely, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the three dependent territories of Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, have in many ways been subjected to a regime of policies and development prescriptions that has failed to address in a real contextual way the common and almost unique challenges the region faces.
Adaiah J. Providence-Culzac is a Vincentian-born youth and development protagonist. He is a 2011 OAS-China scholarship recipient currently pursuing studies in international economy and trade at Zhejiang University in China. Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The OECS region faces a development dilemma in its inability to carve out from within its convenient groupings and conventions a narrative that confronts the challenges presented by their small open economies. Even though, in a way, the OECS following its uniting raison d’être has functionally coordinated in many areas that has allowed it to use the concept of “economies of scale” to meet collective objectives, regionalists and the founding fathers could not be happy with the more cosmetic changes that have taken place since the 1981 Treaty of Basseterre. It is this functionalism that made it relatively easy to move ahead with the OECS economic union which came into force on 1st January 2011.
In some quarters, the OECS economic union seems like a political charade and, for others, it is step to consolidate mechanisms of cooperation that will lead to an integrated system of governance, namely, political union.
In another sphere, OECS union is a part of the extant whole of an authentic, legitimate and distinct Caribbean civilization and the only way that good government can be assured for our people. Private citizens may be less sympathetic to this idealism of sorts, trapped in their own flesh and blood paralysis of economic survival, un-attracted to the elitism of the institutions for the selected few rather than the elected. As such, in the very start, the idea of political union faces a great challenge of Institutional Integrity.
The host of challenges and problems that integration presents, the clash of schools of thought, the region’s political economy and externalities and political will or lack thereof, is not a force for non-action but for a more measured and determinate workmanship conduct by regional actors.
At the people level, even in the face of Myrie v Barbados in the CCJ, the region has accomplished economic and political integration, which has by definition escaped the traditions and box theories that have trapped even the sincerest regionalists. The shared ”reassembling of the African, Asiatic, and European fragments that form the basis of our Caribbean civilization” triggers that inalienable desire to bond even after several failed attempts.
Our problem has remained too deeply rooted in having a stronger conversation on what separate us rather than what binds us together.
If anything, the new development challenges, the increasing multi-polarity of a globalized world, juxtaposes as the framework for deeper unity and collective responsibility more than ever before. However, this may be a call for a radical re-fashioning of the arguments of raison d’être rather than the tweaking that has taken place recently. In this, I am reminded of Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
We are in need of a new formula that addresses not only our historical nexus, but which deeply appreciates the weightier transitional position of our small island states in the modern political economy and the future implications of a possible non-western hegemonic world order. We are still approaching development on assumptions that do not fit reality. Our rationalism has been blinded by a post-colonial status of preferential treatment, our policies fragmented and haphazard, our polity or local constitutions in many regards structurally inefficient and ineffective with a loose framework for political settlement and a fanciful view that the idyllic nature of our shores will be protected even though our policies are not met with a sustainable approach.
In a backdrop of weak and, in areas, no economic growth, the appetite for reform maybe similarly miniscule, as countries claw for some mirage of stability until the next crisis. In the last decade, the regional economy had faced headwinds rooted in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and, most recently, the protracted global economic crisis, including the BAICO/CLICO debacle among others of our own creation.
The crisis has highlighted two overarching structural defects of our economies namely: 1. Almost Absolute Dependency; and 2. Almost Absolute Unpreparedness. In true form and style, little policy debate has taken place at the regional level, communiqué after communiqué that plans for a significant shift away from the policies that sustain a development trap.
Although, as a region, we are at times rightly frustrated with the ‘all for one’ approach prescribed by multi-lateral agencies, it makes for apt reading the cautions and recommended policy actions by the World Bank, IMF and EU that have went unattended that may have shielded us from the economic storms ravaging our fiscal performances. Our laissez-faire and/or populist approaches have made us too reactionary rather than conceptualisers and ‘masters’ of our own fate.
In the end, the lessons are not new and so are our entrenched political activists. Leaders understand the awesome complexity confronting our nations. In this regard, we are reminded that our leaders are real political actors, cornered daily by the trappings of electioneering and representative politics. We must also be reminded that our leaders are at first (even though not appreciated by constituents and themselves) human, with all the attenuated weakness composite in mind, body and soul. Thirdly, the peoples of the region have developed a form of social democracy that is overly reliant on a five-year election cycle rather than active public participation in governance and oversight.
These three issues that characterise our political settlement interconnect at different points to paint the reality of our present and help us chart a way forward for a better future. This reality must also incorporate the body of research and lessons from our neighbours and international institutions. The lessons of the EU, CARICOM, UN, ACP, OAS and the like are poignant for the OECS region. It is not an exercise of copy and paste but of a true appreciation of best practices with a more observance to our sui generis.
And, even within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the OECS is in all regards is a ‘sui generis.’ This allows us to form a more structured development approach that though ‘many sided’ is at once local, OECS-wide rather than regional (meaning contrary to the broader Caribbean wide usage), Caribbean/CARICOM-wide and international.
This is a call for a strengthening of the institutional legitimacy of the OECS, a support for economic and political union among the states and a new approach to our development agenda. In the thick of it, the states making up the OECS have long played second fiddle even in development policy making, over shadowed by the more developed countries that make up CARICOM and reduced further even in ‘equality of arms’ as we start speaking of a Latin America and Caribbean framework and Association of Caribbean Pacific States (ACP).
Looking at the matter more intrinsically, our divisions and dysfunction at the Caribbean level have been magnified through Article 4 Less Developed Countries and More Developed Countries of the Revised Treaty of Chaguramas establishing the Caribbean Community, including the Single Market and Economy. This psychological perception perpetuates a psyche of “better than, more than, less than, smaller than” that has made CARICOM a talk shop and have even caused to further divide our peoples along these lines.
As such, the very starting assumption of the treaty is a catalyst for defeat. As we look at the fault lines in the European Union body today, the expansionism of the EU through the accession of more” less advanced” European countries has consequently created a stronger appetite for nationalism among the more advanced countries, especially the United Kingdom which is looking to open up the EU treaty to stop the encroachment of EU policies on UK sovereignty. The Caribbean region cannot overlook this reality that we often wrap in diplomatic melodies that plaster the festering sore.
Using the structured approach, following a political union and attainment of a ‘new’ institutional legitimacy, the OECS should be a single bloc/entity under a revised CARICOM treaty that revokes the need for Article 4 of the Chaguramas treaty, essentially becoming a body of seven members namely: The Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize and the OECS. Belize in this reform remains an anomaly.
The OECS as a single entity will be able properly to negotiate and discuss in a Caribbean-wide and international setting rather than the perennial adjunct treatment. Such new legitimacy may afford the OECS an opportunity to have, for example, a US ambassador to the OECS rather than the present form of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, to be a thought rather than an ‘after-thought.’ It may also extend the possibilities of multilateral budget support, advance a greater OECS knowledge based economy, fashion a new and creative development model that is sui generis and more people centred including those in the Diaspora and encourage sustainability for future generations.
The economics of the approach is long considered to be advantageous, working the principles of ‘economies of scale’, but it has been the political settlement that has long stalled the inevitable need. We have moved a step in the right direction but, if we falter now to the prevailing winds of economic uncertainty, detractors and status quo sympathisers, we will continue to face a retarded development dilemma.
So as we try to ignore the ‘logistics’ that leads us along a part of irrelevance, I am reminded of a speech given by Prime Minister Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves: The OECS in our Caribbean Civilisation, on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), 18 June 2001, in which he stated, “If we do not build a political union on our terms, in our interest, others will do so for us on their terms. That is the inescapable choice facing us.”
If only, 12 years later, this flame can be ignited in all of us.