“…We have a worth. We have an identity. We have something unique to contribute to the treasury of human civilization and, therefore, that was the rationale for regional integration.” Prime Minister Freundel Stuart
by Cathy Lashley
When CARICOM Heads of Government meet in Trinidad and Tobago next month, they will be doing so not just to achieve consensus on critical matters that affect the region, but also to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Caribbean Community.
Certainly, it will be a time for reflection and celebration, as Caribbean states map out their direction on such issues as air and sea transportation, the global economic crisis and its effect on the region, a five-year strategic plan, special needs of persons with disabilities, and other items that were mooted at their Inter-sessional meeting earlier this year in Haiti.
In spite of the naysayers and doomsday prophets, who have been constantly proclaiming the failings of the Community, there is much of which the region should be proud. This is especially so in the wake of the collapse of the West Indies Federation — a short-lived political union that existed from January 3,1958 to May 31, 1962, comprising former colonies of the United Kingdom.
Today’s Caribbean Community is strong and vibrant and its people blessed with stable democracies, sound education and culture and a bright future.
CARICOM was established by the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1973, to promote greater trade liberalisation, the creation of a Common Market with a common external tariff, and significant functional cooperation across several sectors through the creation of a CARICOM Secretariat.
The treaty, signed by Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago on July 4, 1973, came into effect on August 1 of that year. However, other island states decided to adopt “a wait and see” approach before joining.
The Caribbean Community and Common Market replaced the Caribbean Free Trade Association, which was formed on May 1, 1968, and ceased to exist on May 1, 1974.
Between 1975 and 1982, there were no regular meetings of Heads of Government. However, since then, there have been both regular annual conferences and inter-sessional meetings of the Heads of Government.
A Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, establishing the Caribbean Community, including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, was signed by Member States in 2001. The Treaty added major protocols, including the free movement of capital, skilled labour and rights of establishment. The CSME features a single market and a single economy – which involves the harmonisation of fiscal and other aspects of economic policy.
CARICOM currently comprises 15 Member States and five Associate Members, and has increasing interaction with Latin American nations.
In celebration of CARICOM’S 40th anniversary, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart spoke with the Barbados Government Information Service about the environment that propelled the formation of the Community.
“Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana were independent states. Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago gained their independence just after the collapse of the Federation in 1962 and four years later, Barbados and Guyana achieved theirs — Guyana in May 1966 and Barbados in November 1966. The other islands that one would have expected to be part of this effort were not yet independent, and they, I think sensibly, decided to see how the Caribbean Community would work before they became a part of it.
“There was nothing new about that, because when CARIFTA, which was the predecessor to CARICOM, was established, only three countries were involved — Barbados, Guyana and Antigua — that was in 1965. Not until 1967 at a conference held here in Barbados did the other Caribbean countries come on board to become a part of CARIFTA. So, if it was a wait and see in 1973, it was also a wait and see in 1965,” Stuart said.
Prior to the signing of the Treaty, the Late Right Excellent Errol Barrow, Prime Minister of Barbados, while speaking to journalists, described the process as “a very significant step in the march forward of the West Indian people toward economic, political and social integration”.
“Now, what we hope to achieve by the establishment of the Community — we already established Free Trade — is to encourage the growth of manufacturers to encourage intra-regional trade, and also to develop a strong home base from which we will be able to build up our manufacturers on a competitive basis for export to countries outside… What we are trying to do is to tighten the whole operation to give it a greater common identity,” he said.
CARICOM’s genesis also led to the coordination of foreign relations in the form of a Standing Committee of Foreign Ministers. In the area of border protection, the Regional Security System was created, as well as several other regional agencies, including the Caribbean Meteorological Institute. In sports, there has been no greater unifying force than West Indies cricket, which has predated both CARIFTA and CARICOM and which has been deepened by both.
The quest for greater interaction among CARICOM nations gave birth to the Caribbean Festival of Arts in 1972 — a regional multi-cultural event that showcases the work of artists, musicians, and authors. The first CARIFESTA was held in Guyana. This year, CARIFESTA will be held in Suriname from August 16 to 25.
As Stuart noted: “I don’t think that, after any objective evaluation of the Caribbean Community 40 years later, it can be claimed that this region is not more integrated than it was 40 years ago. The people of this region are closer; [and] there are many more avenues for interaction among the people of this region than at any other time in this region’s history.”
Thanks to an appetite for regional integration, many educational institutions have also mushroomed, primarily
the University of the West Indies in 1948, with campuses in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica, and the Caribbean Examinations Council in 1972. Member States have also collaborated in health care with the creation
of the Caribbean Public Health Agency in March 2010, and today efforts are under way to develop synergies in Information and Communication Technologies, agricultural health, and other areas.
Stuart said: “I think Michael Manley put it beautifully when the Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed, when he said that we ‘were summoned by the logic of history to come together as a region’. Eric Williams on that occasion said that there can be no new dispensation in the Caribbean that does not mean ‘the integration of the fragmented economies of the people of the Caribbean, by the people of the Caribbean — us’.
“So, they all recognised the founding fathers — that this was necessary if the Caribbean was going to have a unique voice in international affairs and if it was going to make its presence felt as an integrated movement.”
Prime Minister Stuart added: “I think that 40 years
after signing the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the Caribbean Community remains still relevant to the lives of the people of the Caribbean, because the world has changed significantly since 1973.
“We have seen the end of the Cold War and we have seen the coming into existence of a number of economic blocs. And, it would be suicidal for individual Caribbean islands to believe that they can face so hostile a world as individual states, rather than as a united community.
“So, I can’t see an argument against the integration of the Caribbean Community, 40 years after the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas. Everything that has happened since then has justified that decision.”
Heads of Government will convene their 34th Regular Meeting of the Conference from July 3 to July 6, at the Hilton Hotel in Trinidad and Tobago. The president of Haiti will hand over the chairmanship of CARICOM to the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
Stuart will lead a high-level delegation to the summit and will be one of three keynote speakers at the formal opening ceremony slated for Wednesday, July 3.