Ahead of the start of the 34th CARICOM heads of Government conference in Trinidad we wanted to touch on the issue of results from these summits over the years, but we resisted the urge.
Then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart threw the door wide open for us when he addressed the official opening ceremony, making reference to “a disturbingly increasing number of Jeremiahs in this region who let slip no opportunity to spread unnecessary alarm, despondency and despair”.
Thanks to Stuart’s comment, which as far as we are concerned suggested that anyone who criticises the results of CARICOM talks, or perhaps more appropriately, the lack of results, is tantamount to being an enemy of the region, we spoke our piece.
But now the talks are over, the whiskey, as reference by calypsonian Chalkdust in Seawater and Sand, is gone and the leaders have returned to their individual capitals — and what have we to show for it.
In a sense, the summit was successful, for as someone said a long time ago, while countries are talking it is hardly likely they will make war. So it is important that our leaders keep the channels of dialogue open.
But what is there to shout about? What is there in the after-summit press conferences to inspire confidence among the ordinary men and women of the region? What nuggets of hope can Caribbean people find in the conference communique?
We can’t criticise our Prime Minister for the contents of a Press release issued by Government because we don’t believe he wrote it — but the one issued at the weekend titled Negotiation ongoing with Trinidad is a perfect example of how to say in 520 words “I have nothing new to report”.
It said Trinidad and Barbados are to continue talking about a fishing agreement; what meetings had taken place on the subject since the Cuba summit; that Barbados can’t advise its fishermen to break T&T’s laws; that a protocol to deal with “these little flare ups” was in place; there has been no agreement since 1990; and that classic line — “it takes two hands to clap”.
Except for the reference to the protocol, of questionable value, which the DLP appears to hang on its wall like a hunting trophy, everything said in the release has been said before — by JMGM “Tom” Adams, by Sir Harold St. John, by Sir Lloyd Sandiford and by Owen Arthur. Oh, and by Freundel Stuart!
The short version of the Press release could simply have read: “Nothing new to report!”
The biggest issue, it would appear going into the summit was the LIAT/CAL war, based on what some leaders see as Trinidad’s unfair subsidisation of fuel for CAL. What’s the outcome of talks? Our understanding is — more talks. Until the next summit, perhaps?
Then there was the announcement that the leaders want to see CARICOM expanded — possibly to include the French- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean islands. We ask our readers to forgive the injection of sarcasm, but if the mainly English-speaking island leaders and their governments can agree on so little, we shudder at the thought of adding new languages to the mix.
But again, another Government-issued press release quoting Prime Minister Stuart put the whole affair in proper perspective. He said: “Sometimes, we’re going to have little flare ups in the regional integration movement. But I think that what unites the people of the Caribbean is far more important than what divides the people of the Caribbean. We have a common history of struggle; a history of slavery and indenture and of racism, of course. We understand these things, we understand difference and we’ve over the years been able to manage difference.
“Now the differences that usually occur are differences among leaders and governments. But when differences between leaders and governments are happening, the lived experience of the average man and woman in CARICOM continues — they don’t stop living regional integration … and that is what will ensure that the regional integration movement survives.”
And that’s exactly what gives rise to the modern-day Jeremiah’s who so annoy our Prime Minister. The people understand and live integration. They have for decades. It is the politicians, particularly the modern-day leaders, who are the biggest stumbling block to the process.
Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, for so eloquently putting it in perspective!