“Not in numbers but in unity that our great strength lies.” – Thomas Paine.
Traditional and non-traditional threats, in addition to the vulnerability and dependence of Barbados, and the geopolitical paltriness of most, if not all Caribbean countries, are still matters that should grab our attention. All of these countries have been ‘cruelly exposed’ to:
– the vagaries of stagnant or weak economic growth,
– declining terms of trade,
– insufficiently diversified economies,
– precariously perched foreign reserves combined with economic volatility,
– the need to borrow to cover public expenditure coupled with incidences of mountainous debt,
– wide fiscal deficits pre-empting forced structural adjustment and austerity measures,
– the gifting of extravagant concessions to transnational business magnates,
– potential minefields in tourism, high unemployment or vast underemployment,
– trajectories of declining social nets paralleled alongside increasing poverty and myriad forms of insecurity,
– glaring everyday exposure to climate change and other environmental hazards, and
– instability in several institutions that are badly in need of major reforms, and circumspect practices that undermine good democratic governance.
Against this host of problems afflicting and challenging Barbados and the region, there is still optimism born out of the resilience that characterizes the region, and a sheer desire to survive. Indeed, recent occurrences in Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and now Barbados ushered in a renewed thrust to push back against the lethargy that lingered for too long in the region since the first decade of the 21st century. Deepening functional cooperation is once again topical as Barbados and the regional entities comprising the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are actively revisiting their ties and approaches to both safeguard and assure mutual survival.
Often, the region’s concept of its security or insecurities is contested. But clearly, Caribbean populations shape their security narratives to discursively enhance a shared sense of safety. Many of these small developing states declare or show a willingness to counter the devastating threats or looming dangers by relying on discourses of commonality and shared concerns. In one sense, Barbadians, for example, talk in security terms as a set of attempts to impose order, stability, and to ensure well-being since failure is not an option for the nation or region.
Under the proactive leadership of Barbados’ first female prime minister, there are clear indications that her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) embraces and is committed to regionalism. Prime Minister Mia Mottley, in her verbal communication and hands-on decisions, already has demonstrated that her Cabinet is eager to offer researched, informed, and practical solutions to several perennial economic, social, environmental and logistical issues faced locally and throughout the region. The English playwright and poet Alan A. Milne once contended that: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you, you have to go to them sometimes.” Barbados is taking the right posture and Government stands poised to utilize both traditional and new ideas.
Barbados is again immersing itself in regional affairs at the leadership level via effective interactions and the engagements that are facilitative for fermenting the successes necessary for regional survival. For instance, while speaking in St Lucia before the OECS heads, Miss Mottley alluded to the concerns faced by our people transiting through the region. The Prime Minister, who later received agreement from St Lucia’s prime minister Allen Chastanet, highlighted the plight of regional travellers who are in-transit. This category of travellers is precluded from leaving the airport and the sea port although a ‘wait’ can be of several hours duration. The Barbados leader surmised that the “inability to be able to clear immigration . . . continues to be of major concern to many of our citizens” and this legalistic conundrum that is manifested throughout the region needs to be eliminated.
Indeed, Miss Mottley insisted that the prohibitive practice “makes no sense because it limits the extent to which those who visit our shores are capable of adding to economic activity in our countries”. Hence, the Prime Minister posed a rhetorical but questioning summation: “What are the legal obstacles preventing the movement of people who are within our jurisdiction?”
Surely, Miss Mottley is correct that “the only way we [in the region] can move forward . . . is by recognizing that our fragility requires of us [leaders and legislators] an effort and a commitment that goes beyond anything that we have seen thus far”.
To reinforce the earlier point of support for strengthening Caribbean integration, the newly elected Mottley-led administration has abolished the visa requirement for Haitian nationals entering Barbados. Barbados has moved to abolish the ‘illegal’ provision because not only was it inconsistent with the ‘spirit’ of CARICOM, but in fact, it should not have been a requirement given that Haiti is a member of CARICOM. The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas compellingly demands non-discrimination and equal treatment for CARICOM nationals. The substantive minister responsible for immigration, Edmund Hinkson, queried: “How can you have . . . visa requirements on Haitians? Why do we do this to our own people?”
Early next month, CARICOM meets for its annual conference of heads of government. This year’s meeting is potentially inspiring and should be sufficiently forthright that the leaders redouble their efforts for the implementation of decisions. Former prime minister of Jamaica Bruce Golding contended that “the implementation actions required of each member state are not in all cases simple matters; some are very complex, requiring far-reaching policy changes, legislative processes, and executive action. Stakeholders have to be sensitized and persuaded to buy into the process. Many of our member states, too, are constrained by capacity and resource challenges. Yet, the list of matters that are yet to be actioned and which the report so helpfully identified on a country-by-country basis is distressing and embarrassing. Hardly any plausible excuse or explanation has been offered by any of these member states for its inaction. Indeed, hardly could any be proffered, given the length of time that has elapsed”.
Certainly, if integrated development is to benefit the people, regional prime ministers must lead by adopting more cohesive approaches in their ‘community’ discourses and in their social, political, and economic interactions. Barbados’ plans of maritime expansionism should also encourage enthusiasm for other littoral interests in the Caribbean’s geospatial spheres. Additionally, it is crucial that regional leaders discourage a one-dimensional understanding of security and our common problems. Regional agreements and obligations must amount to meaningful actions.
Immediately coming to mind within the scope of transnationalism are issues of regional transport and cross-border networks. LIAT, although being at the centre of deliberations, does not preclude the realization of an ‘inter-island ferry’ service. Greater shared ownership ought to exist with LIAT and the proposed ferry service must consider the regional needs. Therefore, the regional zeal to achieve must not be ‘inadequate’ if the Caribbean populations’ expectations of safety, hassle-free travel and prosperity are to be fulfilled.
Furthermore, these small countries of the OECS and CARICOM are implanted within under-explored economic maritime zones. The message emerging from Barbados, for example, presupposes that perennial lack of critical thought and sluggishness to action must be replaced with innovations, technologies, and the political will to maximize such untapped elements as our maritime resources. The prioritization of efforts, assuming the scholarship for gravitating to informed positions on policy and implementation, should enhance regional sustainability. The gravitas and spill-over effects can deepen functional cooperation in terms of both integrated development and national/regional security.
The practical demands of effective and efficient governance must regain cross-border significance. Already, prime minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda has heralded the entry of Prime Minister Mottley. Mr Browne assuredly says that her “reputation as a champion of Caribbean causes is renowned, as is her understanding of the value of the Caribbean’s unity in its global affairs”. Although not elusive to the many difficulties hampering the noble project of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, Mr Browne rests confidence in Miss Mottley’s capacity to be “constructive, practical and visionary”. In several forums, Miss Mottley has communicated that Barbados must work with its neighbours to create and help shape the felicity conditions for national and regional progress. She sees the sharing of information with Caribbean colleagues to be a vital communicative segment that can prove amenable as the region copes with similar challenges and options.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and a political consultant. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)