Tomorrow, the leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) gather in Basseterre, St Kitts, to weigh particularly heavy and not-so-little local difficulties facing ourselves and our largest and most populous member nations and neighbours.
What a tangled web of intrigue they must unravel or else weave.
They will have to navigate the treacherous waters of Venezuela’s political and diplomatic turmoil while Trinidad and Guyana endure the flood of refugees seeking food, shelter, and livelihoods. Ironically, CARICOM urges non-intervention in the internal affairs of our large Spanish-speaking neighbour who coincidentally is ratcheting up a claim to two-thirds of the land mass of one of CARICOM’s co-founders, Guyana. It is the one impulse that unites Venezuela’s antagonists, President Nicolas Maduro and Opposition Leader Juan I Guaido.
And our bloc is not immune to political instability, as the Venezuelan sabre-rattling occurs just as parliamentary democracy has left Guyana without a working government following the defeat of the Granger administration by vote of no-confidence.
Further north, Haiti continues to be gripped by internecine warfare, amid widespread protests against Jovenel Moise’s presidency. The unrest has been particularly violent, preventing our prime minister from visiting Port-au-Prince a few weeks ago owing to the worsening security situation.
Then there is the Caribbean response to ever-shifting goal posts of compliance as anti-money laundering offshore financial jurisdictions. The world’s richest nations – by far the world’s biggest money-laundering nations seek to squeeze our region out of participating in international business and finance through low taxation inducements. We will be keen to see our region speak with one voice to the OECD club of industrialised Northern nations.
The agenda for this half-term summary is as complex and fraught with peril as it is full of promise that significant work will yet be done in service of the regional project that has too long been afflicted either by analysis paralysis or implementation deficits.
And yet, beyond headline-grabbing topical issues, there is the bread-and-butter matter of advancing the CARICOM Single Market while aspirations for a single economy remain unfulfilled. It is here we turn our attention to the role of the head of government holding the CSME portfolio in CARICOM’s quasi-cabinet – Mia Mottley.
Wary as we are of singling out Barbadian contributions to the West Indies cricket team, much to the joy of parochialists and the dismay of regionalists, we, too, hesitate to trumpet the new Barbadian member’s role in the 15-strong squad that is the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (HOGs).
But it is undeniable that the proverbial new kid on the block has, in a matter of weeks, been able to infect her more laconic colleagues with her abundant energy and strong desire to strengthen the regional integration movement, particularly in the economic sphere.
And with good reason, for the prime minister is to the CARICOM’s quasi-cabinet what the wicketkeeper-batter is to the cricket team. Mottley’s task, originated with Owen Arthur and passed on to compatriot successors, is to marshal the troops and materiel to wage war on complacency and seek to bring recalcitrant member states towards a land envisioned 30 years ago this July when that generation of leaders gave birth to the idea of a single market and economy, its baptism certificate being the Grand Anse Declaration.
Now, 13 years after CARICOM version 2.0 came into operation, too many in the region still believe the CSME is just an unworkable idea while ever so quietly thousands are accessing its provisions for borderless movement of skills, products and finance.
The leaders are also to examine recommendations for the future of regional transport from the standing committee of trade and finance ministers – the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).
A special council meeting earlier this month in St. Vincent discussed the Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA), the regulatory framework that was intended to free up homegrown carriers to serve multiple destinations in the region.
They considered proposals for a regional ferry service and easier security check-in for in-transit passengers.
MASA, we are told, is to serve as a mechanism to maximise the economic and social benefits arising from aviation activities for CARICOM air carriers.
But 11 years after our leaders, in an unprecedented act of unity, passed sunset legislation to create a borderless, hassle-free, forms-free single market of the sky – a single airspace to facilitate travel and tourism for the Cricket World Cup.
It has never been answered to our certain satisfaction how the International Cricket Council succeeded where the electoral will of millions failed. By all accounts, the single was an unmitigated success. Should our leaders not revisit this rather than a MASA that has failed to prevent the demise of a Caribbean flag-carrier called REDjet which was shunted from pillar to pose in search of an air operator’s certificate from a raft of regional governments.
For further example that developing regional blocs see a single air transport market as indispensable to free movement of goods, labour and capital, look no further to the African Union, which like CARICOM, emulates the European Union.
We have pooled our individual nations’ sovereignty to create a single market since 2006 and a customs union since 1973, and yet we struggle with 15 separate air spaces, despite having demonstrated conclusively a dozen years ago that we have the political, security and technological means to create a borderless air transport market.
It is here that we call on the Prime Minister to lead from the front on this vexed question, considering the enormous potential of an air transport market to help Barbadian products and services gain market share and rejuvenate our economy.
We also expect that she will make tangible progress on a sea ferry network that can connect produce and people across the region by matching investors with ideas.
Nothing short of bold action is required. Cometh the hour, cometh the woman.