Tension is developing toward the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) from some quarters in Jamaica. This was exemplified by a column in the Jamaica Gleaner Newspaper written by an Immigration Attorney, Mr. Ronald Mason.
I believe it is fair to summarize what Mr. Mason said as follows: He is a Jamaican; not a Caribbean man. He wants no part of the “totally useless creation we label CARICOM”. The people who populate “those islands 1,000 miles away” are not “brothers and sisters”. He is unhappy about his reception in Eastern Caribbean countries he has visited where he was “not imbued with a sense of belonging”.
He had a period of “enforced residence” with persons from the Caribbean at a North American University and in Jamaica and the memories are not pleasant.
He says that “the Trinidadians have this over-bearing, suffocating attitude. The Bajans have this bombastic self-importance. Both of these nations waste no time in displaying these traits towards Jamaicans”.
He was prepared to suffer my advocacy of Caribbean integration in silence, but not anymore. He says Jamaica needs “to give the six-month notice and leave CARICOM” and he adds, “Keep your oil, money, flying fish and population. We will deal with the world as it is and forge our way therein as best we can”.
He says that Jamaica has “the resourcefulness, aptitude and personnel to make our mark. Let us use what we have and be inspired by George Headley, up to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Usain Bolt, the Nobel laureate in our midst and those high achievers in the diaspora”.
On trade matters, Mr. Mason sums up his position in the following way: “They see Jamaica as the market to be exploited, not where fair trade exists” and our local purchases will boost jobs at home. As for me and my house, we will not buy CARICOM products”.
With regard to the Caribbean Court of Justice to which Jamaica has not signed on as its Court of Final Appeal and, to date, refers final appeals to the Privy Council in the UK, he says Jamaica should give though to looking to Canada as its final Court of Appeal. He ends by saying that “CARICOM cannot hope to be viable without some states ceding to the whole some political power. God forbid that Jamaica should do that”.
I have a certain sympathy for some of the attitudes that Mr. Mason has developed and to which he has given expression, although, not surprisingly, I dispute the basis on which he has arrived at his conclusions.
Caribbean leadership in the 15-nation CARICOM group bear responsibility for some of the impressions of the region that Mr. Mason has, although his attitude to other Caribbean people, whon he met at University in North America and in Jamaica, are entirely a matter of his own personal relations.
Caribbean leadership in governments, in the private sector, in the trade union movement has not provided the people of the region with sufficient information, knowledge and understanding of the benefits of Caribbean integration. In the case of governments, too often public statements about CARICOM are made only at times of disputes usually related to trade, and the same is true of the private sector.
Although every day, trade in goods and services between CARICOM states occurs with no hitch benefitting employment and revenues, it is the far fewer instances of disputes that receive attention, creating the impression of a dysfunctional or unfair trading system.
Private sector companies complain the minute that they believe they are disadvantaged and government representatives feel the need to speak out in support of them, rather than pointing to the machinery for resolving these disputes that exist in the CARICOM Treaty.
And, for some curious reason, the Labour movement from which the intellectual argument for Caribbean integration sprung, has gone silent.
This lack of information, knowledge and understanding about regional integration has been crying out for attention by governments and the private sector for over a decade. Important as it is, regional integration is not just about trade in CARICOM; it is also about a range of common services and institutions such as the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Examinations Council, the Caribbean Hotels and Tourist Association, and, yes, the Caribbean Court of Justice, that individual Caribbean countries cannot afford individually and in some cases lack the capacity to administer.
Regional integration ought to be about much more including debt negotiations, access to capital, creating pan-Caribbean companies that can compete in the world market and create more jobs.
On the matter of treatment of Jamaicans at the ports of entry of other Caribbean countries, Mr. Mason might be surprised to know that some Caribbean nationals have complained about their treatment at ports in Jamaica. What is more far greater numbers of CARICOM nationals, including Jamaicans, travel hassle-free in the Caribbean than those who encounter difficulties.
Unfortunately, the difficult cases attract publicity creating the impression that “hassle” is the norm. But, again, governments should address more effectively than they have the matter of CARICOM nationals travelling in the region. For the ordinary CARICOM national, treatment at Caribbean airports speaks more convincingly to the feeling of belonging than any other matter.
With regard to Mr. Mason’s declaration that he is a Jamaica man and not a Caribbean man. No one would expect a Jamaican to subjugate his or her Jamaican-ness to being Caribbean, any more than a Texan would be expected to subjugate his Texan-ness to being American. Being Jamaican and Caribbean is complementary not mutually exclusive; the first is limiting, the latter provides wider opportunity. There is every good sense in being both.
It is also unfortunate that Mr. Mason employed language of rejection of Caribbean brothers and sisters and bordered on suggesting Jamaican superiority. The reality is that the entire Caribbean has been remarkable in producing athletes, innovative musicians and artists, Nobel Prize winners, and high achievers in the international community. That is a mark of what the St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves calls our ‘Caribbean Civilization’; but it is not unique to any one Caribbean country.
The call for the isolation of Jamaica from CARICOM is not in the interest of the Jamaican people; they would be weaker and much more vulnerable than they are. The same is true for every other CARICOM country. That is why every effort should be exerted to strengthen regional integration and make it work.
(Sir Ronald Sanders is a Visiting Fellow at London University and a former Caribbean Diplomat)