Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Caricom’s English-speaking neocolonials

CARICOM was born of politics and a vision of what Anglophone black people in the West Indies should be and do to keep a colonial legacy alive. Some of our best used the genre and came to fame. It had no “Caribbean” vision, no economic intent or feasibility. It morphed into CSME through politics, and recent moves to involve the private sector are desperate attempts to deflect blame from politicians.

In the recent UK elections some 30 per cent voted for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose aim is to leave the EU, and Brussels is to reconsider its future. We should assess CSME as it works for small contiguous EC islands, not us. The British sold us a union on the EU plan; we took the bait so let’s heed their upcoming referendum. CSME is based on a common language, but the EU’s is based on economics and lasting peace as, after the last war, they felt if states traded they would not fight.

CSME has no such practical or noble motive. Today’s EU has 23 contiguous states, 500 million people, robust trade and a budget of US$200 billion. Brussels makes the laws and now many members want to reclaim that right. We have CSME zealots who now know it can’t work for us but will not recant as their credibility is at stake, yet they all come to live here. They refer to the English-speaking Caribbean as if it is an economic zone, contiguous, or states well known to each other—disingenuous. The notion is so pervasive tourists are misled and believe they can “island hop” to Barbados or Guyana from here, while some 90 per cent of us have not been into Caricom. CSME is a clever fiction inspired by the Brits, aided by cabinets, and sustained by well-paid, unaccountable regional civil servants. 

Jamaica is the largest nation in CSME, so we are its backbone— finance, market, innovation, brand value, yet we are the poorest member. EC states are close to each other and get value from CSME, but it is not our manifest destiny. Other members enjoyed three decades of prosperity, free education up to university; we scrounged, they lent us cash, we “ban our belly”—oh, what fools our cabinets be! The phrase English-speaking Caribbean means zilch as CSME does not work, yet the UK alone speaks English in a viable EU. Our leaders use it to affirm the virtue of neocolonial sameness, while our mentor unites with Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese speakers to build success. The EC have a good union—OECS—but need a large captive market to survive. We are it! CSME is not feasible for us as its small, distant market cannot float our boat, and friendship is no substitute for trade.

CSME is the regional begging machinery. It saves national pride as each of us does not have to go bowl in hand. It straddles the aid pipeline as it’s getting hard to convince donors we are poor, what with the houses, SUVs and flat screens. Bustamante and Manley must be whirling in Heroes’ Park as we win the race to the bottom.  CSME is not bankable, but English is an asset in our backyard as we can earn from Haiti, DR, Cuba—not CSME. English is the channel of technology, trade, war, and can make us rich right here.

Politicians are shrewd. For a generation they tried to make CSME work, failed and got an idea to shift the blame to the private sector—put them on delegations “fully and equally”, give them talk time to “make regional integration a success”—sick joke! Don’t be sucked in; CSME won’t work for us, we can’t change geography and the metrics. We are small with a big brand and need no union to prosper, but CSME controls us by making the arcane and distant familiar.

Why would poverty in Grenada mean more to us than poverty in Haiti next door? How can these poor, distant English ex-slave states help us when Haiti, DR, Cuba are in our backyard? So murders are high in Carriacou. How in God’s name is this more relevant than our lads dying in Bronx or Brixton? A USA gunboat in Jamaican waters can help the DR and Haiti corral drug boats, but Trinidad and Tobago is too far to benefit. If Fly Jamaica needs emergency landing, don’t try St Lucia, go to Haiti. How long will we deceive ourselves? The private sector had a few protests. Is it about to be hoisted on its own petard by smart politicians? Do the numbers, have a referendum, and bye-bye CSME. WTO says we can still have fun and trade in Caricom.

We are marginal in CSME. The CXC headquarters should be here, but our cabinets did squat! Caricom’s capital, CDB headquarters are not here, though we are the big name brand market. We pay hundreds of millions to CXC, but might we get good, cheap, relevant exams if we buy from a USA exam board? It is our backyard and, unlike Barbados, the place of choice for our diaspora. 

Courtesy Jamaica Observer