TRINIDAD and Tobago, birthplace of our Caribbean Community (Caricom), is currently gripped in customary annual Carnival mood. But for one of the best known politicians among former and current heads of government—Jamaica's PJ Patterson—the now almost 40-year-old economic integration movement stands "in danger".
For the former long-serving prime minister of Jamaica, honoured nationally and regionally for his "outstanding contributions" to Caricom, there is "urgent need" for a "concerted effort" by all heads of government of the 15-member community, as well as parliamentary opposition and non-governmental organisations, to rise to the challenges facing the integration movement.
Now retired from active party politics and serving as a recognised elder statesman of Caricom, one of his responsibilities being lead adviser on Haiti, Patterson had a strong warning when he delivered the "distinguished guest" address on Monday night at the World Understanding Month Dinner of the Georgetown Rotary Club in Guyana.
"Let me make it clear," he said, "Urgent steps are required to rescue Caricom, or else life of course may come too late to prevent permanent coma..."
That sad assessment would not have come easily; indeed it would have been quite painful for Patterson, who has been passionate—in and out office—in support of Caricom's fulfillment of major objectives to now have to ring the "danger bell" for "concerted effort" by his community colleagues and more.
The full text of his address would most likely be made available to Caricom colleagues as they prepare for next month's Inter-Sessional Conference, scheduled for Haiti.
Writing in this column on "Harsh realities in Caricom" last month, I had noted the future for regional economic integration and functional cooperation would depend "on the vision, policy objectives and level of commitment of the regional leaders to methodically pursue the policies and programmes enshrined in the 'Revised Caricom Treaty' and to ensure effective management...
"The current reality, however, is that the Caricom political directorate seems to lack the will to seriously inspire hope among citizens of the community for a better future; for more meaningful benefits as 'One People of One Community' (to borrow a slogan of the Caricom Secretariat), to remove lingering cynicism among too many..."
Well, Mr Patterson was, in his own way, ready to point to flaws in the functioning of the "Caricom Enterprise" that have contributed to the cynicism and disenchantment. He fingered at least one well-known people-focused issue—intra-regional hassle-free movement of nationals of the community.
What, for instance, he noted with disappointment, is the "relevance of having a Caricom passport which has not been serving its purpose, given the fact that the free movement of skills and training is still a difficult issue and is not welcome by most member states?"
He agonisingly recalled the pitiful experience for Cricket World Cup in the region when foreigners were courteously allowed to travel freely, while Caricom nationals faced difficulties at ports of entry.
Patterson knows this remains a major unresolved problem that cannot be solved by official rhetoric and repetitive promises that continue to be dishonoured.
But since it is equally aware, and has often declared, that with all its real and imagined weaknesses there is no alternative to Caricom as the vehicle to attain the desired goals outlined in the Caricom Treaty, it is, therefore, simply imperative that all hands be on deck to steer this regional ship out of current difficult waters before it sinks!
As articulated by him in his Georgetown Address on Monday night: "At this time of severe constraints, Caricom heads of government will have to decide on priorities and set a specific time table on competing areas to accelerate regional growth and development..."
Will they? Who is listening?