One of the most amazing things about the imminent collapse of the Caricom project is the continued state of denial of people who should know better. Hardly a skeptical journalistic brow appeared to have been raised at the recent announcement by Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson that claims of imminent Caricom doom were being "grossly exaggerated."
Who better than nervous Caricom travelers at the Immigration booths to testify that a narrowing xenophobic eye remains trained on the Caricom logo that now meaninglessly adorns our passports?
Official trade statistics remain steadfastly focused on systemic intra-regional imbalances but blind to far more extensive anomalies between our individual states and North America and Europe. Not too long ago, one Central Bank Governor, jealously eyeing Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaican jars on grocery shelves, had been moved to declare virtual 'foul' even as the other shelves of everything else were quite in order and par for the course.
"Caricom," declared former Barbadian diplomat Peter Laurie,"has exhausted itself." I actually met Laurie several times on the Caricom circuit during his many years of work with the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Barbados. I had heard him argue the Caricom case far more forcefully than almost every single current Caricom head.
"Caricom leaders have absolutely no interest in regional integration other than what petty benefits each can gouge out of it," Amb. Laurie writes. "Most of them, except for the cheapskates and freeloaders, are slowly realising that they get out less than they put in. Caricom is no longer a win-win situation,but a zero-sum game."
What could have prompted Amb. Laurie to so decry what he once supported so passionately? He does not really explain, except to argue that Caribbean people had outgrown the Caricom project.
I do not entirely agree with him on the latter point. I believe Caricom people remain mired in the filth of colonial style authoritarianism just as solidly as their leaders. Where, today, is there a strong, independent and credible human rights organisation comprising competent, committed and fearless advocates - with perhaps the exception of Jamaica and Guyana?
How many Caribbean people believe that the media should be shackled by a regime of censorship? That journalists and their media houses should become subject to the authoritarian reins of Big Brother institutions to punish and reward accordingly?
There are few Caribbean people who hold a different view, unless their preferred political party is in opposition and do not support, during that period in opposition, notions of state censorship of the media.
I will wager that in the vast majority of Caricom states, the people who occupy political space would eventually attempt to muzzle the media if they were in power. Who in power, in this space, has not - the efforts of Bruce Golding in Jamaica on the question of defamation notwithstanding?
What does this have to do with the success or failure of the Caricom project?
Well, if the founding ideals of the integration movement, as eloquently captured in the now largely forgotten Charter of Civil Society for Caricom, continue to be ignored, the best integration architecture is guaranteed to crumble and eventually disappear.
I do not agree with Mr Laurie that international trade and liberal arrangements for the movement of goods and services pose the greatest threat to Caricom. I believe the irrelevance of the current movement emerges strongest from a failure to recognise that our greatest strengths reside in the freedoms we appear so willing to trade for bright, shiny but meaningless trinkets.