Saturday, 31 July 2010

Facing our New Caribbean

The CARICOM Single Market project runs a very serious risk of running terminally aground if both officialdom and the people of our Community continue to ignore a number of marked shortcomings in the manner in which we have engaged our development.

The first and most important phenomenon is associated with a chronic lack of self-confidence and the concomitant failure to be responsible for ourselves and our own future. This manifests itself in the ease with which we attribute to external factors some rather stark internal deficiencies.

The serious rise in violence and crime is not the fault of foreign television programming, neither is it an exclusive function of the influx of deportees driven out of the United States by an increasingly oppressive immigration regime. There is also no empirical support for the view that the rise in crime, in some of our previously peaceful communities, is the product of a situation in which CARICOM immigrants are becoming more visible – they have always been present.

We are, by and large, producing our own generations of criminals – thugs, deviants and misfits with no rightful place among law-abiding citizens. But because political survival so often relies on blaming someone else for one’s own shortcomings, Caribbean politicians are too easily relying on playing the card of xenophobia and outright bigotry.

The result has been an atmosphere of intolerance, fear and discrimination against those groups in our regional community that have found it fit to seek opportunities in countries within which there are vast similarities and with whom they share similar historical antecedents.

The politicians are not the only ones to blame. When a CARICOM immigration officer exercises an official prerogative to grant a CARICOM visitor a stay of three days when the region’s leaders have agreed to automatic granting of six-month stays – whatever the administrative injunction, that immigration officer is reflecting a pre-disposition that has to be more widely-shared within his or her own national community. By the way, similar attitudes do not, as a matter of course, apply to non-CARICOM visitors in many of our countries.

Another not unrelated factor is the fact that we, as a regional community, have not been managing our greatest strength, our diversity, very well.

This is reflected in both official and unofficial actions designed ostensibly to “protect” what we consider to be social and cultural mores, values and products. Language is one such element. The CARICOM Secretariat has come face-to-face with this through the advent of Suriname and Haiti membership of the Community. But our societies are experiencing grave cognitive dissonance in accepting the fact that not only does our regional community now speak English (as an official language), Bhojpuri, Hindi, Dutch, Sran Tongo, Kweole, Papiamento, Mandarin, Cantonese, Q’eqchi and French, but we need to add Spanish and Portuguese in the cases of previously-unlikely countries such as Guyana, Belize (not as unlikely) and Antigua & Barbuda.

So, what constitutes this “Caribbean culture” we need to “protect”? When short-sighted artistes and cultural entrepreneurs clamour for forced broadcast exposure for a narrow band of largely “traditional” Anglo/African entertainment products created within the small borders of individual territories there appears to a general misunderstanding of who “we” are. “We” are the multitudes of children of modern Chinese and Indian “indentures” (and sometimes slaves) all over the region, Guatemalan and Honduran economic refugees in Belize, Brazilian miners and traders in Guyana and Suriname, Cubans in Jamaica, and Dominicanos demanding ancestral space in Antigua and Barbuda.

Is our Single Market literature reflecting this diversity? When we speak of “we” are we speaking about all of us? Of course not!

Instead, we are practising the same official and unofficial bigotry as our North American neighbours when we continue to deny the existence of our new Caribbean. The Caribbean has to aim at becoming a net beneficiary of “cultural imperialism” by exploiting the wide open markets on North and South America. In the free market of expression, there is space for everyone, but our vision is not extending beyond our tiny, limited markets. This holds true not only for cultural industries and you will see evidence of this in many areas of manufacturing and services.

There is no new aboriginal population about to be decimated in this space, only an expanding universe of experience and opportunity. The Single Market process misunderstands this at its peril.

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