By David Rowe
The British created the West Indies Federation in 1958 in part because they wanted the Caribbean to operate in one expansive, practical businesslike way.
Ultimately, though, the idea was abandoned, with the promise of regional cooperation lost in favour of the price of nationalism.
Over the last 40 years, regional cooperation has been delicately restored over the years by the Caribbean Community, which at least nominally is promoted by the region’s leadership, including Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
But is Jamaica truly committed to a partnership with its Caribbean brothers? Unfortunately, the answer is probably no.
Politicians across Jamaica find time to criticize CARICOM, and most ordinary Caribbean people, whether in Jamaica or abroad, tend to think of CARICOM as more of an abstract concept than a tangible reality.
On a recent trip to Kingston, I asked a cane vendor at Cross Roads what CARICOM was. He suggested that it was a flavour of ice cream. A bank guard I spoke to thought it had “something to do with Trindiad,” but he wasn’t sure.
Of course, one of CARICOM’s biggest current problems is that, at least on paper, permits freedom of investment, but it does not permit freedom of movement.
That barrier — the prevention of the movement of workers from island to island, remains a significant hindrance to economic integration.
CARICOM has had some success — from helping to resolve problems to regional cricket to momentary triumphs like the single CARICOM Visa during the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
Indeed, CARICOM can have a major impact in the region if its uses the scope and depth of its power wisely. Too often, however, it tends toward idleness.
That comes in stark contrast to the smaller Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, which has quietly been dynamically moving forward regional integration, albeit on a smaller scale — with a strong court, a strong currency and ease of movement.
“We’re moving faster than everybody else,” St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told Caribbean Journal earlier this year.
The hope is that the rapid pace of OECS progress will help move CARICOM on a similar path. But very little is written about this fact.
That illustrates another problem — CARICOM’s media problem. Too few Caribbean citizens know what it is, how it operates and what it does on a daily basis.
Why, for example, does CARICOM not have an active, high-quality Twitter account, with so many Caribbean people using the Internet and social media every day on their phones? (Or, for that matter, why does CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque not have one?)
CARICOM must do a better job of interacting, of publicizing itself and reaching out — both to media companies and the people of the region. It needs a new approach.
The integration movement, now in its sixth decade, still has a world of promise — but it needs to start turning that promise into results.
David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.