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The apostles of regional integration

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This is a speech delivered by St. Vincent's Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves at the 27th meeting of the conference of Heads of Government in Bassetere St. Kitts. Because of its intellectual value Carib News Now has published the speech here in its entirety. Some Caribbean political pundits have referred toit as a Caribbean master piece.
The following is the speech by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves:
 
Mr. Chairman, permit me first to thank the out-going Chairman of CARICOM, the Honourable Patrick Manning, for his excellent leadership of our regional integration movement during his tenure. In his second (or is it his third?) coming, Prime Minister Manning has emerged as a titan of regional integration. I anticipate continued excellence of leadership from our in-coming Chairman, the Honourable Denzil Douglas, to whom I pledge, as always, my fullest support and cooperation.

I congratulate His Excellency the President of Haiti, His Excellency RenÚ Preval, on his election and on the return of his beloved nation to the Councils of CARICOM. President Preval has an awesome responsibility as the head of the national, mass democratic movement in Haiti and is the embodiment of the nobility of the spirit, determination, and steadfastness of democratic purpose of the magnificent Haitian people who constitute the essential, historic core of our Caribbean civilisation in its on-going struggles against racism, imperialism and neocolonialism. The heroic Liberator, Toussaint L’Ouverture, arguably the greatest leader of African descent in the history of the Western Hemisphere, and among the greatest of leaders ever, still lives in us. One of the lessons of Toussaint’s life and work, as taught to us by the Caribbean revolutionary icon, CLR James, in his classic Black Jacobins, is that "----Great men make history, but only such history as it is possible for them to make." This is, in part, a summons to stay connected, always, with the people whom we lead. Haiti has our firm solidarity.

I welcome and congratulate, too, the Honourable Dr. Lowell Lewis on his election to the Office of Chief Minister of Montserrat, and the Most Honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, my very dear friend, on her elevation to the Prime Ministership of Jamaica, the Land we all love! This is no Shakespearean Portia, towering as that figure has been among merchants in Venice. Our Portia is destiny’s child in the finest Jamaican tradition of Nanny, Garvey, Bogle, Gordon, Bustamante, the Manleys, and Patterson. The Caribbean Region yearns for Portia’s dynamic leadership. In paraphrasing Kevin Lyttle’s international, mega-hit song, I am sure that, politically-speaking, Portia will turn us on.

I thank the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for providing the Unity Labour Party and me, yet again, with an overwhelming mandate in our recent general elections. Central to that mandate is the further deepening of the institutional political expression of our Caribbean civilisation, and the soonest practical elaboration of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

At this august assembled gathering, we, the political leaders of the Caribbean Community who are servants of the people are called to be apostles of a deeper, more perfect Caribbean union. History and geography pre-dispose our nation-states to combine; harsh and compelling contemporary realities resident in the social economy of our respective countries, and their unequal and constricting yoke to the international political economy, produce circumstances which induce us to a deeper, more profound integration.

Criss-crossing these pre-disposing and inducing factors, which together constitute an unanswerable case for a deeper union, are a veritable parallelogram of forces, "islandness", real national or domestic self-interest, vanities, and even accidents which always threaten to undermine the efficacy of the regional enterprise but never quite do so. The subversion or derailing of this modern integration enterprise of the Indies never ever takes place because the fundamentals, material and existential, are, in the final analysis, too deeply rooted. In the end, we always see the illuminating stars of a beneficial integration and hear the rolling thunder of its immense possibilities, despite its worrying limitations.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other Member States of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have agreed to accede to the CARICOM Single Market, consonant with their earlier commitment. The vital concerns of the OECS member states have been satisfactorily addressed, or are in the process of being suitably resolved. The quartet of fundamental OECS issues have been: First, the practical elaboration of the Development Fund under Article 158 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas for Disadvantaged countries, regions and sectors; secondly, the clarification of the scope of the "access to land" obligation under the Revised Treaty and its compatibility with the existing Aliens Landholding Licensing Regime; thirdly, the broadening and deepening of the freedom of movement of persons within the Single Market area; and fourthly, the fashioning of a Regional Stock Exchange upon the base of the highly-sophisticated Stock Exchange platform in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU).

No one should ever doubt the commitment of the OECS Member States to a deeper and more perfect union in the Caribbean. Indeed, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: the OECS is a far more tightly-drawn integration effort than CARICOM. Among other things, the OECS has its own currency union, its own currency - stable and strong for over 25 years - its own integrated Court system; and last week, its leaders signed a Letter of Intent to adopt an Economic Union Treaty within twelve months, a draft of which Treaty includes altered regional governance arrangements of a far-reaching kind which certain other members of the wider CARICOM have signaled no willingness to entertain. It is imperative that, at the propitious time, this OECS Economic Union Treaty be accorded formal recognition by the wider CARICOM.

So, in real terms, the OECS is in the vanguard not the rearguard, of the regional integration movement. It is not unreasonable that its Member States seek to protect or advance the interests of their nationals and to clarify matters of concern. Indeed, the other members of CARICOM fully accept our duty so to do, and many, in fact, have assisted us in so doing. A reflective sensitivity to our challenges has been helpful.

The approach by the OECS is right, just and proper. There has been a noise in our blood and an echo in our bone which has a resonance from the early days of Christendom. Paul in 1 Corinthians (Chapter 12) puts it thus:

"And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

"Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

"And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

"…….That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care for another.

"And, whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it."

Clearly, all this is relevant not only to the fragile OECS and Belize but also to a Highly Indebted Poor Country like Guyana.

It is this Pauline teaching of “special and differential treatment” and the organic unity of the one body which, I am sure, has been moving the out-going Chairman of CARICOM, the Honourable Patrick Manning, among other leaders in the wider CARICOM, to act always with a generosity of spirit, with wisdom and foresight.

If the truth be properly told, the CARICOM Single Market holds far fewer practical benefits for the OECS member-countries than would a deeper form of economic integration, appropriately articulated in practice. St. Vincent and the Grenadines therefore looks forward to the transition of the CARICOM Single Market to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. Difficult issues lay ahead but they are not incapable of resolution, satisfactory to all concerned.

Mr. Chairman, Colleague Heads, recently, I was re-reading a remarkable book entitled The Conscience of Words and Earwitness by the distinguished European Nobel Laureate for Literature, Elias Canetti. He wrote something which is very apt, at this juncture, for our integration movement. I want to share it:

"Among the most sinister phenomena in intellectual history is the avoidance of the concrete. People have had a conscious tendency to go first after the most remote things, ignoring everything that they stumble over close by. The Úlan of outgoing gestures, the boldness and adventure of expeditions to faraway places camouflage their motives. The not infrequent goal is to avoid what lies near because we are not up to it. We sense danger and prefer other and unknown perils. Even when these are found — and they are always found — they still have the glow of the sudden and the unique. One would have to be very narrow-minded to condemn this adventurousness of the mind even though it sometimes comes from obvious weaknesses. It has led to an expansion of our horizon, of which we are proud. But the situation of mankind today, as we all know, is so serious that we have to turn to what is closest and most concrete!"

The concrete and practical matters which are closest to us include: poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment, a lack of economic competitiveness, lifestyle diseases, the environmental consequences of climate change, natural disasters, fiscal deficits, democratic governance, relative technological limitations, the fall-out from modern globalisation and trade liberalisation, a debilitating cultural imperialism including from the ghettoes of some American cities, a political intolerance derived from partisan political divisiveness, official corruption, and heightened criminal activities.

CARICOM and the CSME are intended to assist in successfully meeting these challenges, not to slow down, encumber, or in any way limit the Member Countries in their efforts to lift the quality of peoples' lives. Accordingly, a narrow, legalistic approach to the Revised Treaty, or a less than a robustly liberal and purposive interpretation of its provisions, would likely sound the CSME's death bell, if, in the process, it blocks legitimate national expressions. Further, a Single Market, a Single Economy or other form of deeper union, cannot properly be pursued if it underpins representative government, or if it seeks to impose an impatient beginning through an insensitive regional bureaucracy, or a sense of regional superiority by some, which would undoubtedly rankle.

The answers to these challenges do not reside in the purely technical. Indeed, purely technocratic emphases, devoid of strategic approaches and philosophical clarity grounded in the concrete realities, will lead our Region towards a transition to a dead-end.

Too often, a quest for transformative strategies, and the removal of ideational cobwebs in our search for appropriate solutions, is resisted by entrenched political and economic interests nationally, and their allies across the Region and beyond. The late revered William Demas alerted us to all this in his seminal essay in 1990 entitled Towards West Indian Survival. In the process, Demas identified three economic options for our Region:

(1) Scenario A: The continued inability to generate sufficient internal dynamics for growth and development by pursuing wholly or largely national approaches through this or that adjustment programme.

(2) Scenario B: Heightened external dependence and absorption. This is the inevitable consequence of Scenario A.

(3) Scenario C: An internal dynamic for growth and development and a viable competitive economy through a deepening of CARICOM into a Regional Economy.

This latter option is what the CSME is about!

Now that the CARICOM Single Market  is a reality, let us consolidate it and move with expedition and commitment to a workable and productive CSME, consistent with the Revised Treaty.

In doing so, I suggest that we resist the embrace of learned helplessness which is repeatedly fed to the people of our Region by too many politicians, opinion-makers, intellectuals, public officials, bureaucrats of one kind or another, business managers, development partners, and even prelates whose religious doctrines, ironically, are based on optimism and redemption. The antidote to learned helplessness is an optimism grounded in the uplifting ethos and spirit of our Caribbean civilisation, and which drives the necessity and desirability of a political virtuousness as the cornerstone for individual and collective self-mastery.

This quest for individual and collective self-mastery in the interest of our own humanisation, demands, among other things, hard and smart work; discipline; a social organisation of labour which produces and rewards; a nobility of purpose; the igniting and enhancing of our creativity of mind and spirit; the lifting not only of degree but of pedigree, including that of the folk; and a thorough-going historical reclamation. And we can, and must, succeed, in this our own monumental Enterprise of the Indies. Our history, our folk wisdom, our peculiar Caribbean genius, make it near impossible to fail.

Our Region has endured, survived, and thrived through a systematic genocide of its indigenous peoples, a brutal slavery of the African ancestors of our Caribbean family, and the dehumanising indentureship of those of our forebears who hailed from China, India, and the Iberian Peninsula or its neighbouring islands. This Caribbean Region has triumphed over colonialism, and is continuing to resist neo-colonalism and imperialism. Yet, despite the crimes against humanity committed against us, and the suffering imposed upon us by other nations, we have held, to our everlasting credit, our hands of friendship and humanity towards those who have hurt us.

They have not apologised with true contrition to us as they have done to others; and they have not offered reparations as some of them have done elsewhere to other peoples who have suffered less or similarly. On the contrary, some seem to be drunk on an arrogant triumphalism. These are live issues and ought not to be ducked as we go forward with them in partnership. It is not that I am looking forward to the past; it is that hurtling to the future demands at least an assuaging of the past hurts. To be sure, of all time, only the future is ours to desecrate, but the present is the past; and the past is full of mischiefs which resonate in the present.

Our master poet from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Shake Keane, provides a fitting inspiration to our Caribbean people in his poem entitled "Private Prayer" written in 1973 for the late Walter Rodney at the time of the publication of Rodney's epoch-making "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa":

"To understand
How the whole thing run
I have to ask my parents
And even my daughter and son

"To understand the form
Of compromise I am
I must in my own voice ask
How the whole thing run

"To ask
Why I don’t dream
In the language I live in
I must rise up
Among syllables of my parents
In the land which I am

"And from
A whole daughter a whole son
Out of the compromise
Which I am

"To understand history
I have to come home."

Part of our home-coming is CARICOM and the CSME. Others may help us, but we are the ones who must all be the main productive hands on deck. It is we, the Caribbean people of all walks of life, who know our Region and its possibilities better than anyone else. It is us - the leaders of all kinds, and the people as an integrated whole in communion with their leaders - who must bring the touching poetic majesty of Derek Walcott to life and living over the pastures of bananas and sugar cane, where our countries lift their respective horns, sunrise trickles down the valleys, the waves wash along the beaches, blood splashes on the cedars, and the grooves flood with the light of sacrifice.

This historic gathering calls for a remembrance of the giants of the integration movement from across the ages and the Region. I celebrate them. Because of their life and work it remains possible to glimpse morning before the sun; possible to see early where sunset might stain anticipated night. The tongue of memory records the hurt at any of their regional failures, but it extols, too, the magnificence of their efforts in helping to fashion the architectural dream and reality which we hold aloft today.

Assembled today are leaders who, in one way or another, contributed immensely to this CARICOM Single Market enterprise thus far. But none has been more tireless, unsparing and inspirational in his efforts than my dear colleague, Owen Seymour Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados and our colleague Head who has the lead responsibility for the CSME. Owen, you have enhanced our political virtue and our quest for individual and collective self-mastery. You have given meaning to Martin Carter’s poetic summation of our painful and joyous historic journey by ensuring that we who have come from yesterday with our limiting burdens have now turned to the world of tomorrow with our considerable strengths.

On 1 January 2007, I will, God willing, assume the rotational Chairmanship of CARICOM. I pledge, as always, to advance further the interests of our Caribbean civilization.

Thank you and may Almighty God continue to bless us all!

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