November 28, 2008

Party line and regional unity

United Caribbean: Party line and regional unity
Published on: 11/28/08.
by Michelle Cave

Source:Nation Newspaper ( Barbados)

NOT ONE TERRIBLY KEEN on domestic politicking, I have to admit to being highly surprised and even pleased at the actions last week of the Barbados Prime Minister.

As Mr Barack Obama, the United States president elect, picks his teams, Mr Thompson has seen the wisdom in matching personality to portfolio, a brave and commendable act, surely.
Over the past few weeks, the Bajan public has been regaled with tales of the Federation of the 1950s. The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus' Archives Department put on a stellar show with many speaking on implications of the Federation, what we have learnt and what we can apply.

Of course, this is a different world today than in the 1950s, and I would like to think that Caribbean people – as a people, as leaders – have grown since then.

In the 1950s when real, responsible government and real constitutional change were within reach of most of these islands, Federation was the choice the emerging political leaders and the British at home and in the colonies thought of as the best way forward.

Federation would bring the islands together under one political and economic banner. Individual self-government was seen initially as a silly, improbable and impractical way to develop the West Indies or have them interacting in and with the world trading system as it existed then.
The work then was seen to be to weld the diversity of the region into a united nation.

In the 1950s the choice was clear. Caribbean development could follow one of two models of federation: the Australian (weak central authority) or the Canadian/Nigerian (strong central authority).

The Australian model won over and major supports like a federal income tax, which would have made the federal experiment financially independent, was forbidden for the first five years that the Federation existed. Many say this sounded its death knell.

Others said the Canadian or Nigerian models were more appropriate – a powerful central government was needed.

By 1960 though, self-government was within sight, and the conversation of what type of Federation and collective development/government was off the table everywhere – an unnecessary dialogue.

But Sir Shridath Ramphal spoke to this, stating it was alarming and worthy of attention by today's political leaders and those considering contributing to social development via the political domain.

The leaders of the Caribbean at that time, grown out of the union movements or educational opportunities, bandied across the radiowaves insults and jibes at each other, denigrating each other and each other's contribution to the unification process – sometimes with such venom that now it makes one wonder whether we as a people have grown up and are assured enough in our personal and collective power to pool enough sovereignty, hard won as it has been, to a central body, supranational in nature, to make a political, and a monetary union work.

The question that is begging to be asked is this: why has Caribbean unification, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, the Caribbean Court of Justice, any of the instruments of regionalism, never made the agenda of any political party's election platform in the Caribbean?
Or maybe another question is more appropriate: what will it take for Caribbean unity to be on political parties' agendas? It needs to be if we truly are going to move forward.

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