October 29, 2009

Overcoming challenges to Caribbean integration

Published: Thursday | October 29, 2009

Jamaica Gleaner

The Editor, Sir:

The debate on Caribbean integration continues, from how deeply integrated we should be, to whether we should be integrated at all; from issues concerning the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to matters dealing with intra-community trade. On these issues, there are as many opinions as there are people.

As expected, these debates reflect firmly held personal views which are, in many cases, informed by individual experiences. The problem is, we tend to speak on these issues more from emotion than we do from information.

When problems arise between our countries, which they inevitably will, just as they do among families, many of us immediately think that the notion of integration is a grand fantasy that should be abandoned for more practical pursuits. But the fact is, even the European Union, idolised by so many as a model of successful integration, has had its share of problems which might have crippled it, had it not been for those who understood the benefits of integration and were bold enough to pursue the vision of an integrated Europe.

The problem of xenophobia

Take for example the problem of xenophobia. One Jamaican student currently studying in Barbados recently raised this issue in a letter to the editor of this paper published on October 22. He writes that he was "all for Caribbean integration" before his arrival in Barbados but laments that since he has been there, he has "heard the most harsh, negative and backward statements about my dear land, Jamaica. The Eastern Caribbean is against us, from Antigua, St Vincent and Barbados to Trinidad. The reality is we cannot befriend our secret enemies. These islanders are so prejudiced against us, it is unbelievable".

He goes on to say, "It is not wise for us to have the CCJ as a final court of appeal when the others dislike us so much". He concludes that, "Integration will never work until the others who hate us remove their prejudices against us." One can easily sense his disappointment with his experience in Barbados and his growing disdain for Eastern Caribbean nationals.

I am certain that he is not the only one with such a view. Having lived in Barbados for two years myself, and having good and bad experiences while there, I can sympathise with his view and I believe his concern having to do with xenophobia is a legitimate one. But I am not confident that the solution is to isolate ourselves from our Caribbean neighbours. It is not likely that their prejudices against us, whether real or perceived, will be removed by distancing ourselves. Instead, prejudices will be removed, our own and our Caribbean neighbours', only when we get to know each other better. In other words, by greater interaction and further integration.

Enhanced appreciation

Another writer to the editor on October 24, also speaking on the integration movement, notes that, "Those who have travelled to Jamaica are usually in awe at the beauty of the place, the friendliness of the people and their resilience. They love the music and culture and try to copy as much as they can." Therefore, it is only by greater interaction among our Caribbean people, by experiencing our various islands and cultures and by enjoying our different foods and music that our prejudices and fears will be dispelled and our appreciation for each other will be enhanced.

It is for us as a people to find routes through or around these problems through better information and greater exposure rather than throwing our hands in the air and relinquishing all hope of reaping the benefits of integration.

The time for questioning the wisdom of pursuing integration has gone. The only question that remains is how best to do it.

I am, etc.,

Duwayne Lawrence

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