We Mix Business with Pleasure.

Not a Caribbean Man?

Sir Ronald Sanders

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday May 16, 2013 – Tension is  developing toward the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) from some  quarters in Jamaica.  This was exemplified by a column in the Jamaica  Gleaner Newspaper written by an Immigration Attorney, Mr. Ronald Mason.

I believe it is fair to summarize what Mr. Mason said as follows:

He is a Jamaican; not a Caribbean man.

He wants no part of the “totally useless creation we label CARICOM”.

The people who populate “those islands 1,000 miles away” are not “brothers  and sisters”.

He is unhappy about his reception in Eastern Caribbean countries he has  visited where he was “not imbued with a sense of belonging”.

He had a period of “enforced residence” with persons from the Caribbean at a  North American University and in Jamaica and the memories are not pleasant.

He says that “the Trinidadians have this over-bearing, suffocating attitude.  The Bajans have this bombastic self-importance. Both of these nations waste no  time in displaying these traits towards Jamaicans”.

He was prepared to suffer my advocacy of Caribbean integration in silence,  but not anymore. He says Jamaica needs “to give the six-month notice and leave  CARICOM” and he adds, “Keep your oil, money, flying fish and population. We will  deal with the world as it is and forge our way therein as best we can”.

He says that Jamaica has “the resourcefulness, aptitude and personnel to make  our mark. Let us use what we have and be inspired by George Headley, up to  Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Usain Bolt, the Nobel laureate in our midst and those  high achievers in the diaspora”.

On trade matters, Mr. Mason sums up his position in the following way: “They  see Jamaica as the market to be exploited, not where fair trade exists” and our  local purchases will boost jobs at home. As for me and my house, we will not buy  CARICOM products”.

With regard to the Caribbean Court of Justice to which Jamaica has not signed  on as its Court of Final Appeal and, to date, refers final appeals to the Privy  Council in the UK, he says Jamaica should give though to looking to Canada as  its final Court of Appeal.  He ends by saying that “CARICOM cannot hope to  be viable without some states ceding to the whole some political power. God  forbid that Jamaica should do that”.

I have a certain sympathy for some of the attitudes that Mr. Mason has  developed and to which he has given expression, although, not surprisingly, I  dispute the basis on which he has arrived at his conclusions.

Caribbean leadership in the 15-nation CARICOM group bear responsibility for  some of the impressions of the region that Mr Mason has, although his attitude  to other Caribbean people, who he met at University in North America and in  Jamaica, are entirely a matter of his own personal relations.

Caribbean leadership in governments, in the private sector, in the trade  union movement has not provided the people of the region with sufficient  information, knowledge and understanding of the benefits of Caribbean  integration.  In the case of governments, too often public statements about  CARICOM are made only at times of disputes usually related to trade, and the  same is true of the private sector.  Although every day, trade in goods and  services between CARICOM states occurs with no hitch benefitting employment and  revenues, it is the far fewer instances of disputes that receive attention,  creating the impression of a dysfunctional or unfair trading system.

Private sector companies complain the minute that they believe they are  disadvantaged and government representatives feel the need to speak out in  support of them, rather than pointing to the machinery for resolving these  disputes that exist in the CARICOM Treaty.

And, for some curious reason, the Labour movement from which the intellectual  argument for Caribbean integration sprung, has gone silent.

This lack of information, knowledge and understanding about regional  integration has been crying out for attention by governments and the private  sector for over a decade.  Important as it is, regional integration is not  just about trade in CARICOM; it is also about a range of common services and  institutions such as the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean  Development Bank, the Caribbean Examinations Council, the Caribbean Hotels and  Tourist Association, and, yes, the Caribbean Court of Justice, that individual  Caribbean countries cannot afford individually and in some cases lack the  capacity to administer.

Regional integration ought to be about much more including debt negotiations,  access to capital, creating pan-Caribbean companies that can compete in the  world market and create more jobs.

Sir Ronald SandersOn the matter of treatment of Jamaicans at the ports of  entry of other Caribbean countries, Mr. Mason might be surprised to know that  some Caribbean nationals have complained about their treatment at ports in  Jamaica.  What is more far greater numbers of CARICOM nationals, including  Jamaicans, travel hassle-free in the Caribbean than those who encounter  difficulties.  Unfortunately, the difficult cases attract publicity  creating the impression that “hassle” is the norm.  But, again, governments  should address more effectively than they have the matter of CARICOM nationals  travelling in the region.  For the ordinary CARICOM national, treatment at  Caribbean airports speaks more convincingly to the feeling of belonging than any  other matter.

With regard to Mr. Mason’s declaration that he is a Jamaica man and not a  Caribbean man.  No one would expect a Jamaican to subjugate his or her  Jamaican-ness to being Caribbean, any more than a Texan would be expected to  subjugate his Texan-ness to being American. Being Jamaican and Caribbean is  complementary not mutually exclusive; the first is limiting, the latter provides  wider opportunity. There is every good sense in being both.

It is also unfortunate that Mr. Mason employed language of rejection of  Caribbean brothers and sisters and bordered on suggesting Jamaican superiority.   The reality is that the entire Caribbean has been remarkable in producing  athletes, innovative musicians and artists, Nobel Prize winners, and high  achievers in the international community.  That is a mark of what the St  Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves calls our ‘Caribbean Civilization’; but  it is not unique to any one Caribbean country.

The call for the isolation of Jamaica from CARICOM is not in the interest of  the Jamaican people; they would be weaker and much more vulnerable than they  are.  The same is true for every other CARICOM country.  That is why  every effort should be exerted to strengthen regional integration and make it  work.

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