Whither a Caribbean Union?

“Africans in the United States must remember that the slave ships brought no West Indians, no Caribbeans, no Jamaicans or Trinidadians or Barbadians to this hemisphere. The slave ships brought only African people and most of us took the semblance of nationality from the places where slave ships dropped us off.”

Dr. John Henrik Clarke

The recent brouhaha caused by the comments of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad regarding assistance to other Caribbean nations brought to mind the arguments for and against a Caribbean Union.

Let’s acknowledge that there is a global movement brewing. Ad hoc alliances of the past, territorial boundaries drawn on a map to represent colonial claims are now being layered over by more structured, formal, regional associations. These alliances, while usually geographically based, unite sovereign nations economically and politically. This type of association is nothing new; The USA, League of Nations, NATO, CARICOM and OAS all came into existence due in part to the scenarios laid out above. And now the European Union is upon us.

Marcus Garvey was one of the earliest proponents of a Caribbean Union-under the umbrella of Pan Africanism. He envisioned a coalition of African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American individuals working together creating a common, international black agenda. Many others have voiced support for that ideal over the decades since Garvey first declared “self-determination for all peoples” in 1920. The practicality of it however has been a non-starter.

CARICOM has tried to rein in the various agendas of the Caribbean countries into a unified regional force with mixed success. The recent Trinidadian declaration that ‘any help to its neighbors comes with a price’ highlights the internal conflicts preventing CARICOM from being the power it could be. The Trinidadian government also recently indicated it was re-evaluating its continued role in the Caribbean Judiciary.  

But is a Caribbean Union a good move? In a lot of ways yes; economically the benefits to the smaller countries with limited national resources presents a huge upside. The benefits to the larger economies like Trinidad and Jamaica are also significant. The economic advantages of a single currency, ease of travel for employment, capitalizing on the initiatives some countries have already made in the global financial sectors (e.g., Bermuda and Barbados with their successful captive insurance markets) and coordination of tourism initiatives among the countries  would benefit all.

If CARICOM fails, the need for a union of Caribbean countries doesn’t go away. What probably should happen however is a newer group that more fully incorporates the Dominican Republic and Cuba come into being.  The traditional arguments against such assimilation can be countered by again looking at the European Union and the steps they have taken to incorporate the different cultures and economic standards of several nations into their organization. It may not be a perfect system, but the upside to such a development represents a win-win for everyone.