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CARIBBEAN: Putting People Before Economics

Peter Ischyrion

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 11 2007 (IPS) - Years after issuing its 1989 Declaration of Grand Anse that serves as the blueprint for a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), regional leaders have come to the realisation that it will take more than economics to drive and deepen the integration process.

“If this regional integration movement is to survive and thrive, it must address practically the day-to-day concerns of the people of the region and it must benefit all the member-countries in a way which is not unduly beneficial to some and not to others,” warned St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

Caribbean technocrats, including Edwin Carrington, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) secretary general, have acknowledged that the successful operation of the CSME hinges on improving the quality of life of Caribbean people as well as on the efficiency of the new institutions necessary to ensure a fair and equitable market and distribution of the benefits.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the Jul. 1-4 summit, regional leaders requested a study of the movement of skilled persons in order to guide the future operations of the initiative.

Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who is now chairman of the 15-member regional integration movement, conceded that “it is an ambitious agenda.”

“But the progress we have made, despite the odds, in bringing the CSME into existence should give us the confidence to take the road least traveled – that of collaborative effort in developing our social system, our common services and the institutions which directly affect the quality of life of our people,” he said.

“Can we not conceive of a programme of integration outside and beyond the mere economic sphere, addressing fundamental quality of life issues in respect of education, health care, the protection of our environment…cooperation in the fight against poverty,” Arthur added.

The CSME allows for the free movement of skills, goods, services and labour across the region, but Caribbean leaders have been voicing concerns, both privately and publicly, that this has not always happened equitably.

For instance, Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, no doubt frustrated by the problems faced by Guyanese citizens at various Caribbean ports of entry, has called on his fellow leaders to provide statistics on the number of Caribbean nationals denied entry to or deported from their countries.

“I have asked that documentation come to each meeting that we have (for) the heads to say how many people have been rejected by each country, because many of the heads keep saying it’s not my thing, it’s my immigration officers, but I will not allow an immigration officer in Guyana to treat the region’s people badly because it is ultimately my responsibility,” he said.

“It’s not just Guyanese, it’s a free movement question,” Jagdeo added.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who has lead responsibility for the free movement initiative, said it was imperative for all regional states to approve the necessary legislation for the measure to take effect.

“People are already experiencing difficulties where we have agreed to proceed with the free movement, but there has not been a commitment in terms of our own legislation within the member states with respect to allowing for the free movement of persons,” he said.

Since the free movement initiative came into existence, Caribbean states have issued 4,000 certificates allowing for Caribbean nationals to work freely within the region, but Arthur told the opening ceremony of the Caricom summit that “there is a very uneven concentration across the countries suggesting that only a few countries are carrying the weight of providing a market for the workers of the region.”

Head of the Caribbean Congress of Labour, (CCL) George de Peana, said he was concerned that the initiative was skewed towards the business community.

“At the moment, there is a limited number of categories of people who can move without hindrance. We feel that the treaty is somewhat lopsided in that it gives a lot of facilities to the business community to move without any kind of hindrance,” Peana said.

“It is our view that this matter of freedom of movement of Caribbean nationals, not only to travel, but to work is one which has to be expedited if we are to build what I call Caribbeanness,” he added.

Regional leaders agreed at their summit to introduce a new high-tech travel card and an automatic six-month stay for all nationals visiting other Caribbean nations.

Barbados Deputy Prime Minister Mia Mottley told journalists that the travel card would allow the region to create a virtual single domestic space similar to what implemented during the Cricket World Cup earlier this year.

“It has two forms of biometrics – the fingerprints and the facial, so that when you come to the airport and you have a Caricom travel card you can swipe at a machine and the barrier would be opened and you walk through,” said Mottley, who headed regional security during the global cricket event.

Caricom officials say the “unprecedented level of cooperation” in managing the Cricket World Cup has created various mechanisms of cooperation in the areas of security, telecommunication, health and culture that could be useful in further improving the welfare of the Caribbean population.

In addition, they note that since its establishment in 1974, Caricom countries have co-operated in areas such as economic integration and foreign policy, as well as security, health, education and disaster management.

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