Fifty years ago this week, on July 04, 1973, several other people had a dream. The audacity of hope gave birth to the dream of regional unity, that was called the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). It was a joyous occasion that commemorated another attempt at synergizing the collective talents, hopes and aspirations of the region's people, after an initial 'false start'.
Granted, it has not been an easy road. Yet, despite the numerous challenges it has faced since its inception, CARICOM has persevered through the years and grown from strength to strength. Indeed, it can still be reasonably argued that this political and economic union remains a constant and steady representation of the lives of the approximately 16 million people who reside within the combined borders of its 20 members states.
These member-states can be further categorized into 15 member-states, namely Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, The Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, (as well as the non-English speaking countries of Haiti and Suriname), and five Associate members: Anguilla, Bermuda, The British Virgin Islands, The Cayman Islands and The Turks and Caicos Islands.
As mentioned earlier, while CARICOM is not the region's first attempt at unity (that honour goes to the now-defunct West Indies Federation), this entity is undoubtedly the most enduring. It became a reality on July 04, 1973, with the historic signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago by four regional Heads of Government, namely Prime Ministers Errol Barrow of Barbados, Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Michael Manley of Jamaica and Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago. Little under 30 years later in 2002, this Treaty was revised to also encapsulate the creation of a CARICOM single market and economy.
Who exactly comprises CARICOM? According to the official CARICOM website, geographically speaking, the domain of CARICOM stretches "from The Bahamas in the north to Suriname and Guyana in South America." The website further notes that, "CARICOM comprises states that are considered developing countries, and except for Belize, in Central America and Guyana and Suriname in South America, all Members and Associate Members are island states."
The four umbrella spheres of development that CARICOM has contributed to over the past five decades are categorized as: (i) economic integration, (ii) foreign policy coordination, (iii) human and social development, and (iv) security. Therefore, specific areas such as science and technology, agriculture, crime detection, prevention and reduction, energy, telecommunications, disaster preparedness and management, trade and investment, aviation, education, healthcare, governance, environmental protection, tourism, legislative development and reform, sports and culture, etc., are all areas of strategic focus for the region's leaders.
Yet, there are those who would argue that fifty years onward, CARICOM has perhaps outlived its relevance, since they aren't necessarily 'feeling' the advances in their pockets or other aspects of their everyday lives. For example, it is a fact that the cost of country-to-country travel within the region is still comparatively higher than taking a similar flight outside of the region to say, Miami, USA.
Likewise, there are still marked trade imbalances that appear to favour one or two countries more than others, resulting in a 'flood' of goods and products from those countries to other countries, with little to no chance of reciprocity. Then there are those who feel that regional unity is little more than an annual façade, since in the last fifty years (and counting), the region appears to be no step closer to having a single currency or parliament, and entrenched cultural hostilities persist.
Nevertheless, on the flip side, there is much to celebrate, such as in the field of education. For example, three of the region's noted institutions of higher learning, specifically the respective University of the West Indies (UWI) Campuses at Mona in Jamaica, Cave Hill in Barbados and St Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, tend to reflect a more optimistic view of CARICOM, in my opinion. They remain living testaments to the region's capacity to harness the region's innate talent, annually produce scholarly work and hone critical, visionary thinkers who have gone on to distinguish themselves in their chosen fields as local and international experts.
Fifty years in the life of any person or entity might be an indication of corresponding success or failure, depending on whether you view the glass as half-full or half-empty. Nevertheless, it cannot be disputed that the reasoning and thinking that would have occurred at 10, 20, 30 or even 40 will still prevail at 50, since life's experiences enable us- whether as individuals or entities to reflect, contemplate, review and even revise our initial thoughts and perspectives, with the aim to become strategically better at what we do.
Fifty years later, is CARICOM still a force to be reckoned with? You decide.
LinkedIn Local Caribbean, CARICOM, fifty, region, development