OPINION: No! the idea of CARICOM is not dead – By Sir Ronald Sanders

Sir Ronald Sanders

Kaieteur News – A commentary, published on March 8 by Camillo Gonsalves, a Minister of the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, headlined: “Every Island for itself.’ The first line was unequivocal in stating that, “The idea of CARICOM died on December 16, 2020.”

Camillo Gonsalves is a Caribbean man, and an integrationist. Only deep frustration could have occasioned his decision to publish the commentary on his blog site. In the event, his remarks prompted a series of questions to me from Johnson Johnrose, a Caribbean journalist of known repute. I reproduce below the questions he posed and my answers.   

QUESTIONS from Johnson Johnrose to Sir Ronald Sanders:

Q. Do you agree that the idea of CARICOM – the principle of solidarity, the ethos of all for one, and one for all – has died? Why?

A. The ‘idea’ of CARICOM is not dead. The ‘dream’ of a more perfect union is not lost. The idea and the dream are too basic to our future for them to be abandoned. CARICOM as a whole is extremely rich in natural and human resources, but individual member countries are weak and vulnerable. In the international community, individual countries have little or no bargaining power; only when they act collectively do they have any strength. Fourteen votes collectively have a modicum of power; one vote, backed by no military might or economic clout is by itself of little value.

Q. What’s your greatest concern about the future of the movement?

A. That only the demands of survival, resulting from disaster, will cause leaders of the individual countries to recognize that the ‘sovereignty’ to which they cling is only exercised against each other; it is meaningless in the global power theatre where powerful countries and regions dictate their relationships. Leaders should see the disaster looming in Climate Change and its threats to the very existence of islands and mainland territories with low-lying coasts, to agriculture, to tourism, and to human habitats. Lack of individual capacity is evident in each country’s inability to respond robustly to pandemics, such as COVID-19. None of them has large enough populations or enough money to compete with richer nations that have bought the available vaccines, depriving the rest of the world.

Q. CARICOM has endured a lot of internal strife but has managed to survive, could it be that the issue of Venezuela’s sovereignty will be what destroys the movement?

A. It is not Venezuela per se that has caused division and conflicting positions in CARICOM. The real cause is dependency. Some CARICOM countries depended on Venezuela for oil and ran up a large debt in deferred payments; others depended on the US and Canada for aid, markets, and help with borrowing. When CARICOM countries recognize that they could be less dependent on external forces and less obliged if they pool their resources and their sovereignty, they will be more independent in their decisions and action. This same argument applies to the cruise ship industry and to foreign airlines, which play them off against each other, resulting in less revenue to each of them and greater advantage to the airlines and cruise operators.

Q. Why didn’t Antigua and Barbuda join Trinidad and Tobago in boycotting the OAS until Guaido is removed?

A. Trinidad and Tobago has not boycotted the OAS ‘until Guaido’s representative is removed.’ Trinidad and Tobago is an active member of the OAS. Eleven of the 14 independent countries of CARICOM at the OAS do not recognize Guaido or his representative’s legitimacy in the OAS. These 11 countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, do not recognize Guaido’s representative or his vote or participation in any decision making in the OAS. Jamaica, the Bahamas and Haiti do deal with Guaido’s representative – this latter point was what motivated Gonsalves’ blog.

Q. How do you feel about CARICOM’s current path?

A. It is not good for the autonomy of individual states in the international community. Such autonomy as they enjoy is being eroded. Economically, unless the leadership – at both the political and business levels – acknowledge that their markets are puny and their production minuscule in global terms, and that integrating their markets and production would strengthen each of them as integral parts of a larger, more competitive unit (in terms of raising money on better terms and bargaining for better terms of trade), the current path will weaken each of them still further.

Perhaps the truth is that they all know that, ultimately, they need CARICOM, which is why none have left it, and none have chosen to destroy it. It may well be that those who encourage the notion of their own vehicle, keep the engine of the CARICOM bus running because they know that they will need to board it to drive to salvation.

I understand Camillo Gonsalves’ frustration. I share it. But I also know that we cannot pronounce CARICOM dead. Its lifeblood continues to pump in the veins of Caribbean people everywhere, who long for a single region in which they can travel freely on one passport, move to jobs, set up businesses anywhere in the region, just like the people of the 50 states of the United States do.

The imperatives of survival rest not in separateness but in togetherness where the bounty of the region is shared by all in a truly integrated single area, and where standing together in the international community gives the Caribbean solid meaning. This does not mean giving up national identity; it means recognizing that we can also benefit from a Caribbean identity – just as people from Texas are Texans and Americans; and people from Italy are Italians and Europeans, so too we can be Jamaicans, Barbadians, Antiguans and yet be Caribbean.

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own.)

Responses and previous commentaries: http://www.sirronaldsanders.com

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 04/04/2021 at 2:56 pm

    I hold onto that dream for the Caribbean Community as summed up in Sir Ronald Sanders’ last comment.

  • brandli62  On 04/04/2021 at 4:07 pm

    Agreed, Rosaliene!

  • wally n  On 04/04/2021 at 5:13 pm

    The burial of CARICOM is long overdue. Did he mention Guyana?? that is their only lifeline, bunch of ungrateful, hot sun and white (Guyana) sand on a lil piece of mud. Get real, nothing but walking dead.

  • Bernard  On 04/05/2021 at 12:41 am

    Quote: “Camilo Gonsalves is a Caribbean man, and an integrationist.”

    If fact, it is Ralph Gonsalves, the father, who is the “integrationist”, not Camillo Gonsalves, his son, the blogger.

    At a Caricom meeting held in Jamaica on 16 December, 2020, Haiti and the Bahamas voted to condemn Trinidad and Tobago for the December 14, 2020 drowning deaths of twenty Venezuelan migrants trying to reach the shores of Trinidad and Tobago. It happened in Venezuelan waters.

    At the meeting, Guaido’s representatives raised the tragic event and a vote subsequently was taken. Three of the fourteen members voted, in principle, to condemn Trinidad and Tobago. This has naturally upset T&T.

    The credo “One for all, and all for one” was apparently breached by the split. But really?

    Camillo Gonsalves’ shock at the condemnation does not necessarily spell the end of Caricom, it can be viewed as a family feud, a bump in the road. The region’s members need each other – and always will – they are way too small to survive on their own. That is a fate sealed by geography.

    It also appears that eleven members do not recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s representatives at Caricom meetings. Which means they implicitly support the dictator Maduro. Some may see it as surprising that Guyana didn’t join the other three.

    The bulk of Caricom members are towing a fine line because they need Venezuelan oil which they buy mainly on deferred payments, or credit if will.

    Long story short, Caricom is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. The circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear. Camillo Gonsalves is simply waltzing to the beat of his own drum.


  • dhanpaul narine  On 04/05/2021 at 8:10 pm

    Q: A former Chairperson of Caricom said ‘the truth hurts’ when asked to comment on irregularities in the last Guyana elections. Is this in keeping with the principle of all for one and one for all?

    • Bernard  On 04/05/2021 at 8:45 pm

      It is a very good question, Dr Narine. This is one of those classic scenarios of being doomed if you do and doomed if you don’t, or however that saying goes.


  • Dennis Albert  On 04/06/2021 at 11:59 am

    PPP voters are not in favour of CARICOM.

    CARICOM is comprised of islands that are Afro-Caribbean, hence, contrary to Sir Ronald Sanders dream of a union, the average PPP voter does not want CARICOM for fear that their “race” will be in jeopardy, though many PPP voters have sons who like Jamaican music and are dating females of African descent.

    The Haitians are treated as criminals when they land at Timehri. Meanwhile, the Chinese, Hong Kong, Indian, and American “investor” is buying up Guyanese land and reselling it for obscene prices.

    • Ram esh  On 04/06/2021 at 10:00 pm

      “ Sanders dream of a union, the average PPP voter does not want CARICOM for fear that their “race” will be in jeopardy, ”

      Why do you have to always bring up race, the PPP, and how Haitians in Guyana are treated as criminals? Your incendiary language does nothing to bring people together.

      When will you begin to act like an adult?


    • Ram esh  On 04/07/2021 at 7:30 pm

      Curiously, you conspicuously failed to address the reasons for your incendiary reference to race. Instead, you posted a letter to the editor about ostensibly unfair treatments of Haitian immigration violators.

      On the face of it, it would appear to be a double standard. There are more questions in your cherry-picked story than there are answers. What’s the real story?

      There is a high incidence of HIV/AIDS running rampant in Haiti. There is also a high rate of cholera in that country. If the government of Guyana doesn’t keep an eye on this medical crisis, it could soon become Guyana’s problem.

      A number of Haitian migrants are involved in criminal activities such as human trafficking, child smuggling, and narcotics. No country would to treat such migrants with kid gloves. Many Cubans and Haitians use Guyana as a transit point to other countries such as Brazil, Suriname, French Guiana, Mexico and the United States.

      I don’t think we know the full story behind the imprisonments of the two Haitians. If they are guilty of mere illegal entries, then, deportation is the most logical remedy. Why would taxpayer dollars be spent on prisoners for a whole year for simple illegal entries?

      There is probably a whole lot more to it than what is contained in the letter.


      • Dennis Albert  On 04/08/2021 at 12:47 am

        So all Black Haitians are diseased-ridden criminals?

        Do you even read what you post?

      • Ram esh  On 04/08/2021 at 1:57 am

        Stultorum est palaestram in futilitate arguere.

      • Dennis Albert  On 04/08/2021 at 12:46 pm

        You do know that labelling an entire ethnic or national group, especially one that is non-white and disadvantaged (Haitians) as diseased or criminals is xenophobia?

        Do you have evidence that the detained Haitians have AIDS or are criminals?

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