PM Gonsalves writes frankly about CARICOM

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (File photo).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Knowing that he has lived many more years than he has remaining, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has been prompted into “a greater impatience and a preference for a strenuous life over that of an ignoble ease”.

And this month, he wrote a strongly worded letter to CARICOM secretary-General Edwin LaRocque about his assessment of the state of affairs within the 15-member regional bloc.

“A central failure in the design, and functioning, of CARICOM is that its focus has been on integrating state institution and trading regimes, and not on the people themselves,” Gonsalves said in the eight-page letter. “… the people-centred matter of the freedom of movement of people, including hassle-free travel, remains substantially elusive”.

He said that while CARICOM leaders have repeatedly spoken of the implications of “this ‘free movement’ conundrum”, the people, in particular Jamaicans, Guyanese, St. Lucians, Grenadians, Dominican, and Vincentians, “remain largely dissatisfied”. Gonsalves said that while he was not “minimalizing the attendant challenges” of free movement, he was sure that CARICOM could do much better on this issue “if we truly commit to its resolution, in practical terms, being especially cognisant of our obligations in international law towards migrants, and the letter and spirit of CARICOM”.

Gonsalves, who last week celebrated 18 years as a Member of Parliament here, told LaRocque that while CARICOM has achieved much, “its extraordinary promise is yet to be fulfilled.” He said CARICOM’s “current mode of marking time, at a historical moment of overwhelmingly awesome challenges for our region which compelling demands a more profound integration, is mistaken.”

According to Gonsalves, while minimalism in integration has its attractions, it can be “fatal” to the well-being of CARICOM citizens. “… the times demand that we move resolutely beyond minimalism which inexorably leads to regression; ‘pausing’ is but a euphemism for standing still, which in a dynamic world is sliding backwards”.

He said that CARICOM was sliding backwards since leaders decided last year “to put the ‘single economy’ process on ‘pause’” even as integration accelerates elsewhere.

Gonsalves, who has been prime minister for 11 years, mentioned the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, which has moved “resolutely” towards an economic union. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) recently resolved to move towards a single economic space and Gonsalves said more CARICOM countries are like to join the not-too-distant future, even as Haiti, Suriname and St. Lucia have formally signalled their intentions to do so.

He also spoke of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which determined last December “to embrace more decidedly political, trading, and functional cooperation between member-countries”.

“What are the implications for CARICOM?” he asked.

Regarding the four pillars of CARICOM – functional cooperation, coordination of foreign policy, security collaboration, and economic integration – Gonsalves said there has been “much success in the area of functional cooperation”. He, however, said “often one gets the impression that success is assured mainly when policies, programmes or projects are driven by the funding and will of an external agency even as foreign policy coordination is “patchy at best” and security collaboration is “largely in tatters”.

“On economic integration, the CARICOM trading regime is in place juridically, but it is undermined daily, for example, by the unfairness of effective subsidies granted on fuel to the producers of goods and services in one CARICOM member-state. On wider economic issues of critical importance in the ‘single market’ such as the freedom of movement of persons and attendant continent rights, the twists and contradictions are yet to be satisfactorily resolved,” Gonsalves said.

He said that CARICOM had “less-than-effective” administrative structures whose performance was “sub-optimal” even as repeated reviews of the CARICOM’s governance arrangements over the past 20 years has been “with little attainment of practical success”.

Gonsalves said that he “enthusiastically embrace” the call of CARICOM chair President Desi Bouterse of Suriname for meaningful change in the functioning of CARICOM, adding “breaking through the morass of an in-built lethargy in our collective regional political leadership, bureaucratic inertia, and public cynicism will not be easy”.

“We must make our union in CARICOM more perfect because it is a great cause for our people’s enduring benefit. I know about the restraints of ‘islandness’, territorial nationalism or even chauvinism, domestic priorities, philosophical differences, different regional emphases, and learned helplessness. Through the mist of all this, we have it in us to overcome these and other obstacles and limitations, through a deeper and better integration,” Gonsalves wrote.

He said that having “written too candidly” he probably “offended some or at least ruffled some feathers”.

“Years of unremitting toil in the regional political vineyard and the settled realisation that I have lived many, many more years than I have remaining to live, have prompted in me a greater impatience and a preference for a strenuous life over that of an ignoble ease,” he further stated.

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One thought on “PM Gonsalves writes frankly about CARICOM

  1. Here is the ALBA agreement, this is the version meant for public eyes. What is disturbing is a separate list of intentions and goals that ALBA has, some of which are already being implemented, some with the intention of implementation. I will let you have those later. The numbered phrases in this document are what I have translated.

    VI Extraordinary Summit – Maracay, Venezuela – June 24, 2009
    Accession of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to ALBA
    On April 16, 2009, at a summit of the member states of ALBA held in Cumaná, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines made an oral request, through its Prime minister, His Excellency, Doctor Ralph Gonsalves, so that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines becomes member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). The chairman of this summit, Your Excellency Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, accepted on behalf of the member states the oral request of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to accede to ALBA. The member states declared and accepted by acclamation, at this summit, the ‘accession (6)’ by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to ALBA, which becomes a member of this initiative.
    The signing of this declaration provides for the official accession of Saint-Vincent and the Grenadines as a member of ALBA.
    In this official declaration, Saint- Vincent and the Grenadines declares and notes the following:
    After the widespread and complete failure, in Latin America and the Caribbean, of the ‘neoliberal period (1)‘ which is contrary to development, a new hope emerged among the peoples in favour of their humanization. Neo-liberalism which is contrary to development, led to a real collapse of our economies, an increase in poverty, the extension and deepening of the social inequalities, a marked deterioration in the living conditions of the peoples and an unprecedented tendency towards social and political alienation.
    Because of this ‘political and socioeconomic unrest (4)‘, the grass-roots struggles of the nations of Latin America and of the Caribbean allowed the population itself to find a better path they must follow. The practical and visionary ideas, as well as the bold leadership of the president Hugo Chávez and the former president of the Republic of Cuba, Fidel Castro Ruz, those who continue to be a leader of the alternative and humanitarian process for the change, are shaping up a noble humanity in search for a much better life. The initiative of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) was born within this context. The ALBA emerged as the possibility that our nations resume the path of progress, as opposed to the options offered by the hegemonic power centres worldwide and which are projects based upon economic integration schemes that have wrought havoc in Latin America during 1980’s and 1990’s.
    What would look, at first sight, like a mere criticism of the former models, has become, in nearly six years, a wide alternative framework, underpinned by new principles, and a reality that has made itself felt among the peoples of our America. Solidarity, economic complementarities, fair trade, integral cooperation and the strict respect of our sovereignty, are the fundamental ideas of the ALBA. These ideas, made apparent in practice, constitute a radical break with the classical colonial patterns or neo-imperialist schemes based upon unfair competition, hegemony, fiction of a free market and the intention to achieve the political domination.
    For ALBA, the social matters are the focal points of the economic relations and the international policies. This is reflected in the historical program ” Mission Miracle ” (know in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as ” Vision Now “), through which thousands of poor citizens of Latin America and of the Caribbean became the beneficiaries of the deepest and disinterested solidarity, after they have undergone eye surgery, thanks to the joint efforts of Cuba and Venezuela. Within the literacy programs in Bolivia, Haiti, Nicaragua and other countries, conducted by once again and thanks to the generosity and altruism of Cuba and Venezuela; the food programs that ensure that our children and the elderly are well fed; and the multiple social and economic programs carried out by ALBA for the improvement of the people.
    The principles of ALBA have resulted in the widest energy cooperation, known worldwide: PetroCaribe Agreement, which is changing the energy matrix in our region, guaranteeing this way a cheap and extensive supply of oil to feed our energy and gas generation plants for the poor families and, as well as fuel for our machinery and equipments. In light of this agreement, the petroleum bill has diminished up to 50 per cent and the resources saved will be invested in social programs. In addition, the assistance that we are receiving to extend our airports (including the construction of Argyle International Airport in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), construct houses for poor families, repair or construct hospitals and health care centers, is part of the widest range of initiatives that have emerged from ALBA.
    This initiative has gained momentum with the full accession of the Commonwealth of Dominica to ALBA, besides the other already existing members. In this regard, the Peoples’ Trade Treaty , an initiative aimed at paving the way for a fair and equitable trade, offers a special treatment to the export products and recognizes the variations in production between our countries, by fixing -this way- a just price for our products and services. Simultaneously, the Peoples’ Trade Treaty of ALBA does not demand reciprocity in trade from the poorest member states, such as Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
    Through different summits of Heads of State and government, meetings of the Council of Ministers and meetings of the technical committees, ALBA has produced a number of practical integration initiatives, for the benefit of the peoples of our America.
    ALBA has become a consolidated, political and strategic alliance, capable of integrating productively our nations, concentrating all its creative potential to guarantee the achievement of their independence and full economic sovereignty, in a manner that we could form part of the world economic reality, with real possibilities, not only with the possibility of occupying, but also with that of owning our rightful place. We are, definitively, an authentic, legitimate and noble civilization of this, Our America. A tangible, absolute and successful order is needed through a cooperative effort, to support this noble civilization. This is the strategic approach of ALBA.
    As an integration (2) movement , instead of altering, ALBA complements other integration circles that emerged from the Caribbean, such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union(ECCU).
    We know that the ‘fundamental principles’ set forth by ALBA, constitutes the alternative that best adapts to the interests of our peoples. We also recognize the disinterested character of the wide cooperation offered by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, and we accept the ideas and principles expressed in the Joint Declaration, signed in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on February 17th, 2007, declaration signed by the President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and the Prime ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
    Hence, in the light of the foregoing, we express our willingness to form part of this historical project, known as ALBA, as a full member. We request, therefore, the member states of ALBA to officially accept this ‘sovereign decision (3)’ of the government and the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, whom I have the honour to represent.
    Convinced that history and our peoples will recognize this event as a historical fact that will benefit us all, I sign this Declaration today, on June 24th, 2009.
    His excellency, Doctor Ralph E. Gonsalves
    Prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

    (1) Neoliberalism: Neoliberalism is characterized by slashing of the role of the state from its broader public functions (welfare, public services, education, regulation); privatization of state assets; de-regulation of financial markets; assaults on labour; tax cuts to the rich; infiltration of ‘the market’ into every facet of human existence.

    (2) Integration: Integrating cultures usually refers to several cultures coming together to form a new, multicultural society. Each culture keeps its character, features and values.

    (3) Sovereign decision: The term “sovereign decision” usually refers to a decision by someone who has absolute power, usually politically. Political leaders such as absolute monarchs and dictators are absolute powers.

    (4) Political and socioeconomic unrest: The term political and socioeconomic unrest usually refers to the kind of unrest and uprising as seen recently in the Middle-East.

    (5) Fundamental principles: Principles from which other truths can be derived

    (6) Accession: Formal acceptance of a treaty or other agreement between states

    Posted by Peter | February 27, 2012, 09:53

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