By Sunity Maharaj
Until we settle our relationship with this place, the culture of ambivalence that keeps us disconnected from yesterday and unattached to tomorrow will continue to define our responses to each other and to this land. Like victims of abuse, we have become the abuser. Here in these old colonies of exploitation, the colonized has become the colonizer, exploiting at will and bleeding the place dry, without thought of tomorrow.
With ancestral homelands receding behind the mist of the past, the possibility of clearing new ground to plant new memories, nurture new myths and embrace this Caribbean as homeland and ancestral place-in-the-making, remains unexplored. Instead, the Caribbean family exists as castaways, strangers to each other, suspicious and curious but afraid to reach across the barriers of a history in which division has been a key strategy of control, management and government.
The Common Sense Convois to be hosted by the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies, publishers of the T&T Review, from March 18 -25, has set itself the task of re-grouping and re-building the Caribbean family as the building block of a modern Caribbean society and the basis of a unique Caribbean civilization.
Two hundred years ago, when the Haitians launched their revolution and took on Europe, the idea of this region as a common space in common endeavour was perhaps more alive than it is today. When the Venezuelan liberador, Simon Bolivar ran into trouble in Colombia, it was to Jamaica that he fled. Rejected and almost assassinated, he turned to Haiti which protected and nourished him until he could return with the men and supplies to launch out on his quest to free countries of South America from the Spanish Empire and end slavery in keeping with his own belief and his promise to Haitian President Alexandre Petion. Between the freedom fighters in Haiti and those in South America, the entire hemisphere was a single space bristling to be free amid dreams of regional unity in liberty against the dominance of Europe.
Today, we live at the mercy of Europe. Not only Europe, but also North America and the international development institutions they have developed in the post-war period. Lately China has joined the fray. Development aid, designed to keep us as viable markets for the goods and services produced by the financiers of the institutions, has become the lifeblood of the region. For global producers, the very concept of the Caribbean exists largely as a convenient construct for external management and engagement with an inconvenient number of island rocks strewn across the Atlantic Ocean.
This is the context in which we need to evaluate the future of CARICOM, the clunky regional machinery invented to facilitate, not the relationship between ourselves as people to people, island to island, but that between the old colonies of the British Empire and the world. Like most systems of organization and management in these former colonies, it operates from the top down, an instrument of government without the ballast of the people below. This is the No Man’s Land in which CARICOM is trapped today, cut off as it is from the people who alone can demand and negotiate its rescue from the brink of financial bankruptcy. But for this, we will first have to address its moral bankruptcy.
Why should we want to save
The question is neither rhetorical nor is the answer self-evident. Like every institution in the post-Independence Caribbean, CARICOM’s future depends not on money but mandate.
No matter how big a rescue package can be found to float its stricken ship, the regional integration machinery will not survive without a regional integration movement grounded in a large enough number of people who believe that their own future rests in the future of a united region. It is the people who will give the governments the confidence and the will needed to break CARICOM’s implementation paralysis and, in so doing, transform the regional entity into a well-oiled machinery for action. The real problem behind CARICOM’s inaction is not simply unwilling governments; it is governments that are trapped in the pappyshow of regional integration knowing full well that they do not have the political and moral authority to go any further than talk, given that they have no mandate from their people.
Ultimately, there are no systems, strategies or processes to force an integration agenda on the people of the Caribbean. It can only come from the wishes and the will of a people who see real value in it.
The Common Sense Convois is unabashedly integrationist. This publication as well as the Institute that founded the T&T Review, long ago settled the question of which side of the issue of regional unity it stood. For us, the richest possibilities for our own future lie in reaching out to each other to create a common platform for engaging the world, for expanding the markets for our products, for deepening the richness of our culture and for creating a zone of peace, beauty and harmony in a world of superpower excesses.
In the Common Sense Convois, we emphasise the point that the Caribbean does not stop at the boundary of the old British West Indian empire but washes straight across to the countries of Central and South America, all bordered by the Caribbean Sea. It is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural space whose potential remains largely unprobed, except, perhaps, by drug traffickers who, by virtue of necessity, probably know more about the contours of these islands than the rest of us.
We are simply not content to accept the role of consumers, as a basin for the overflow of products for the manufacturers of the world. We have our own dreams to conquer the world with the gifts of our imagination as expressed in Caribbean music and art, Caribbean cuisine and fashion, Caribbean literature and agriculture, Caribbean sport and medicine, Caribbean theatre and films, Caribbean thought and technology, Caribbean furniture and architecture, Caribbean engineering solutions and IT creations, Caribbean political and economic systems. And the list goes on.
On this journey, there is much work to be done and much discovery to be made, starting with each other. All across the region, a new generation is thrusting to the fore, anxious, in the global world of facebook, to escape the facelessness and dehumanisation of technology in order to make itself known as special in a world where special-ness is to be prized. We must hasten to equip them with the heritage that is theirs and to pass into their hands the bounty of this place that is their inheritance and their trust to keep. But to love it, they must know it. Pure common sense.
We must begin, then, with the education, information and communication systems, which at the most personal, common sense level, translates into conversation.
So, on the evening of March 18, we will begin the Caribbean conversation by convening in the pan yard of Scherzando in Curepe to launch out in a revival concert billed as the “Re-awakening of the Caribbean Spirit”. The next day, we launch out into the common space of the Caribbean Sea, leaving the morass behind as we fix our eyes on the shiny city of the future. We hope to see you there.
For more information on joining the Common Sense Convois, please see: