When one considers the cost of air travel in the Caribbean and the fact that one has to rely principally on LIAT to provide that sevice, we can only consider ourselves to be in dire straits where the movement of Caribbean peoples and Caribbean integration is concerned.
With all the talk and hype about Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) in recent years, which in recent times has become more of a whisper as so many of the decisions of Caricom after their initial announment, it is obvious that Caribbean leaders have not seriously thought out how that integration will take place.
For many years now Caribbean leaders have met and discussed, met and debated, met and decided that there should be freedom of movement among the peoples of the Caribbean without the use of a passport. However to this date, it is nothing more than a lofty idea in the heads of the leaders since freedom of movement as they conceived it is still more of an ideal than a reality. There is no political will on the part of these leaders to implement this idea, and one has to wonder if they are really serious about Caribbean Integration, or is it that when they meet they feel the need to table proposals to justify why they meet, to say things that would appease the populations but at the end of the day never get implemented.
What does it take for Caribbean leaders to see that the failure to make haste with greater Caribbean Integration is the failure for the Caribbean region to be competitive as a region in the era of global financial crisis? If there were greater strategies at a regional level to confront the economic meltdown that has gripped the Caribbean, and from there appears to be no end in sight, the region and its people would be in a better position today. The region as a whole has vast resources, and were there greater cooperation and backing from the more developed of these islands then the region as a whole would have been able to confront the challenges and still come out ahead. Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago, before he demitted office, demonstrated his commitment to regionalism and was prepared to enter into an economic arrangement with Grenada and St. Vincent. His successor, Kamla Persaud-Bissesar, the present Prime Minister, has demonstrated that she is no regionalist compared to Manning and her earlier statements that Trinidad will not be an ATM for the Caribbean demonstrates just that. Trinidad has never been an ATM to anybody and the unequal trade that exists between Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean shows that the rest of the Caribbean has done its part in supporting the Trinidad economy. Venezuela, which is an oil rich country just as Trinidad, has done more for the Caribbean than Trinidad, a fellow Caribbean nation. So until and unless the richer countries of the Caribbean move away from this patronizing mentality and realise that we all have a common history of Colonialism, a comon history of oppression and exploitation and we have to be looking out for each other, our brother’s keeper as it were, then the region would be better served. In fact, if the more developed countries of the Caribbean would adopt a similar approach to Cuba who gives aid and assistance in spite of its own difficulties, then the Caribbean as a region would be more self-sufficient and more inter-dependent.
In this the 21st century, there really should be few obstacles to integration. There is the experience of the West Indian Federation to draw upon. There are years of regional discussions at the Carifta and Caricom levels to guide us and there can be no more excuses and pretext from the leaders of the region over their failure to make more meaningful progress on integration. It is time for this talk shop to end and for there to be more genuine progress aimed at uniting the people of the region.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to that integration is regional travel. How can the people of the region be expected to integrate when the cost of regional travel is and has become so prohibitive? If one has to pay over a Thousand Eastern Caribbean dollars just to travel to Trinidad or Barbados, does this not spell a bleak picture for the people of the Caribbean where integration is concerned? What has prevented the leaders of the Caribbean from coming together and agreeing on a strategy for more affordable regional travel if they are really serious about integration? It is obvious that LIAT has tremendous difficulties and has demonstrated its incapacity to handle regional travel by itself. There is a need for another carrier to be brought in to assist LIAT but one that would bring down prices and make them more affordable. The cause of regional integration can also be enhanced by the procurement of at least two or more modern inter-island ferries that would probably be more cost-effective in terms of fares, but which would make an enormous difference in terms of transporting Caribbean people back and forth throughout the Caribbean. If properly structured and if Caribbean leaders are prepared to sign on to such an initiative, then this can become a reality very quickly indeed.
In the final analysis, Caribbean leaders have missed the boat where regional integration is concerned but it is not too late for them to recognize their short-comings and do everything in their power to rectify this. It is time for CARICOM to move beyond being a talk-shop and do something concrete for the region by pooling their efforts and resources to make first and foremost regional travel by air and sea more affordable and more realistic for the people of the region. Their actions will be judged by the future generations and if the region continues to deteriorate economically, socially and otherwise as it has been doing in recent years, then the blame must rest squarely on the shoulders of the leaders of the region who will be judged harshly by the people of the region ….......Just Food For Thought!