Caribbean integration, the creation of a federation or simply the harmonising of our collective policies and laws, has long been the dream of persons living in the region who both see our untapped potential and those who understand that the region will only advance with true independence (something which can only be achieved through some form of unity). To achieve these ends, after the abortive federation of the late 50s-early 60s, the treaty of Chaguaramas was signed and slowly the entity which we know as CARICOM was born.

This was to be the first step on the road to some form of unity. The following forty years have seen many great treaties drawn up and many a grand conference held, however meaningful integration has remained elusive. The politicians who for the most part want integration, have over the last 15 years been pushing the CCJ (a regional court which would be the final court replacing the Privy council), and this body, more than any other in the history of CARICOM has shown that regional integration can be done and done well.

Unfortunately, the people who have been tasked with deciding on whether their respective nations sign up to the court (that is the citizens) have in an almost unanimous fashion rejected the court. The most recent rejection came in the referendums of both Antigua & Barbuda as well as Grenada after both ruling parties campaigned hard in favour of a yes and the respective opposition parties although having a long history of being pro-CCJ, campaigned against.

Why is this? Why is it that the people who regularly lambast their leaders as not taking integration seriously (they are in it for trips and photo-ops) turn around and flatly reject the possibility of adopting a regional system which has been shown to both work and has teeth? Is it because the citizens of these countries are so wrapped up in nationalism? Or is it because they don’t understand the arguments being made and don’t see the achievements of the CCJ?

Quite honestly, I don’t think that either example is really the reason as to why the CCJ is being roundly rejected whenever it is put to the people. It is my view that the people of the region do not wish to see any more talk of integration and the crafting of newly integrated mechanisms until the ones we have currently work, and work for all.

Why, for example, would they want to vote for this court (which sounds good) when the regional body can’t even ensure that we can travel seamlessly through the region? Why would they want to vote for further integration when all it has meant up to now is skewed market access and certain citizens being treated like lepers or carriers of the plague? The people are not idiots.  We in Jamaica, for example, know the good calibre of the judges and have seen how the courts could work in our favour, and yet, for the most part, we are opposed to the CCJ. Opposed to the CCJ not because we are ignorant of what it can and does bring in terms of benefits and independence, but because we have seen no indicator that this theoretically good body won’t end up like all the others.

If the CCJ and CARICOM for that matter are to be salvaged, (Jamaica has already said it may not pay its 25% of the operational budget) then the already existing bodies and treaties established by CARICOM need to be enforced. We have reached a critical juncture in this project.  As rabid “uber-nationalism” rears its ugly head again regional integration faces a real and present threat, and in this region, which has already gone through the process of blowing up one integration project the prospect of it happening a second time should scare everyone and spur us into action.

We need to stop talking and act.  We need to, for example, enforce freedom of movement and in so address the deeply seeded animosities we hold towards each other (see everyone v Haiti, Trinidad v Barbados, Barbados & Trinidad v Jamaica etc…).  Too many of us live in each other’s countries for us to constantly be at each other’s necks and hassling persons trying to gain entry. We need to streamline and make it easier for business to operate in each other’s countries, affording them the same rights and protections as the domestic ones or doing away with unfair legislation (concerning regional matters) altogether. We are far too small a market to be at each other’s necks as that simply leaves us open to foreign import domination, as we, in the end, eschew regional brands which have helped destroy local brands.  We need to remain united on the international scene, in spite of internal differences, especially in the face of global powers, as that is the only way the region and by a direct result, the individual nations, see benefits from any trade, diplomatic or legal matter.

These are simple and easily achievable, especially since the frameworks and bodies are already in existence. All that is needed is the will to do so by the national heads of state who have the power to switch the regional machinery on and ensure that local governments enforce and abide by them. Let us, those who want further Caribbean integration and unity,  temporarily put aside the idea of the CCJ as the final court and instead focus energies on having existing bodies and treaties upheld and fully functional. Create and enforce the long spoken of but never seen CSME, that aspect alone would hasten the need for a CCJ. Enforce rules as it relates to travel and work, because as the Jamaican case has shown, it also hastens the need for a unified regional court.

Unity can be achieved, and it must be the goal especially in these fraught times. But it should be aimed for in a tactical way which ensures that the baby does not, in the end, get thrown out with the bathwater. The people want visible progress, they want to see existing bodies and institutions function.  It is not too much to ask to give them that before they yet again acquiesce to another demand which sounds good but could end up being yet another talking shop.

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