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Dangers for small West Indian States

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Social contributor – Dickson Igwe

Regional and global integration are no longer options for Caribbean states.

 Sir Ronald Sanders, Caribbean Diplomat and Journalist, made a crucial assertion in a November 16, 2012,  Op ED piece, in the social news media, CaribDirect. The story was titled: ‘’CARIBBEAN IN GREATEST CRISIS SINCE INDEPENDENCE.’’

Sanders, stated that there was a danger that small Caribbean states could begin to stagnate and regress, some even becoming failed states, if they continued to swim the world’s treacherous seas and oceans by themselves. In other words, playing lone ranger by Caribbean leaders and politicians, in a world where convergence and integration were the order of the day, was a recipe for national economic disaster.

Sanders, in his story and commentary, quoted St Lucian Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, who described a contemporary Caribbean Community, CARICOM, that is today caught in a, ‘’ vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits, and high unemployment.’’ Fortunately, these Virgin Islands are not in that category of near failed state as described by the Diplomat; the result of a relatively robust financial services sector, and an international sailing and diving product second to none. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister’s words should be viewed as a warning.

The St. Lucian Leader, at a meeting of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry of October 31, 2012, proffered a grave warning. CARICOM was in crisis. And a prolonged recession would be made worse by increased emigration of skilled persons from the Caribbean. Add a shrinking of local investment; and a malaise in productivity; and all of these negatives could exacerbate recession in the region, even bringing about a long term economic contraction, also known as DEPRESSION.

Anthony asserted that Caribbean institutions had not kept up with the times, and he further stated that post the 2007-2009 financial crisis, Caribbean economies were still insular, that small island societies were not, ‘’ charting an outward response to LOOMING GLOBAL REALITIES.’’

Anthony gave examples of the disadvantages small island communities faced by failing to integrate with a wider regional and global economy: one, was a food import bill running into the billions of dollars that is expected to escalate; two, was the fragility of regional air transportation to support tourism; and three, the absence of region wide sea transportation to facilitate trade in goods.  All these were geopolitical limitations. And they were tantamount to a region hopping along on one leg, but in a world where the possession of four robust limbs were crucial for survival.

Anthony ended his talk to the Chamber with a warning, that, ‘’ apart from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and perhaps Guyana,’’ all countries that possessed natural resources, ‘’ none of the remaining Caribbean countries can survive, let alone prosper, without the economies of scale and bargaining strength that comes from deeper integration.’’ And that includes these Virgin Islands.

This should not be surprising news. Most Caribbean nationals recognize today, that regional and global economic integration are the way forward for Caribbean countries. The discussion on globalism and free trade is a Caribbean wide debate. It is a dialectic, and even polemic, not just being thrashed out in these Virgin Islands.

Prime Minister Kenny Anthony. Courtesy iisd.ca

Two West Indian leaders: one a distinguished ambassador, and the other, a national leader. And both these men are a microcosm of a much larger idea resting in the minds of governments and the governed throughout the region: that the Caribbean is going to have to become a much more integrated region, if it is to survive in a new world ruled by a revolution in learning, advanced science, technology, and Math, and the free flow of financial, physical, and human capital between communities, societies, countries, and continents.

Geographically, politically, socially, and culturally, the West Indies appear well placed to benefit from globalization.  These islands sit in a relatively secure region of a very violent world, and possess a universally attractive social culture. Most Caribbean countries are democracies, and West Indians enjoy personal freedoms comparable with free societies anywhere.

However, political leaders have got to step out of the box, stop the navel searching, the small mindedness, the narrow politics, and think big: begin to think international, to think global. That is the only way this country and the wider region is going to grow and prosper.

National development is not going to come from native tax payers, struggling Caribbean consumers already crushed by debt and stagnating economies alone. No. Prosperity and growth this day and age, for these lesser and Greater Antilles is only going to be achieved through active engagement with global commerce, through free and international trade.

In a world ruled by digital technology, the speed of light transfer of financial capital across borders, and savvy billionaire entrepreneurs, governments may act only as watchdogs and regulators of a swiftly changing global narrative and mural. Yes, governments possess the power of coercion, and governments remain mighty organizations, near omnipotent.  But the more governments interfere in the free trading process negatively, through unnecessary restrictions on international trade, and an inward looking culture, the worse it is for the consumer, resident, and citizen.

Conversely, when governments act as enablers of globalism through good governance, regional and international cooperation, and optimum prioritization in the management of scarce resources, the stronger economically and socially are the societies they rule.

Social media spells the political and social empowerment of individuals; and of small and large communities and societies.  Today, with smart digital devices such as the ever evolving tablet, powerful digital software applications, and imagination, individuals can circumvent many of the barriers to trading and social relationships that big governments create unnecessarily.

And this rule by the microchip is going to give individuals even greater independence and personal power.

The arrival of the global citizen is on the horizon. He and she can no longer be contained by BIG BROTHER.  Yes Kenny Anthony has hit the nail on the head. The Caribbean is going to have to get with the GLOBAL PROGRAMME!

To be continued.

Connect with Dickson Igwe on Twitter and facebook



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