Regional integration in the Commonwealth Caribbean and the impact of the European Union

Publié le par jean-paul Revauger

Regional  integration in the  Commonwealth Caribbean and the impact of the European Union






A complex heritage.


Regional integration in the Caribbean, and especially in the English-speaking Commonwealth Caribbean, is not a new idea. The proposal owed its origin, in the late 19th century, not to a movement for home rule and self government, but to the endeavours on the part of the colonial authorities, and in particular the most imperialistic sectors of the ruling circles, to streamline the Empire, in the most cost-effective manner, and reposition it in the global struggle against Britain’s rivals. This probably explains the reservations of many Caribbean leaders and parties in  the 1960’s, towards an idea which was originally British.

In its Caribbean territories, the British heritage includes a vigorous policy of “social engineering” and even, in some cases, “ethnic engineering”.[1] The manipulation of constitutional arrangements or administrative boundaries was seen as a natural practice, and often resisted. In 1871, a federation of the (small) Leeward Islands was established, so as to cut costs and avoid the duplication of institutions (Antigua, St Kitts, Nevis, Dominica, Montserrat, British Virgin islands). This was resented locally and each island fought tooth and nail to maintain its fiscal resources and autonomy. The federation survived until 1956, when each island was expected to join the soon-to-be-born Federation of the West Indies[2].  In 1876, the governor of Barbados, John Pope Hennessy, tried to bring about a confederation of Barbados, the Windward Islands (St Lucia, Dominica and Grenada) and Tobago. This was fiercely resisted by the white planters of Barbados, but enjoyed some support from Blacks. Riots ensued, and 8 black men were killed. The union between Tobago and Trinidad, two islands which had little in common in spite of their relative proximity, was decided and imposed in 1887, much to the annoyance of Tobagonians, who feared domination by their bigger neighbour [3] . Resources were scarce in Tobago, and the costs of administering it as a fully fledged crown colony were just deemed excessive.

In the same year, a Colonial conference took place in London, and the idea of an Imperial federation was again promoted, by people like Froude, one of the most determined opponents of self government in the Caribbean, and the arch imperialists Lord Salisbury and Lord Rosebery. In Salisbury’s words, the goal was to bring about “neither a general union nor a Zollverein, but a Kriegsverein – a combination for the purposes of self defence”[4]. Indeed, world warfare was to be the natural outcome of imperial competition less than 30 years later. All this had little to do with the improvement of living standards or the promotion of local interests in the Caribbean.  Froude visited Trinidad, and under Joseph Chamberlain, some  efforts were made to improve the management of the local economies, and reduce the need for financial support from Britain. By 1908, in the midst of sugar crisis, Canada was seen by Britain as a natural partner for the Caribbean. A conference was convened to that effect, and Canada appointed a Trade Commissioner to the West Indies. The colonial economies were therefore managed globally, to some extent, in the imperial framework. It should come as no surprise that the conquest of self government should be seen by local people in local terms, and, to some extent, in insular terms, and federation should be somewhat distrusted.

In the inter war years, the impetus for regional integration came from other quarters. The labour movement, in the disenfranchised West Indies, was an outlet for social demands, but also for political ones, such as universal suffrage. Trade Unionism was a training ground for local leaders, and trade union activity represented the first in vivo experiment in mass mobilization, giving people confidence in their ability to influence the course of things and in the legitimacy of protests and claims. In 1926 the Trade Unions of Trinidad, where there was a measure of industrialization, Surinam and Guyana, called officially for a federation of the West Indies, including  Guyana.  The labour movement maintained steadfastly its support for a federation from that day, and restated it regularly.

The Moyne Commission, which was appointed in 1937 as a result of the large scale disturbances all over the area, including Barbados, a traditionally conservative place, and the more unruly Trinidad, concluded in favour of a regional welfare programme and a West Indian Civil Service, an idea which is still being discussed today[5]. The wise members of the Commission did not advocate all-out political union, but a pragmatic approach, which is similar to the Jean Monnet method in Europe: practical steps must come first, even in rather limited areas, and pave the way for further developments.  The influence of the Moyne Commission on the history of the West Indies, and on their accession to independence and democracy cannot be overstated, since its conclusions laid the ground for all the reforms implemented by the UK in the post war world.

The inception of the Federation of the West Indies, from the 1947 Montego Bay conference, in Jamaïca  to the official creation of the FWI in 1958 and its demise in 1962 are well known, and well researched.


Developments after independence


By 1962, both Trinidad and Jamaïca had become independent on their own. A last ditch attempt at creating a more modest grouping of Barbados and  small Eastern Caribbean states

 ( Barbados, Grenada, Saint Vincent, St Lucia, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla) failed, in spite of the organization of a conference in London.

In 1966, even Barbados, sometimes called “Little England”, enjoying traditionally a greater degree of trust from the UK, chose independence. The I960’s were a difficult time for the West Indies, faced with problems of their own, without the support of the so called “mother country”, but also influenced by world trends, and sometimes caught in the whirlwind of international politics, in particular the cold war. The USA cast a watchful eye on developments in the area after the 1962 Cuban missiles crisis, and just a couple of decades after dramatic events people from outside the area must be reminded of, namely the war against German submarines, which sank hundreds of ships in the Caribbean basin, some of them just off the costs of Louisiana and Texas. The cold war impacted on the region in Guyana, then British Guyana, where evidence of American covert operations against Cheddi Jagan abounds, leading to long lasting ethnic civil war between Guyanese of African descent  and of Indian descent. [6] The British kept a low profile, and bowed gracefully if not willingly to American pressures, even though they did not share the Americans’ fear of Jagan and obsession with communist infiltration. Under American pressure, Britain procrastinated before granting independence, and deviated from its constitutional heritage, by accepting a single chamber elected by proportional representation, which only increased ethnic strife.  Sovereignty, for newly independent Guyana, was a relative concept.

The cold war also had an impact on Trinidad. On the one hand, it took PM Eric Williams more than 10 years to persuade the Americans to leave the Chaguaramas peninsula, where they had established a military base during the war. On the other hand, the weapon of the red scare was used by the government of newly independent Trinidad against the very militant Oil Workers Trade Union, whose leaders were victimized and subject to much pressure. The situation was far from stable, which could only encourage Barbados and others to exert the utmost caution, and deprive the prospect of political integration of much attractiveness. In Trinidad, a major crisis erupted in 1970, due to the lack of improvements in people’s living standards, and lack of changes in the distribution of power, but also to the influence of the Black Power movement in the region. The Caribbean, large islands like Jamaïca and Trinidad in particular, are influenced by the circulation of political ideas, and, in many cases, are a  spawning ground for radical currents, Garveyism and Rastafarianism being cases in point. Stokeley Carmichael, of Black Power fame, was a Trini, even though he was not allowed to land in Trinidad in 1970.

Besides, other crises took place, leading islands away from integration and federation, rather than towards them. In 1967, Anguilla seceded from a small federation with St Kitts and Nevis, and a military intervention had to be staged by Britain in order to stabilize the situation.


Conversely, the region was also influenced by the trend towards free-trade, or at least the lowering of trade barriers between neighbouring countries. In 1965, a Caribbean Free trade Association (Carifta) was created between Trinidad and Guyana, which share a number of characteristics in terms of ethnicity, and are relatively close to each other, but also Antigua and Barbuda.  Britain provided local governments with expertise in order to draft the constitution of Carifta, and this is obvious in its ethos. Carifta was the exact counterpart of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)  which Britain had been keen to establish in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, as a counterweight to the Common Market, and, in Ted Heath’s own words, in order to exert pressure on the Common Market.  This was not the case of Carifta, whose intentions were purer, and which was solely intended to facilitate trade between member countries. Unlike the ill-fated Efta, Carifta was a success. By 1971, it had 13 members. [7]

            The analogy with Britain stops here, and that with the European Common Market becomes more significant, since, on July 4th 1973, a formal treaty, including the three heavyweights of the English speaking Caribbean (Jamaïca, Barbados and Trinidad) and Guyana was signed at Chaguaramas, establishing a regional  Common Market, the CARICOM, with a permanent secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana. 1973 was also the year Britain was eventually allowed to join the  European Common Market, after the two failed attempts of 1963 and 1967. One year later, in 1974, the remaining members of Carifta joined Caricom. Britain’s integration in Europe had a bearing on the regional integration of the English speaking Caribbean in more ways than one. On the one hand, the course chosen by the “mother country”, which retained some prestige, legitimized even further the regional integration of the Caribbean. On the other hand, the negotiation leading to British entry had, since the 1960’s included a chapter concerning its former colonies, which feared loosing their preferential access to British markets, inherited from the Imperial free trade zone of the 1930’s. Britain argued in favour of preferential treatment for its former colonies, and demanded that they be exempted from the common external tariff which applied to all European imports from outside Europe. Ironically, the British case was strengthened by the position of France, which shared the same concern, not towards its Caribbean départements, which were part of the national French territory, and had full access to the European market, but towards its former colonies in Africa. A long round of negotiations started, leading to a series of conventions and agreements between the Common Market and the African Caribbean and Pacific countries (“ACP”), much to the annoyance of other nations which produced the same goods at a much cheaper rate, reflecting the low  cost of labour, but who were hit by the external tariff.  These conventions, starting at Yaoundé in 1963, through Lomé I, Lomé II, Lomé III, Lomé IV and Cotonou, ended in 2007, when, due to WTO pressure, new agreements had to be negotiated between the EU and the 6 regional groupings of ACP countries. A WTO-compatible agreement was eventually reached with the Caribbean, but the other 5 discussions failed, which tends to highlight the quality of the relationships between the Caribbean and Europe.


The Caricom can be considered as the nucleus, and the driving force, in the regional integration process, but is also faces the usual challenges all similar institutions come across. It is not the only regional organisation. Two other groupings exist: the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, for one thing, and the Association of Caribbean States on the other hand. The element of competition between the three institutions should not be overestimated. The perimeter of the OECS is smaller than that of the Caricom, just as the Benelux was and is still smaller than the European Common Market, and more advanced in many ways. The existence of the Benelux did not impede the European integration process, but acted as an incentive and a harbinger. The (limited) successes of the OECS in no way slow down the process of regional integration.


The OECS originated in institutions set up by Britain in the smaller islands, which did not become independent in the 1960’s, but in the 1970’s. In 1966, Britain established  the West Indies Associated States Council of Ministers (WISA) and in 1968 the Eastern Caribbean Common Market (ECCM). From the start, the small islands were therefore blessed with a body in charge of economic cooperation, and another one responsible for political cooperation. This might explain why the OECS took an early start, and seemed in some ways more advanced than the purely economic Caricom: it had a specific political organ. Many of the Eastern Caribbean states gradually became independent: Grenada in 1974, ( in a rather premature fashion, since this was met with a general strike, and gave birth to an authoritarian regime which had little legitimacy, and was toppled by Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement in 1979[8]), Dominica in 1978, St Lucia and St Vincent in 1979, Antigua and Barbuda in 1981, St Kitts and Nevis in 1983.  The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which also includes non-independent territories, such as Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands,  was created  in 1981, by the Treaty of Basseterre (St Kitts & Nevis), as a forum for cooperation, but also as a means of promoting “unity and solidarity”[9], which brings it closer to integration than to cooperation. The ambitions are obvious in the Treaty itself, which purports : “To seek to achieve the fullest possible level of harmonization of foreign policy among the Member States; to seek to adopt, as far as possible, common positions on international issues and to establish and to maintain wherever possible, arrangements for joint overseas representation and/or common services; To promote economic integration among the Member States “[10] This is very close to the “pooling of sovereignties” which the EU aims at – but Britain fiercely resists. The chief achievements of the OECS are in the monetary and judicial fields. It operates a central bank, and a single currency, the EC dollar, which is still known in the region as the “BWI” it used to be, supported by the Bank of England.  It also has a common supreme court, which deals with criminal justice, but does not act as a regulatory body for complaints between member states. Besides, until the creation of the Caribbean Court of Justice by the Caricom in 2003, the ultimate court of appeal remained the British Privy Council, which was a rather controversial issue. Apart from justice and management of the currency, the OECS is also active in the field of civil aviation and the telecom industry, which are quite strategic, for obvious geographical reasons.[11] In practice, the OECS had difficulty surviving the 1983 crisis, when the United States invaded a member state, Grenada, allegedly at the behest of other local nations, such as Barbados. Internal differences had led to the murder of the charismatic PM of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, and the US sent hundreds of Rangers and Marines, supposedly to safeguard the lives of American medical students, by then busily sun bathing at Grande Anse beach and to restore order. The psychological impact of this controversial operation was important in many ways. On the one hand, the Caribbean Left took this as a hint that the US would never let them have access to power, and this discouraged a whole generation of militants and intellectuals from being involved in politics. In a more general sense, the US spoke very softly but waived their big stick, making it clear that the “Caribbean Basin” was their backyard. This is rather coherent, and fits with the “ship-rider agreements” imposed by the US to independent countries in the area, whereby the US navy can follow, stop and search any vessel in the territorial waters of Caribbean nations (except the French territories), without asking permission. In practice, sovereignty is limited. Finally, Britain and the Commonwealth were humiliated, since the US did not give them any prior warning before invading Grenada, a member of the Commonwealth, let alone consult them. This was taking place one year after the Falklands/Malvinas war, when the US, in breach of the Monroe doctrine, had supported a European nation against an American one, in a conflict taking place in America.  The OECS kept a low profile during the invasion of Grenada, and survived, as one does during a hurricane. It probably had no alternative.

The ACS.

Conversely, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) is much bigger, since it includes all the Spanish speaking continental countries with access to the Caribbean Sea as well as the English speaking, Spanish speaking or French and  Creole speaking  islands. (Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela). Associate members, including France, representing its Départements of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyane, and the Netherlands for its 6 territories are also included. The ACS was established in 1994 at Cartagena de Indias, in Columbia. It is a forum for cooperation, but not integration. The bulk of its activities is discursive and concerns trade, transport, “sustainable tourism” and disaster management. To some extent, it could be compared to the Council of Europe, which is also famous for its involvement in research and its impeccable pronouncements, but is structurally deprived of teeth, since its decisions are not binding. Besides, the geopolitical interests of ACS members are sometimes  at variance with each other, and with the Caricom. The relationships between Columbia, Venezuela and Nicaragua are difficult. Venezuela’s oil diplomacy (“petrocaribe”) enables it to make inroads in the English speaking Caribbean, by lending money at zero% interest rate in return for its exports of oil and LNG, but this is construed as unfair competition by oil-producing Trinidad. Finally, during the round of negotiations leading to the EPA, the continental exporters of “Chiquita bananas”, including Costa Rica, were at the forefront of the offensive against the preferential tariffs enjoyed by the Caricom countries. Objective geopolitical differences combine with ideological, linguistic and cultural ones, and probably  exceed them, since Caricom was able to attract the Dominican Republic and Haïti within the regional negotiating machinery, in charge of negotiations with the EU, and investors in the English speaking world await with mounting impatience the opening of Cuba. As Caricom becomes less of an English speaking club, but opens up to Creole, French speaking and Spanish speaking nations, it comes to cover the ground originally meant for the ACS. The insular nations of the Caribbean stand in between the two giants of America, the USA and Latin America. Their only chance of political survival lies in their ability to straddle the border line, and to avoid absorption by either giant. Hence the good relationships maintained with the ACS, at least diplomatically.

A new impetus in the 1990’s.


The other challenges the Caricom faces are not linked to its geographical ambit, but its functions, in other words, not to prospective enlargement but to the “deepening” of integration, once again a familiar question for inhabitants of the EU.  The origins of the Caricom were very modest, and limited to the enhancement of free trade, admittedly a daunting task in a region where governments derived a lot of income from external tariffs and where independence, the “Go It Alone” option, was given precedence over the pooling of resources, and over federation.  However, in 1989, the Caricom Heads of States decided, at a meeting taking place in  Grand Anse , Grenada, to appoint a commission in view of [12]formulating proposals for advancing the goals of the treaty of Chaguaramas”. The West Indian Commission led by Shridath Ramphal, worked as an independent body, interviewing leaders and experts, and produced its report “Time for Action” in 1992. This document played a political part similar to that of the Cecchini Report, the Costs of Non Europe, produced in 1985, and leading to the Single European Act of 1986, and the single European market of 1992. The nature of the documents is different, since the Cecchini report was basically economic, and consisted in a study of the “opportunity costs” of not implementing the Rome Treaty fully. Time for action, although it is also concerned with economics, bears on development, human resources, social issues, communications and sports, external relations and “special issues”. It is therefore broader, but the concern was the same: Time was being wasted, opportunities were lost, and the original impetus for integration was being eroded. The title of the report was quite revealing. The participants of the WIC expressed their relative disappointment with the muted response of the Caricom heads of state, but the next stage on the road to integration, the Common Single Market and Economy, (CSME) is a direct consequence of the report.


The official objectives of Caricom, as defined by the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which followed the work of the West Indian Commission and of the Intergovernmental task force appointed in 1993, fall into three categories. Naturally, good intentions and objectives are quite distinct from realities, and the implementation of decisions should not be taken for granted. The first goal is quite classical, and does not even require a treaty: “improving living standards, achieving full employment, enhancing competitiveness”. The second one is, on the contrary, quite far reaching in terms of integration, and the pooling of sovereignties. It includes “accelerated, co-ordinated and sustained economic development and convergence, expansion of trade and economic relations with third States, as well as enhanced co-ordination of Member States' foreign and [foreign] economic policies.” The third one is quite practical, and bears on functional cooperation “[13]in areas such as health, education, transportation, telecommunications”.


The Caribbean Single Market and Economy, which was agreed at the Grande Anse meeting, is expected to boost the local economies and enhance integration. One of the motive forces behind the move seems to be the difficulties experienced in the early years of the 21st century, especially the uncertainties in the tourism market in the wake of 9/11. The other reason is the need for the Caribbean nations to provide a joint response to the challenges of globalization, in a context where the US were putting forward the FTAA and the WTO was sounding the death knoll of the preferential agreements with the EU. The CSME is very similar to the Single European Act signed in 1986, since it provides for the free circulation of individuals, goods, and capital, the free establishment of businesses, a common external tariff and a common trade policy. [14]

            Apart from the CSME, the chief achievement of Caricom was, in 2003, the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice, as the ultimate court of appeal in the area, designed to replace the British Privy Council. The CCJ functions, and is located in Port of Spain, in Trinidad. This is not an easy subject, since one of the arguments used by the judiciary and some leaders before the move was their wish to carry out the death penalties which the local judiciaries sometimes deem legitimate, but which the British Privy Council never accepted to condone, thus suspending executions. Full independence might in this case lead to evolutions which are highly controversial, from the point of view of human rights.


The Caribbean and Europe: the Economic Partnership Agreement.


            It became gradually clear in the 21st century that, due to pressure from Latin American banana producing countries, supported by the USA, the preferential arrangements worked out between ACP countries and Europe could not survive. The negotiations failed in 5 of the 6 regions, since the ACP countries, many of which were Less Developed Countries, had little to lose by not signing an agreement. The WTO exempts LDCs from its rules, and accepts the idea developed countries can abstain from taxing imports from LDCs, if they wish to help them, and LDCs can maintain protectionist barriers. Europe is therefore free not to tax many African products, while taxing imports from non LDC’s: this is not in breach of WTO rules. In return, LDCs, by not signing an agreement, remain free to protect their own markets from European exports. However, in the Caribbean, the only LDC is Haïti. Most Caribbean countries would have therefore lost out it no EPA had been signed, since the more stringent basic WTO rules would have applied – no preference at all. The British Peter Mandelsohn being the European Commissioner for trade, one could only expect the EU to abide faithfully to the letter, and the spirit, of liberalism. Europe appeared, throughout this negotiation as a “more-liberal-than-thou” trade partner, and as largely undistinguishable from the WTO or the US. The sanctity of free markets, competition, the opening of government procurement and even the liberalization of services seemed to be axiomatic.

            The negotiations dragged on, the press and some experts believed for a very long time they would come to nothing. Such a respected figure as Norman Girvan, one of the leading economists in the region even wrote publicly to the PM of Barbados, Owen Arthur, to ask him not to sign too hastily.  The difficulties were numerous, since both traditional activities, like bananas and sugar, and relatively new ones, like services were concerned. Europe seemed to fear that goods produced outside the Caribbean would just be packaged and labelled there, or would undergo a purely cosmetic processing in the Caribbean and could be sold on European markets as if they were really produced in the Caribbean. This was the “rule of origin” issue.  This suspicion also applied to services, since American “majors” could pass as Caribbean companies, for example in the entertainment business, and unduly enjoy preferential rates. On the part of Caribbean countries, the prospect of diminishing revenues was not attractive for governments, which sometimes derive a significant amount from external tariffs. European insistence on the lowering of tax barriers on automobiles was a case in point. Besides, the firing power of European operators in the field of tourism, was also feared by local companies, which demanded protection.

            Britain played a curious part during the negotiations. On the one hand, Britain is a full member of the EU, and, as such, was directly involved in the definition of the EU’s stance. Indeed, Peter Mandelsohn’s prominent position as a Commissioner, his expertise and charisma ensured Britain’s intellectual and political influence were significant and contributed to steer the EU towards a more liberal stance. On the other hand, Britain presented itself as the advocate of the Caribbean countries, and even provided technical expertise for the Regional Negotiating Machinery set up by the Cariforum (including both the Caricom and the Dominican Republic)[15]. The existence of the RNM is a very positive development from the point of view of regional integration. This institution proved efficient, and emerged as a coherent regional body. This is at least one positive impact of the negotiations. As far as Britain is concerned, it seems that Winston Churchill’s three circles still exist, and that Britain is both within Europe, exerting influence to the best of the considerable abilities of its politicians and experts, and outside Europe.

            The negotiation was indeed successful, and an agreement was reached on December 17th 2007. It is much too early to assess the real outcome of the agreement, and its impact on the regional economies and polity.


Conclusion:  regional identity and integration.


The countries which used to be called “the Commonwealth Caribbean” had a lot in common: colonisation  by Britain, use of the English language, the political heritage of the Westminster system, the influence of Protestantism. They also faced  challenges which they shared with their non-English speaking neighbours: hurricanes, volcanic activity, cost of transport, geopolitical situation. This is changing fast. On the one hand, the English speaking Caribbean still has a lot in common. Regional migrations between the English speaking islands are considerable, if difficult to quantify since they are largely informal. The contribution of Guyanese workers to the prosperity of Barbados is a case in point, even if they do not enjoy full rights as employees. According to some sources, they number 30 000 [16] . Trinidad has both imported and exported a considerable number of people, to the extent that the religious balance is being upset, and Catholicism loses some ground to Protestantism. Besides, those Caribbeans who have left the region and joined the Diaspora are usually identified, and identify themselves as “Caribbean” rather than as the citizens of a  particular Caribbean nation, thus reinforcing the sense of regional identity. The same applies to French citizens from Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Guyane, who, in “metropolitan France” associate with each other easily, forget about the local squabbles, and identify themselves as “antillais”.  If one adds to this the considerable achievements of UWI in creating a body of high level  graduates and researchers, in tune with the intellectual debates taking place in the English speaking world at large (Britain, USA and Canada), one can fathom the growing coherence of  the region.  The OECS, the Caricom, are now respected institutions, which people mention with pride and consider as vital for their future.

However, the historical and cultural legacies, which formed the hard core of the identity of the Commonwealth Caribbean, are now qualified and completed by other factors, geographical, economic, political, and technological. The rule of law, which ranks so high in the self definition of English speaking nations, applies to other, non-English speaking islands, such as Martinique or Guadeloupe, while the evolution of some English-speaking nations is worrying, Jamaïca being a case in point, and Trinidad needing to be watched as well. As the logic of markets and the need to respond practically to challenges gradually supersede government policies, the differences between the status of the islands become less significant: all regional groupings find ways of including both sovereign nations, British or Dutch overseas territories, and the three French Regions, which have full French citizenship, and are part of the EU, as Ultra Peripheral Regions, just like Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Azores. The French territories collaborate with Caricom countries in many ways: security and the war against drugs, public health, in particular by providing medical care to the citizens of neighbouring nations (St Lucia, Dominica, Surinam), the environment and the protection of fishing resources[17]. The regional authorities of the French Regions enjoy extensive special powers which enable them to carry out directly cooperation programmes with their neighbours.  Besides, migrations are also important, what with St Lucians, Dominicans and Surinamese populations working and living either permanently or part of the time in the  French Regions, and tourists from Martinique and Guadeloupe visiting regularly their neighbours .  Regional groupings are often of “variable geometry”, an expression much feared by British governments when referring to Europe. This implies that degrees of integration reflect the willingness of partners. Those that wish to go further, at a quicker pace, towards full integration do it, while others are happy with a more limited integration or even with classical intergovernmental cooperation. In practice, this is exactly what is happening with the French regions and Caricom.  Interestingly, old ideological fault lines also seem to crumble.  For all their anticommunist traditions, and their links with the US, governments and companies in the English speaking world and in the Spanish speaking world treat Cuba in a very moderate manner, and hope to get a toehold in the country  before the regime opens new avenues for investment. Given the size of Cuban beaches and the beauty of the country, the opening of Cuba is seen as a real challenge by the tourism industry in the whole Caribbean. Cuba is both an opportunity, and a prospective competitor.  In any case, the ostracism which was maintained for years towards Cuba is diminishing fast.

The shared challenges posed by natural phenomena in the past have been compounded by new ones, such as pollution, the depletion of fishing resources, global warming, and the rise in ocean level following the deterioration of the ozone layer. These affect Spanish speaking, French speaking and English speaking nations of the Caribbean islands in the same way, and cannot be dealt with by small nations. Joint technical and political efforts are needed, and are seen to be needed.  The war on drugs is another reason for increased cooperation and integration. The Caribbean is central in the drug routes between Columbia and both North America and Europe, in a context where drug dealers make increasing use of the latest technologies, in terms of speed boats and imaginative devices, and enjoy unlimited financial  resources, which make it easy for them to bribe poorly paid and poorly trained police forces and politicians. Regional cooperation is seen as a must, since many observers have drawn attention to the serious challenge posed by drug trafficking to the stability of Caribbean nations. It is a matter of survival, not a moral issue, or a case of subservience to North American prohibitionist obsessions, even though those obsessions are probably part of the problem, and are not shared by a large section of the Caribbean population. The question of Haïti should obviously not be seen solely in terms of security, given the size of its population, the magnitude of the problems and the human challenges they raise. However, the concern of the regional nations for Haïti, its speedy integration in the Caricom might well be due to hard headed realism, and fear of the negative consequences of a lasting collapse of Haïti into delinquency and absolute destitution in terms of illegal immigration and crime.


The whole of the economic life of the Caribbean has always been and is still affected by the global nature of exchanges. Sugar was grown for export, just like cacao, tobacco, bananas and spices. People in the Caribbean ate cod, among other things, which came from the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Now, they import most of what they consume from the US and Europe. Today, offshore banking, world music and tourism are typical products of a globalized economy. This is a huge difference with the EU, where most countries trade with each other much more than with the rest of the world. Regional coherence is necessary for the Caribbean islands as a whole to get the best possible deal within the WTO, and with its present partners, the US, Canada, and the EU. This became obvious over the last decade, especially during the negotiations with the EU.

However, regional integration can only be seen as a complement to globalization, a facilitator, not as an alternative to it. If one keeps in mind the comparison with the EU, this is much closer to the British approach than to many continental ones, which saw integration as a way of protecting national economies and identities from world competition, and from the US model.

There is no doubt the historical and cultural legacies of the Commonwealth Caribbean remain significant, and play a part in advancing the cause of regional integration. Today, this contribution is compounded by other legacies, and by the new responses and ideas to contemporary challenges. The region which invented the word “creolization” is probably better equipped than most to demonstrate that hybridity can lead to a degree of coherence.




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