POLITICS AND ECONOMICS: THE CARIBBEAN FREE TRADE ASSOCIATION: THE WEST INDIES AT THE CROSSROADS

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The serious critic of the Caribbean Free Trade Association, (CARIFTA) has to begin by making the case for Caribbean integration. This he must do if only to rebut the allegations of those who, resentful of criticism of any kind, have asserted that such a critic is hostile to the notion of regional integration. As an outspoken critic of CARIFTA I begin the discussion, therefore by declaring my own commitment to regional collaboration. To the extent that I support CARIFTA, I do so precisely because any initiative having as its intention the promotion of the further integration of the area is worthy. Let it be clear, I am not anti-integrationist. I am far more, not less, integration. Nevertheless, I am against particular kinds of integration lest I find myself supporting such a conglomeration of interests as Tate and Lyle, Goldfields Corporation and various other foreign concerns – interests which it is embarrassing to support. Nor am I anxious to ‘mash up’ CARIFTA as others have the Federation. If Carifta does break up I am anxious to avoid the historical responsibility for its failure for which there are among its present promoters several better contenders. It would however be an unspeakable irresponsibility were I to maintain an ill-judged silence in the face of the current schemes to perpetuate as I see it the existing West Indian society of which CARIFTA is merely a part.

I am for change: I play roles in two institutions which, in their purest conceptions, are committed to change. The New World Group and the University of the West Indies have meaning and substance only in so far as they consciously perceive and help to achieve the objective of change. As an historian, my profession requires me not only to witness but also to appraise. Aware of all this, I remain unshaken in my conclusion that CARIFTA deals only with the accidents and not with the essentials of the problems currently afflicting the West Indian societies. More than that, the Caribbean Free Trade Association illustrates the determination of the existing hierarchy, and particularly the entrenched business interests of the Caribbean to maintain, support and perpetuate the irrational and artificial society which their ancestors created and kept in the West Indies over the last five hundred years. To this I am opposed, and those who claim that I want to destroy CARIFTA, know it. In a sense they are not talking about CARIFTA alone. and neither am I. We are talking about fundamentals – the structure of the society in which we live. I am for restructuring. On the evidence, they are not. That is why in their hands CARIFTA is an instrument designed to frustrate meaningful change and to maintain in being the synthetic societies of the Caribbean. In my view, CARIFTA should represent a new departure, a decisive shift in the relationships between the territories and among the people who inhabit them. It should also break up those entanglements with the metropolitan countries which have consistently promoted the underdevelopment of these areas and assert in their stead new arrangements by which the development of the West Indies will be promoted to the advantage of all West Indians. These are the perspectives: difference and conflict are the context of this debate.

2. THE CASE FOR INTEGRATION

The case for Caribbean integration, rests on a number of factors, but chiefly on the organisation of the area. Irrationality in political and economic life is now commonplace. Today, more than three hundred years after the founding of the first English colony in the West Indies, it is no longer original to draw attention to the multiplicity of administrations needed to run the several territories of the Caribbean. It does cause some distress, however, to reflect on the fact that nowhere else on the world does such a galaxy of governors general, governors, administrators, prime ministers, premiers, chief ministers, parliamentary secretaries, permanent secretaries and other assorted bureaucrats exist for the regulation of the affairs of four million people as exists in the West Indies. In the age of import substitution, we know that we consume what we do not produce and produce what we do not consume, but we continue all the same. Restricted in the range of natural resources, we allow those that we have to be owned and controlled by foreigners. West Indians as owners and managers are still to own and manage oil, asphalt and bauxite, or even sugar which they have produced for hundreds of years. They are still to develop an indigenous banking system so that the money which they save will be applied to purposes which they determine. Governments acting in their name, still continue to borrow their money via the foreign banks and use more of that money to pay interest on the loans thus obtained. In all the territories a contempt for the interests of the ordinary people constitutes the supreme political irrationality. The movement of the political system, from crown colony to independence, has been a disappointment (possibly a disaster for all but the privileged few). A cultural dependence still persists imposing on the West Indian people ways of living and modes of thinking which inflice a loss of dignity, a loss of purpose and an ever increasing self-contempt.

There are too the limitations which size has consistently imposed on the prospects for survival of the West Indian islands. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the continental colonies apart, the historical setting of the English-speaking Caribbean has been that of a group of small islands rapidly progressing from uncultivated forest to sugar plantation, from poverty to prosperity and back to poverty again, all in the space of less than a century and a half. From the middle of the seventeenth century roughly to the middle of the eighteenth: that was the age of prosperity. Since then a prolonged depression has set in making the West Indies one of the permanently distressed areas of the world. The failure to deal with the pervasive socio-economic problems which continue to beset small societies with few alternatives to sugar, bananas, cocoa and arrowroot, create and re-create those agonising conflicts which manifest themselves in a variety of responses ranging from mass migration to incendiarism.

It is true that here and there a wider range of alternatives has existed. Oil, bauxite, tourism, ambitious government programmes, and the mimicry of the Puerto Rican model of development, have mitigated the problems of size but have created no national prosperity. The smaller islands subsist as so many single, backward plantations with here and there a tourist fringe. The larger territories enjoy the ambivalent virtues of a two sectored society, the one tourist, middle class and imitative; the other rural, traditional and depressed. The former dominates the latter. In essence, Kingston is run from Montego Bay as Port-of Spain soon will be run by Scarborough and Chaguaramas, and Barbados already is run by its coral reef of hotels. The tourist ethnic flourishes and the native, trapped by the smallness of his environment, becomes more and more a tourist in his own society. To free himself he must free his society, first by conceiving and then by fostering the larger West Indian culture, vibrant viable, dignified, self-assured, aware of its traditions and respectful of them.

INTEGRATION AND FRAGMENTATION

The case for Caribbean integration rests, too, as it always has done, on solid economic grounds. Individually, the economies of the Caribbean remain basically primary producing, with a low rate of capital formation, increasing capital hunger and deepening dependence. As colonies of exploitation, they have in the past, and still are, largely incorporated into the economies of the North Atlantic metropolitan countries. incorporation of the several individual islands into the metropolitan economies has been accompanied by the persistent fragmentation of the region, increased by the onset of independence and modified only by the integrative devices of the multi-national corporation.

Incorporation and autonomy; regionalism and particularism – these are in the present as in the past the two principal aspects of our relationships under the ‘Roman’ rule of a colonial master. Today, through the international corporations operating in the region. the countries of the Caribbean are, in a curious sense, already integrated. But they are integrated through the mechanisms of these firms, fashioned for purposes which they define and in ways which they determine. Through the control of large international corporations in the key export industries like 011 bauxite, sugar and bananas sections of West Indian islands are brought into a kind of relationship with sections of other islands. Tate and Lyle integrate sections of Trinidad and Tobago with sections of Jamaica and sections of British Honduras, Demba, Alcan, Kaiser, Alcoa and Reynolds integrate the West Indian bauxite industry through their operations in Jamaica, Guyana, Haiti, Surinam and the Dominican Republic. The oil companies integrate the marketing and refining of oil in the Caribbean, while rival international companies integrate and at the same time fragment the banana industries of the West Indies.

BAUXITE

It is now recognised that this kind of integration in fact promotes the fundamental disintegration of the region. Norman Girvan has pointed out in his study, THE CARIBBEAN BAUXITE INDUSTRY, that the sitting of art alumina plant in Jamaica by Alcan, a Canadian company. does much less for Jamaica than it might have done because the “bauxite produced by the U.S. companies in Jamaica is not available for processing to Aleen’s alumina plant in Jamaica, but rather to the companies’ alumina plants in the U.S.A. Conversely, Aleen’s alumina capacity in Jamaica is available only to its own bauxite output. On the intra-regional level, Alcoa’s smelter in Surinam will use only Surinam bauxite: in neighbouring Guyana, bauxite will continue to be exported thousands of miles away to North America for processing”.

OIL

Oil furnishes another example of Caribbean disintegration. In recent years oil refineries have been located in Barbados and Antigua. I have not been close to the one in Antigua, but I have examined closely the one in Barbados. It stands on a small plot of land, a nondescript collection of tanks and tubes. It stands near to the Hilton Hotel; it looks like a tourist attraction and it is one – just like the hotel. My information is that it is not operated every day, and seldom at full capacity when it is. The one in Antigua might well be the same. Meanwhile Trinidad produces as much oil and its products as can suffice the needs of all the Caribbean territories. But in the context this is an irrelevant consideration. The owner of the refineries located in Barbados and Antigua is not a producer of oil in Trinidad and Tobago. So oil is imported from the Middle East to be refined in Barbados and Antigua. The oil industry of Trinidad and Tobago, on the doorsteps of Antigua and Barbados, could just as well have been in the South Pacific. Clive Thomas and Havelock Brewster have pointed out in THE DYNAMICS OF WEST INDIAN ECONOMIC INTEGRATION that oil is already “a lost issue in regional production programming”. So, too, because of plants already established in Jamaica, Trinidad and the Bahamas is cement. And so, too, in smaller measure, is the whole host of small manufactures which West Indian islands are competitively manufacturing at the moment. As Norman Girvan and Owen Jefferson have concluded in Vol. IV, No. 2 of the NEW WORLD QUARTERLY: “corporate integration can, and often does, result in regional fragmentation ”

MEANINGFUL CHANGE.

It is eminently clear that the possibilities for meaningful change rest today, as they have for a long time past, on the achievement of a meaningful integration between the territories of the Caribbean. It ought to be a commonplace that such integration should have as its main objective the eclipse of those debilitating relationships with the metropolitan countries which have been the root cause of all our ailments. The possibilities for the reorganisation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the West Indian region depend unequivocally on the extent to which we can create a new operating environment for our activities in oil, sugar, bananas and bauxite. We must own and control these resources. There can be no halfway house, and the means towards ownership and control lie along the path of regional collaboration.

PRECEDENTS

The case for Caribbean integration involves an active sentiment for integration which has been inseparable, from the twenties and thirties onwards. from all the other aspirations of the West Indian peoples. The tendency towards fragmentation, and towards incorporation with the metropolis, always existed with another tendency towards association whether for defence, as in the very early days of the English settlements in the West Indies, or for economic advantage, as in that later period after 1763 when, at the end of the ‘golden age’ of the British West Indies, the future prosperity of those colonies became a constant preoccupation.

West Indian need and West Indian distress have, since then, always promoted schemes for West Indian collaboration. At first the pure economic goal of organisation for economic self-interest persisted, as witnessed by the formation of societies of West Indian planters and merchants in London in the period after 1763, by the negotiations for the relaxation of the competition from beet sugar at Brussels in 1902, and by the agitation for Canadian preference a few years earlier. In fact, the West Indian Associated Chambers of Commerce, under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Davson, proposed in the later 1920’s that a scheme of “Federation by Conference” should be introduced. Intended to facilitate commercial organisation and negotiation, the scheme envisaged a standing conference of island governors and the discussion of a narrow range of West Indian problems. The first conference was held, fittingly enough, in the House of Lords, in 1927. and the second and last perhaps equally fittingly, in Barbados in January-February 1929.

Later, and almost in confrontation with this view of West Indian integration, another developed having as its aspirations the achievement of the constitutional advance of the West Indies and having its source in the aspirations of politicians like Rawle of Dominica, Marryshow of Grenada, and, Cipriani of Trinidad and Tobago. The aim of constitutional advancement between the Dominica conference of 1932 and the Federal disaster of 1961, flourished as the main rationale for West Indian integration. Today, it is the economic objective which is once more asserting itself, and, in its highest conception, economic integration is a clear alternative to the Puerto Rican model the shortcomings of which are now apparent. It is useful, therefore, to examine the CARIFTA document against this background and see what kind of integrative possibilities it offers.