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

What is more, this kind of thinking was taking place five years after the experiment in free trade had been embarked upon, seven years before the scheduled establishment of full free trade. In mid-passage, as it were, Latin Americans had come to the conclusion that what was lacking was a basic conception, and it was precisely such a conception that was needed. Those who have put their faith in the promised ECLA studies would do well to bear in mind the following admonition quoted from the reply of the four officials.

“What is needed, more than technical studies, is a definition of major objectives and the adoption of political decisions at the highest level.”

“Basic ills” as the authors later argue, require “basic remedies.”

It is now proper to ask a few questions of ourselves. Which West Indian leader has yet shown a disposition, or which West Indian country has indicated an inclination, to amend the national constitution or to modify the territorial sovereignty such as it is in order to facilitate the development of the wider whole? Which West Indian leader has yet conceived of a role for labour in the current exercise in integration? Or of a role for the people of the West Indies? How “basic” is our approach to the problem of integration? What precisely is our conception? Where are we going? What are we trying to do? Is it true, as the Trinidad and Tobago Government publication entitled CARIFTA AND THE CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY has proclaimed, “that Carifta as it now stands will benefit not only West Indian businessmen but workers and farmers as well” and produce “equitably shared benefits” for the region as a whole?

To answer these questions we must realise that the current conceptions of integration in the Commonwealth Caribbean have placed a high premium on the achievement of certain objectives which have much more to do with political survival and advantage than with serious integration. In the case of Guyana the suspicion is that the motivation is largely political. The original conception of the Caribbean Free Trade Area drew heavily on the hope that the problems of over population in Antigua and Barbados, and of a minority Negro government in Guyana, could be solved by mass migration from north to south. (It is said that the tactic of the Opposition is now to introduce East Indians from Mauritius.) With the failure of that scheme CARI ¬†FTA now provides the philosophical rationalization for the pursuit of overseas postal votes in this year’s Guyanese elections. Here, in Trinidad and Tobago, the recent constitutional amendment facilitating the holding of dual citizenship by this country’s citizens has given rise to the suspicion of collusion with Guyana and, ultimately perhaps, the introduction of overseas voting as an added hazard in our own electoral system, Be that as it may, Carifta is clearly the secular concordat consecrating the “new partnership” between the business community and the government; it proved its worth in late June at the time of the crisis originating in the Lever Brothers dispute.

In Jamaica, Carifta is still in the toils. The outcome of the current dispute over the Regional Development Bank turns upon a complicated series of political manoeuvrings with the Prime Ministership itself as the prize. In Jamaica, a Prime Minister at bay has unequivocally accused the business community of political head-hunting, of using the controversy over duty-free entry of raw materials for manufactured goods to launch a determined attack against his party and himself. Whatever happens, the Jamaican episode surely registers, as the “new partnership” did here a year ago, a significant milestone in the current endeavour of the West Indian business community, local and foreign, to capture the political kingdom by means of economic control.

All this has nothing to do with the re-organization of the West Indies. It is not that the job of reorganization is not waiting to be done; it is just that the current West Indian political leadership cannot or will not do it. All over the region the same problems prevail: unemployment, officially ranging between 15 and 20%, unofficially believed to be much higher; inequality; the mal-distribution of wealth, of sickness, of poverty, of hope, of despair; underemployment; indignity; discrimination; racialism; gross and continuing; public corruption; failing educational systems; failing health systems; injustice; incompetence. In Jamaica, the public utilities in May, June and July nearly failed completely. The party in opposition, normally, innocent or alternative, began to campaign with the slogan “The wheels of civilization are grinding slowly to a halt.” The Government, in office for nearly six years, blamed the Opposition for the crisis. The Opposition, much more reasonably, blamed the Government. In Trinidad and Tobago the public utilities, which a once proud nationalism had brought under public ownership, pass rapidly into foreign control if not into outright foreign ownership. Sugar lands purchased at a great expenditure of public funds remain firmly under private control. The indications are that they will soon enter a limbo-land of indecision. Chaguaramas, declared off-limits for small-island squatters on the eve of the signing of the Carifta Agreement on May 1, is to succumb to the jolification of North Atlantic tourists according to a new “Action Plan” prepared by the General Electric Technical Services Company. A 1700 acre, single-ownership, export oriented farm, sited in Tucker Valley under private ownership and earning the country “almost $1 million a year” in foreign exchange is to be one of the main facilities. A fishing village and a fishing harbour will provide rival tourist attractions, as no doubt will the site where the voting machines will be housed on transfer from Golden Grove. In Dominica there is a new sedition bill; in St, Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, the state of emergency continues. In Guyana, an imminent election further institutionalizes racialism in that already segmented society.

The business community the other active agent in the Carifta exercise. will also say that Carifta has nothing to do with the serious social and political questions we have been discussing. Carifta is about trade, more precisely about free trade, the ‘expanded market’ and the gains from trade. But the real questions are these: assuming that there are going to be gains from trade, who are going to benefit from these gains, to what effect, and why?

I ask these questions because I am very much aware of the fact that one of the important characteristics of West Indian history is the same-ness of that history. The West Indies of today is still like the West Indies of yesterday, like the West Indies of one hundred years ago. It differs from the West Indies of the past mainly in that the externals of the political system, of the social system and of the economic system have changed. In politics as we have already seen the change has been the most dramatic. In the social aspect, legal freedom has replaced legal slavery; the division between white and black and brown is no longer as crude as it used to be, but it still exists. In the banks the distinctions are still there, but no longer between black and white but between near brown and almost white. At the top though, white domination still remains unchanged. Economically the system has also changed. In part private ownership, particularly in the plantations and the larger enterprises, has given way to corporate ownership. This facilitates many things. It makes discrimination faceless, and it affords the opportunity of putting black or brown men on Boards of Directors on which they have no power and of maintaining them there precisely because they have no power. But the system is the same. As we say in the West Indies it is the same thing, but different.

To whom then are these gains from trade going? If we look at the character of the industrial system which is currently being operated in the West Indies the answer is simple. The outstanding characteristics of that system are that it makes little use of local raw materials and it provides very little unemployment. Such raw material as it uses is largely imported and imported too, in an already well developed state of manufacture, as the knocked-down car and the ‘blank’. sock testify. The knocked-down car is even after assembly only about 30% locally manufactured while the ‘blank’ sock is about 99.9% foreign made. It is in fact a completely made-up sock which has the toe-hole open; and one of our newest and most prestigious foreign manufacturing firms has been given a concession to import 100,000 dozen of these items in order to ‘manufacture’ socks. If the assembled car can be defended the ‘blank’ sock can hardly be. It is the clearest indication so far of the irrationality of our manufacturing system particularly when one takes into consideration that a local firm with the capacity to produce socks from the basic raw material was virtually ruined to facilitate the introduction of the foreign establishment under pioneer aid.