Saturday, March 2, 2024

PETER WICKHAM: Brexit to Caricom 2


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LAST WEEK’S article with a similar title focused on the UK’s EU referendum and concluded by suggesting that if the British voted to leave they would effectively be doing themselves a disservice. 

The title of the article was deliberate since a similar scenario is currently playing out in the Caribbean with respect to CARICOM and here Jamaica is raising similar questions about its continued association. 

Interesting enough, Jamaica is in many ways similar to the UK since it is like the UK not the largest contributor to the grouping in terms of economic activity, but is considered a key “emotional” player, whose departure would strike a critical blow to CARICOM’s viability.

Without digressing too much, it is also important to mention the fact that like the UK, Jamaica previously – in 1962 – voted in a referendum on its continued association with CARICOM’s precursor, the West Indies Federation (WIF), the ‘No’ vote winning out them. Caribbean people have with good reason therefore been suspicious of Jamaica’s genuine interest in Caribbean integration, far less that of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Jamaica is, however, not proposing another referendum. Instead Prime Minister Andrew Holness has proposed a commission to “assess Jamaica’s role in CARICOM”. This action demonstrates the extent to which CARICOM is now at a watershed in its development and the Jamaica initiative is a symptom of a far deeper problem regarding the institution’s relevance to the region’s people. Jamaica’s action appears to have been prompted by a series of incidents where its people are simply not “feeling the love” from its regional neighbours. 

This is of course dissimilar to the UK situation where their problems emerge from the extent to which the EU machinery appears to be challenging their domestic government’s power.

Barbados has already compensated Shanique Myrie for offending her rights. 

However, it is clear from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s comments that he and several others across the region do not fully understand the core issue which has unsurprisingly come to the fore again. On this occasion mention has been made of groups of Jamaicans being refused entry to Trinidad.

The central issue in both instances is similar and related to the fact that the average Caribbean person cannot invest emotionally in CARICOM because there is so very little in CARICOM for the average person. Its framers have modelled it on the EC common market, but haven’t completed the bargain by creating facilities at the level of CARICOM which can touch the ordinary man or woman in “Half Way Tree” or “Cats Castle”. Worse yet, if one of these persons travels to Barbados or Trinidad to either holiday or look for work (as is the presumed right of every CARICOM national), they will encounter the stark reality that there is nothing special about the “Two Cs” on their passport.

In contradistinction the average citizen of the EU understands the extent to which they are special within the EU especially when they approach the border of another partner country and are treated no differently from the citizens of that country. 

In our case, however, our leaders have created this fiction of a single market in which the average community member can be denied entry to a member state for the most spurious of reasons. Worse yet, that member can be subjected to demoralising treatment as in the case of Myrie. It is interesting that Trinidad and Tobago has become the single largest beneficiary of CARICOM in terms of trade and interpreted its associated economic development as a basis on which to project itself as the America of the Caribbean. Entry into that country is therefore clearly not a “right” which can be claimed by any Caribbean citizen, but a privilege for which we need to plead in what has become the most tedious immigration exercise anywhere in the region.

As a person who understands the concept of a Caribbean community, I find the basis of these “deportations” from both Barbados and Trinidad preposterous. However, the individual governments have their “rights”. I therefore fully understand Prime Minister Holness’ initiative, which is intended to demonstrate that Jamaica also has “rights”, and I therefore wish him well in his deliberations.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email:


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