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Going strong after 50 years

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: Caribbean nations, represented by the Caribbean Community (Caricom), are key players on the world stage

AS 2016 marks the year that a number of Caribbean nations celebrate key milestones, it also provides
a perfect opportunity for the region to recognise the role it plays on the world stage.

That was one of the key themes that emerged from a special panel discussion held in London last week called Independence and Interdependence: 50 Years of Caribbean Nationhood, which was aimed at examining the achievements and challenges faced by Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago 50 years after independence.

This year, Barbados and Guyana celebrate 50 years of independence, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago celebrate 54 years as independent nations and Antigua and Barbuda and Belize celebrate 35 years of independence.

INFLUENCE

However, panellists said that 2016 has also provided an opportunity to reflect on the influence that the Caribbean region can have in the international arena when all its countries act together to defend
common interests and respond to global challenges.

Among the key issues that affect the region are globalisation, the urgent need to tackle climate change as manifested in Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and Hurricane Erika in Dominica last year, the United States’ relationship with Cuba and the impact of Brexit.

The region’s policy response to these issues has been a key part of the Caribbean Community’s (Caricom) discussions this year at the highest levels of government with the United States, France, Costa Rica and Panama and the United Nations. But, according to one of the panellists at last week’s event, His Excellency Ransford Smith, former Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the Office of the United Nations and Ambassador of Jamaica to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a united policy response to Brexit was among the most pressing issues facing the region.

He said:

“When the UK leaves the EU there will be implications for the Caribbean. We need to know on what basis will the Caribbean be able to access the important UK market after the split.”

The panel-led discussion was organised by the British Foundation for the University of the West Indies (BFUWI) and the not-for-profit organisation The Ramphal Institute. The discussion, which took place at King’s College, University of London, was the latest instalment in the Dr Eric Williams series, in which leading academics and professionals explore key issues that affect the Caribbean and its people in the wider diaspora.

Joining Smith on the panel was Debbie Ransome, former Head of the BBC Caribbean Service, Clive Fraser, Professor of Economics at Leicester University, and Rawle Parris, recipient of the Guyana and Cambridge Commonwealth Scholarship and a director of Operational Risk Management at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Ransome implored Caribbean leaders to do the same as African politicians who are now “cutting deals with both the UK and Europe”, a suggestion that was met with approval by audience members who were keen to see the region develop more trading partners.

TRUMP

Inevitably the subject of Donald Trump and how he might impact the Caribbean arose. Fraser highlighted that Trump has promised to stop Mexicans and other immigrants in America from sending their money ‘back home’ to families who are often reliant on the income to purchase basic
necessities. Fraser called this policy “bad news for Jamaicans” and said that this was something Caribbean government must develop a collective voice on.

It is estimated that as much as eight per cent of the Caribbean’s Gross Domestic Product is made up of money that has been ‘sent home’ by relatives and friends living abroad.

Referring to Guyana, Parris felt that much of this money was spent on consumption and could be better put to use as capital investments in business and Caribbean infrastructure. However, Smith disagreed claiming that most of the diaspora send back to relatives is to “alleviate poverty”, a remark
which received resounding support from the audience.

PATERNALISM

During the debate all the panel members reflected a view long held by Caribbean politicians that former colonial powers should resist any tendency to adopt an attitude of paternalism when developing foreign policy that affects the region.

Parris acknowledged that it was promising to hear conversations around slavery reparations, even if former Prime Minister David Cameron’s attitude to them was negative.

“People would laugh when you spoke about reparations when I was younger. At least it’s on the table now,” he said.

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