My friend Dr. Didacus Jules has just taken over the reins of the OECS and I wish him well. But what is the OECS actually? Let’s get a spot of perspective.
From the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956, which aimed to establish a political union among its members, emerged the 10-territory West Indies Federation that comprised Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago. There was no emphasis on the economic aspect of the Federation; not even free trade was introduced between the member countries. The Federation came to an end in 1962, when Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago gained control over their own domestic and external affairs.
Around 1968, the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) emerged and the Commonwealth Caribbean Regional Secretariat and the Caribbean Development Bank were established. Just a few years later, CARIFTA was transformed into the Caribbean Community Common Market (CARICOM). The three objectives of the Community were economic integration, the coordination of foreign policy, and functional cooperation in areas such as health, education and culture. The Bahamas, Suriname,Haiti, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman and Bermuda all became associated in one form or another.
A plethora of institutions and partners emerged: the Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians (ACCP); the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA); the Caribbean Meteorological Institute (CMI); the Caribbean Meteorological Organization (CMO); the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI); the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI); the Caribbean Centre for Developmental Administration (CARICAD); the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI); the Caribbean Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ); the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC); the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB); the University of Guyana (UG); the University of the West Indies (UWI); the Caribbean Law Institute and its Centre (CLI/CLIC); the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL); Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAlC); the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC);
the Caribbean Regional Negotiation Machinery (CRNM) to coordinate negotiations with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union as part of the Group of African Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP), and the World Trade Organization (WTO); the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME); and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
There are more, but do I really need to go on? All these acronyms come at a price. And, apart from all the jobs and benefits for the boys and girls they provide, are they worth it? But that’s for another day.
Whoops! I almost forgot: the Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which is where I began, so let’s begin again: The OECS, as it now stands, is doomed I feel, by its very name, to failure. Now, before I explain why, let me say that I am absolutely convinced that those who created the OECS knew exactly what they were doing when they chose a name without a commitment: They had no intention of giving up their sovereignty or forging a lasting union for the benefit of the Region as a whole. They were and remain a bunch of ‘small islanders.’
First of all: the Organization. This is not a Union, it is merely an organization; the word organization in no way commits its members to Unity. It is not even a half-hearted commitment. How much more committed, confident, and substantive the EU, the European Union, with its European Commission seems! A Secretariat, on the other hand, sounds like a glorified typing pool.
Secondly: the Eastern Caribbean is more than a bit misleading when you consider that major players such as Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago stand apart. More correctly, I suppose, the acronym should be OSECS – the Organization of SOME Eastern Caribbean States. And thirdly, of course, ‘States’ precludes the inclusion of
the stable economies of non-English-speaking islands.
The OECS, if subjected the requisite scrutiny, reform and commitment, might just be the vehicle to help lift the Region from its moribund existence. But first of all, we need to know more about the OECS. It’s hard to be committed and supportive when we are unaware of the advantages of membership. We need to know what’s in it for us because, at the end of the day, Selfishness, not Love, is what makes the world go around – sad, but true.