I would be pleasantly surprised to discover the majority of us can without repeated prompting recall the name of our region’s first female prime minister, let alone her pivotal role in Ronald Reagan’s 1983 invasion of Grenada. For those who may be interested in how we arrived at our present sorry state: In his 1987 book Veil, Bob Woodward describes how Eugenia Charles, “the wildly pro-American prime minister of the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica was given US$100,000 by the CIA for asking the United States to invade Grenada”—which of course legitimized the Spice Island invasion.”
This has never been officially denied! Something else about the singular Dame Eugenia Charles: During her time as prime minister she took every opportunity to criticize her colleagues at Heads Of Government meetings. One of her most repeated observations was that the HOGs were seldom prepared to discuss the items on their agenda, so obviously egregious was the communication among them. On one especially memorable occasion, when a particular HOG deliriously prated on about the host island’s titillations and his own impatience to sample as many of them as time permitted, the never married prime minister had upbraided her notoriously lubricious colleagues for wasting precious time, to say nothing of the people’s money, on pointless annual get-togethers and boring lip-serviced undertakings destined to be forgotten even before they had boarded their LIAT flights to their respective islands. It especially irked Dame Eugenia that she and her colleagues had too often pretended to discuss matters of regional importance, knowing all the while they had never bothered even to feel their people’s pulse on the issues. (How many of us knew about VAT until long after our leaders had made its implementation “inevitable?” Who knew about the so-called “OECS Initiative” before a certain HOG get-together in Tortola?) Eugenia Charles was finally no great fan of Caricom. From her perspective the organization that was formed by the hardly visionary leaders of the early 60s following the miserable failure that was the West Indies Federation seemed by the 1990s absolutely anachronistic, existing more or less in its original state as little more than a provider of high-salaried jobs for the self-congratulating “boys.”
At the 8th HOG meeting in Saint Lucia in 1987, this was what Dame Eugenia said about their organization: “I am of the firm opinion that Caricom must continue to exist, but it must exist for the purpose of improving the quality of life of all our people. If it does not succeed in doing this, then we must abandon it. We must emphasize that we are not in Caricom merely to show that there is unity among us in the English-speaking Caribbean. No, we are in Caricom because the unity it aims at achieving will bring benefits to all our people.Therefore we must work hard at making Caricom what it should be, what it was meant to be and what in our dignified formal speeches we say it is.” But obviously was not! So much for the outspoken “Iron Lady” of Caribbean politics and Caricom from her in-the-belly-of-the-beast perspective a quarter century ago. Let us turn now to the organization’s current rotated chairman, Saint Lucia’s suddenly peripatetic prime minister, who last week dutifully addressed the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Of course, it would not be a Kenny Anthony speech that did not feature, in measures great or small, what in Saint Lucia we refer to as Tim-Tim. Why spoil with inconvenient truths a tax-funded dinner largely for the party faithful, when there were so many stories with happy endings to be told with the straightest of faces? The last time our prime minister communicated with us via the governor general’s mouth, it was to reveal to us our natural ability to withstand all manner of hardship, to predict the imminent return of lucrative tourism, and to remind us to be proud of our umbilical connection to Helen of Troy! This time around, at the Barbados Hilton Resort, this was how our prime minister began his scripted oration on Regional Integration, Myth or Reality?: “Antillia, ladies and gentlemen, was known during 15th century Iberia, that is Spain and Portugal, as a mythical land far across the Atlantic.
When indeed it was realized that this archipelago and land were real, it was a suitable term granted to our islands: the Antilles.” I’ve asked the question before: Who the heck concocts the gibberish that our prime minister appears to take pride in reading aloud, whether his audience be don’t-give-a-damn, ah dun dead arreddy crapulous Brucevilleans or fellow UWI intellectuals? Was our prime minister on his latest outing telling the oh-so-clever Bajans we would not be around today if not for 15th century fantasy mongers? It ain’t what you say, folks, it’s how you say it or write that so often leaves listeners and readers discombobulated. (In any event, dear information-starved reader, try researching for your own edification Iberia and Antillia!) Quite intriguing was the prime minister’s follow-up paragraph that seemed totally disconnected from his opening salvo: “Since then and throughout our history we have been faced with division. However, as migrants to these lands, we persisted, beyond the derision of our Creole estates. And despite it all, we inherited, in some measure from colonial powers some sense that we should be integrated, united.”
Does derision mean something other than jeering laughter? Can “Creole estates” laugh? Or was that another typo placed on the Internet by the administration’s image makers to advertise to the world the celebrated intellect of our HOG and his best-brains assistants? As I say, I am reading all of this from the published speech, punctuation and all! Caricom is mentioned for the first time in the third paragraph of the prime minister’s address: “This process of integration is now a mature one. [Which process?] Cultural institutions like the West Indies cricket team similar to your own organization the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, came about in the 19th century. We formed our own regional university over 60 years ago. Caricom will next year clock two decades since Chaguaramas . . .”
Several truth-stretching non sequiturs follow before we arrive at this perplexing clearly reluctant confession: “I cannot and do not speak the language that Caricom is all myth and not reality. It may be dysfunctional but it is real and it is alive. I accept, however, that all is not well. [As did Eugenia in 1987!] It is often the case in this part of the world that we are not keen on routine stocktaking. Many of us see period assessments as unwanted interruptions in the normal traffic of life . . . “Make no mistake about it.
Our region is in the throes of the greatest crisis since independence. [Did he really mean to say that? Independence represented a crisis?] The specter of evolving into failed societies is no longer a subject of imagination.” Did some of us imagine our current failed-state status before it actually happened, in the same way that 15th century guardeurs had imagined Antillia in advance of discovering the lesser Antilles? (Don’t forget to check that story, dear reader!) How our societies crawl out of this vicious vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits and unemployment is the single most important question facing us at this time. Indeed, if Caricom wishes to be relevant to the lives of the people of the region, then that issue should dominate its deliberations at the next summit.Caricom cannot be seen to be impotent when societies and economies are at risk, on the brink of collapse!”
No doubt the current chairman will see to it that Caricom is not ill-perceived! Eugenia must be turning over. Caricom had failed to deliver in her lifetime, as well as in Sir John’s. Caricom was a failure when chaired by Kenny Anthony in an earlier time. It continues to represent the failures of our leaders right up to the present. Caricom is as much an anachronism in the time of the Internet as it had been in Dame Eugenia’s heyday. We’d all be better off if indeed Caricom were “all myth and not reality,” therefore could have no more impact on our daily lives than does Helen of Troy.
The prime minister acknowledged Caricom is alive but dysfunctional. He would be telling us the greater truth if he also admitted he and his colleagues had made it so, in much the same way that they had landed us in “this vicious vortex of persistent low growth” with their profligacy, incredible arrogance, official corruption, living high on the hog—as if in fact we were a rich region, united in a common cause.
The irreducible truth is that our leaders have rendered us irrevocably bankrupt and can do no more than deliver what Eugenia Charles most generously referred to so many years ago as “dignified formal speeches!” Actually there is nothing “dignified” about misleading the hapless uninformed with sugared false facts and empty promises of “Better days” ahead if only we will all continue passively to grin and bear unbearable hardship, as did our forbears under the lash—while their masters partied like only rock stars know how to party!