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Owen Arthur’s yeoman’s mission to integrate us

Dear Editor,

Owen Arthur, the late former prime minister of Barbados, wanted everyone to know that once his feet were on the soil of any CARICOM country, he was home.

Arthur had the persona of a serious intellectual, passionate about Caribbean integration. His knowledge of, and fondness for, every nook and cranny in the Caribbean was legendary.

He loved Barbados but was especially fond of Jamaica where he met his wife. It is also where he was educated at the University of the West Indies and where he got his first serious job as an economist.

High on his list of favorite places was The Bahamas; enamored was he with our territorial vastness and limitless potential.

So, it must have come as somewhat of a disappointment to watch us continually resist attempts at closer economic integration with the rest of CARICOM.

Arthur often said that only two topics – West Indies cricket and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy — get Caribbean people hot under the collar and that both were often driven by inaccurate information.

Arthur was an economist by profession and a regionalist by conviction.

He reasoned that so long as we continue to have 14 separate micro markets and economies in CARICOM we will never be able to meet the challenge of economies of scale, greater productivity, enhanced profitability and reduced red tape.

He wanted The Bahamas to join the CSME but in attempting to win us over he met his most skeptical audience ever. Bahamians wanted nothing to do with it even though our economy, more so than others, is dependent upon imports.

And there-in lies the problem. Too many of us know so little of the Caribbean and that which we know is often mis-information, at best.

While music from around the Caribbean is a staple at any decent Bahamian party, our knowledge of the region is painfully lacking and that must have driven Arthur to distraction.

For the Caribbean integration experiment to be successful, leaders must seek to introduce Bahamians to our Caribbean cousins and they in turn must come to appreciate us as something more than the islands they fly over en route to the United States.

That is not to say that we haven’t been integrating for decades. Policemen, nurses, doctors, lawyers and civil servants from Guyana on up to the Turks and Caicos have been here working shoulder to shoulder with us building our country, often with very little thanks.

The idea of integrating the Caribbean had its genesis in the UK in the 1950s. The global independence movement was brewing, particularly in the British universities where many of the Commonwealth’s future leaders matriculated.

Founding father Sir Lynden Pindling had taken his leave from the University of London and returned home to enter politics.

The British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956 sought to establish a political union in the Caribbean. Two years later the West Indies Federation was formed and pointedly The Bahamas was not invited. The UBP never wanted anything to do with the Caribbean and went out of their way to distance us.

The federation collapsed for a host of reasons but mostly because Jamaica withdrew when it became clear that the other leaders were not as keen on independence from Britain as was Jamaica. Jamaicans, by referendum, demanded the exit.

In 1967, with the arrival of Pindling and the PLP government, The Bahamas went all in with the Caribbean. Pindling jousted with Hugh Shearer of Jamaica, Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, Forbes Burnham of Guyana and Errol Barrow of Barbados.

Together they laid the groundwork for the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA).

Pindling pushed a regional agenda that included the formation of the Caribbean Examinations Council even though he never formally joined the association, again fearing a backlash at home.

By 1976, he had asked Dr. Bernard Nottage to organize the Fifth CARIFTA Games in Nassau and its success launched us as a sporting power highly respected around the region.

The Bahamas played a key role in pushing for the establishment of CARICOM to succeed CARIFTA.

On August 1, 1973, less than one month after our independence, CARICOM was born, although it would take 10 more years before The Bahamas officially joined.

Despite the fact that the revised treaty that authorized the single market was signed in Nassau at a heads of government conference in 2001, we stubbornly refused to even consider it.

We gladly take part in the Caribbean Development Bank, the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Law Institute, among others, some of us blissfully unaware that these are associated institutions of CARICOM.

The more we come in contact with others in the Caribbean at a people-to-people level the closer we will come to living out Owen Arthur’s dream.

Bahamas TV is regular fare on broadcast TV in Barbados, Jamaica and elsewhere.

Soca music superstar Machel Montano came here for our carnival but left suitably impressed with Junkanoo, our conch shell and cow bells.

This year he collaborated on a popular song called, “Conch Shell”.

Other artists have added cow bells to their rhythm sections. Look for the goat skin drum to feature alongside the tassa in the future.

Sandals has done more than other corporate entities to embed Bahamian employees around its many resorts, allowing them to integrate.

With integration comes enlightenment and that is what will finally lead us to an informed debate on our future with the CSME.

Then perhaps we will add a Bahamian addendum to Owen Arthur’s rich legacy.

The Graduate

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