Friday, July 9, 2010

Caricom - and carry-go where?

The Caricom 31st regular heads of government meeting was held over recent days in Montego Bay. The mood of the event, according to the tone of media reports, seems to suggest you would be justified to assume it was the 13th, with all the pessimism that comes with that number.

Media personnel looked at things with less than rose-coloured spectacles which, in an earlier time, produced more optimistic expectations of a Caribbean future. In the eyes of today's media, however, this week's meeting (first in the series began1973) was just another chat shop, whole heapa talk and little substance.

The dean of Caribbean political analysis, Ricky Singh, in a column in the Observer on Wednesday, gave one of his usual astute overviews of the event which the editors headlined. "Caricom - decisions minus theatrics". It depends on how you define "theatrics", but from the distance of Kingston and relying instead on print reports and broadcasts which came out of Montego Bay, I gained the impression that at least some "theatrics" occurred.

The PNP's boycott of the opening ceremony could be given the Damp Squib Award of the Week. The intention seemed to have been to make a statement about the JLP government and the whole business "from deception to detention" in that certain matter which has left us exhausted and bruised, but what did that have to do with Caricom? Even if the PNP, as the official Opposition, thought it unpalatable to be guests of an administration which they do not respect - in the name of Jamaica at least, an unreserved welcome should have been accorded to visitors, after which we could get back to domestic agendas. Having far more of a track record with Caricom than the present leadership, the PNP should not have denied its place in history. Equally embarrassing was the scant media attention which was given to the protest. With the JLP now pouring on the scorn, we're sinking into another round of kass-kass.

THANKS to Ricky Singh, we got a bit of insight into the motivation of certain players in the conference scenario, particularly the newest prime minister, Trinidad and Tobago's Mrs Kamla Persad Bissessar, the fourth woman to hold that level of high office in the region. To remind those who may have forgotten, or inform those who might not know, her three forerunners were the indomitable Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, the historic Janet Jagan of Guyana and the mercurial Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica.

Mrs Bissessar's victory is of particular note because she heads a People's Coalition, cutting across racial and social lines, assembled to oust Patrick Manning from the leadership of Trinidad and Tobago - which it did. Her presence here this week was her maiden voyage in the sea of Caricom meetings. I've heard that she is no stranger to Jamaica, having lived here some 14 years.

At Montego Bay, she expressed concerns about the use of the Caribbean Petroleum Fund. One got the impression that Mrs B was sending a message that T&T intends to be more prudent in its benevolence to its neighbours. Ricky added his own caution to T&T that the relationship with its neighbours is not a one-way street.

The big story, for me, is Mrs Bissessar's request for a meeting with Prime Minister Golding on the matter of the Air Jamaica-Caribbean Airlines deal. This was signed just before the general elections, which resulted in former Prime Minister Patrick Manning's loss of power. For some time before, there had been complaints from media and in the Trini Parliament as to why details of the deal were not known and that more reports seemed to come out of Jamaica than home territory.

Kingston cast aside all doubts and proceeded to the signing, eager to take Air Jamaica off its list of obligations and earn the favour of the International Monetary Fund, which these days is behaving like a proud daddy, thrilled to bits at how well Jamaica is complying with the rules, qualifying it for more pocket money from "dads".

Mrs B stayed on after the Caricom meeting to confer yesterday with Mr Golding in Kingston to discuss the airlines issue. Question of the day: What if some flaw is found which could set back the deal, after Air Jamaica has been diminished, by "the mating" of the scarlet ibis of T&T and the hummingbird of JA? What sort of offspring is to result?

There are other challenges. Jamaica continues to get the short end of the stick in inter-regional immigration despite the promise for completion and implementation of the Caricom Travel Card (CARIPASS). As to all the stuff about Caricom citizenship and neighbourliness, with opportunities for exchange of qualified workers, the reality definitely has not been neighbourly.

Time and again you hear stories of how when we head into the Caribbean, we're met with suspicion at every port. From they see us getting off the plane, Immigration runs out to pull in the welcome mat. The only other members of the Caricom family who are dissed as much as JA people are the Guyanese, and even they diss us when they're ready. Our dancehall artistes are branded and stereotyped, treated like carriers of the plague, accused of contaminating peaceful island kingdoms with "dutty music", "bad wud" and the demon drugs, not unfamiliar to those passing judgement.

OF THE DWINDLING number of elder statesmen still defending the Caricom ideal, former PM PJ Patterson has been given the task of guiding the sub-committee on immigration. More power to him. He already has on his hands the other hot potato of Haiti with the agonisingly slow march to find light at the end of the tunnel darkened by the February mega earthquake.

So was Caricom-31 a total waste of time and money? Word that the bill to be met by us as the hosts has made some persons decidedly antsy and has incited a reminder to the government about its obligation to nurses, teachers, police, correctional officers and the growing public sector unhappy about delayed settlement of overdue debts. In that scenario, some people say Caricom is the last thing on their minds.

CELEBS CELEBRATE: Usain running a goodwill race with a group of Swiss kindergarteners - who "beat" him. He responded by "breaking down in sobs". The children go to comfort him. A tiny girl plants a consoling kiss on his cheek. The crowd cheers. Chalk up one for the big man's acting skills... Back home, Asafa's special girl Yendi takes the Miss Jamaica Universe crown... The man was positively beaming.

July 09, 2010