Its 21st birthday represents for the Caribbean Community more than an anniversary which is traditionally accepted as signifying maturity. It also signals, coming as it does on the eve of the 21st century, the advent of a millennium which for the peoples of the Caribbean holds unique promise albeit in a veritable ocean of treacherous currents. As succinctly put by one of the contributors to this special edition of Caricom Perspective: "The past and future are now in collision. And it could mean death or a new birth."

The challenges posed by the current situation in the Region therefore puts a premium on the ideas, suggestions, prognoses and diagnoses distilled in this edition. The thoughts of eminent Caribbean people in a wide variety of disciplines have been drawn together in an attempt to shed some perspective on the paths open to the wider Caribbean in general and CARICOM in particular.

During any journey it is important to mark signposts if only as a means of recording achievements or disappointments. In the march towards regional integration there have been many of both, but too often we tend to dwell on the latter while belittling the former. The signposts are well demarcated in the ensuing articles, which also contain provocative prescriptions.

Although the arguments may differ in intensity and focus, what is uniform is the commitment to and belief in the idea of collective Caribbean action. Indeed it is maintained that "integration is not the furtherance of a dream but represents the means of survival in the 21st century."

A strong sense of West Indian identity influences the majority of contributions and more than one contributor suggests, that it is more this identity than political or economic actions which will carry us through the hazardous maze of globalisation. In one case, cultural identity and kinship are seen as the essential ingredient of the new direction which the region must take. While in another, the cementing of a truce between artist and politician, in order to forge unity and maintain identity, is viewed as a prerequisite to interfacing effectively with the rest of the world.

In a world which has become less and less understanding of the peculiarities of small states and even less caring for their difficulties, the negotiation of trading regimes is one of the most visible and tangible aspects of the new relations. The challenge of free trade areas and the concept of reciprocity in the liberalised atmosphere of commerce are among the pressures on the developing economies of small states. "Small," says Michael Manley, "may be beautiful but too much of it is too little for survival." Indeed, in the new millennium, small states too must aspire not merely to survive but to enjoy prosperity and an enhanced quality of life.

This challenge has forced a different focus on diplomatic efforts and greater pressure for the co-ordination of’ foreign policy in the Community. The dominant view is for urgency in that direction and throughout the articles, there are examples of what has been achieved in the last 21 years through acting in concert in the field of diplomacy. Indeed Sir Shridath Ramphal points out: "It was our unity in CARIFTA that led to the ACP and the eventual Lomé Convention." He might equally have added that it was "not by unity alone" but as well as on the quality of leadership of Caribbean statesmen such as himself and P. J. Patterson that such success was built.

The Cold War unilateral strategies predicated upon geo-political considerations are no longer valid as diplomatic weapons, and it is this concept of’ "many speaking as one" which has gained currency, particularly’ in matters of trade, although not confined to that area. CARICOM’s proactive role in Haiti is the most recent evidence of the influence which the region can wield through such a common front.

This cohesion in diplomacy was further boosted with the signature of the instruments to establish the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) at Cartagena last July. The ACS arose from the seeds of’ CARICOM thought and was nurtured largely through the efforts of outstanding CARICOM citizens under the direction of its leaders. The first tentative steps at the CARICOM- G3 Summit, held in Port of Spain in 1993, became bolder at Cartagena less than a year later and in August, once again in Port of Spain, further strides will be taken along this road.

Even as we succeed however, there are fears for our future from this new development. Joining the discussion, Economist Emeritus William Demas strongly dismisses any notion of the irrelevance of CARICOM with the advent of the ACS, citing the role of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) within CARICOM and the BENELUX within the then EEC, to prove his point. Dean of’ Caribbean journalists Rickey Singh puts the case differently: "yet whatever its real or perceived deficiencies, CARICOM has emerged, over the past decade in particular, into a movement for economic integration and functional cooperation that can no longer he ignored by international and hemispheric agencies and organisations — or indeed the major trade and economic partners of this region as demonstrated in the preparation for the December 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami."

As important as trade and culture are in the mix of elements which propel us into the 21st century and which have nurtured our sense of community, inevitably it is to the economics that we tend to return. The thrust towards a CARICOM Single Market and Economy engages most of the attention along with the relationship between the Community and extra regional trading partners. The determination to establish this single market and economy in the shortest possible time, has seen important measures taken such as the implementation of the Common External Tariff and action towards currency convertibility.

The movement towards a regime allowing the region to harness all factors of production collectively, thereby creating a larger, stronger economic entity, capable of’ facing the new challenges of the 21st century, is a further critical component of the new Caribbean. And yet can we really expect to fully meet these challenges while evading the politics of integration, especially if we are to ensure that we arrive at that path as subjects of our destiny and not objects dragged along in the wake of powerful slipstreams of others?

The loss of the present opportunity risks nullifying all that has gone before. Indeed it has the potential, not simply to deny our heirs their economic place in the sun, but also to leave their identity as West Indians in the shade. We must never forget the words of the St. Lucian artist and sculptor Dunstan St Omer: "The West Indies is a whole, a family, and should not have to look elsewhere, or anywhere else, Africa, Europe or Asia on which to model its personality and identity."

The ensuing pages give us good reason and imaginative prescriptions for preserving that personality and identity.

[ Edwin Carrington is Secretary General of Carrington]

A Caribbean Vision

Into The 21ST Century

Edwin Carrington