"You see, you see what I tell you,
he playing and missing, I tell you!"
"No, no, you don’t read the stroke.
He know what he doing, He leaving the ball alone…
that is what I call indigenous stroke."
‘Eddie Baugh’s ‘View from the George Headley Stand’ may well result from the poet’s eye, roving beyond Sabina boundary towards wider West Indian playing fields. Anyhow, I offer it as such, highlighting the obvious, that either way -
To say that the seeds of the Lomé Convention were sown on the lawns of the Prime Minister’s residence in Georgetown is perhaps hyperbole -
The first thing to note about those times was our relative freshness and confidence. The times were propitious to innovation and welcoming to creativity. There was a mood of hope at large. Our countries were themselves new to independence: only Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were ten years old. Apart from Montserrat which was (and remains) a British colony, what were to become the OECS countries were still only the Associated States; but they were stretching the limits of that constitutional novelty to free themselves of neocolonial shackles. We may have lacked experience of the world, but we did not lack boldness or energy.
The times were propitious, too, in another respect which is best described in terms of the difference between now and then. Now, the prevailing sense in Caribbean capitals certainly on matters of trade and economic policy generally, but on other matters as well is one of powerlessness -
All this had a counterpart at the political level. The Region, remember, in 1972 broke the diplomatic embargo against Cuba when Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago together established full diplomatic relations with Cuba-
And Caribbean countries were playing key roles beyond the hemisphere in the Non-
The confidence generated other successes. The reason why my opening words are not far from the truth is that it was our unity in CARIFTA that led to the ACP and the eventual Lomé Convention. Regional unity in CARIFTA allowed us to forge a clear strategy for negotiating a sui generis agreement with Europe, and it was in furtherance of that strategy that we were able to play so leading a role in creating the ACP. We had to begin by helping to secure a closing of ranks in Africa itself between its French-
An extract from a contemporary record explains the depth of this CARIFTA effort:
"At the ad hoc discussions in Georgetown in August, 1972, it was agreed that a team of Caribbean officials would visit Commonwealth African States for more comprehensive technical discussions. That CARIFTA mission went in September, 1972 to East and West Africa, holding talks in Arusha with officials of the East African Community and their counterparts in Lagos, Accra and Freetown -
At Lagos, it was agreed that a further meeting of Ministers should be convened in Nairobi to pursue these issues; but, building on the international links forged earlier in 1972, the Lagos meeting authorised a team of Commonwealth African Ministers to visit Georgetown to hold discussions with Caribbean Ministers at CARIFTA Headquarters. The meeting, held on 19 March, 1973 provided an opportunity for a comprehensive exchange of views on the approach to any negotiation with the EEC, and on the essentials of any possible relationship; a refusal to be confined within the negotiating straight-
Journey to Chaguaramas
None of this would have been possible without the progress we were making at home in developing the fledgling CARIFTA structures into the much larger, more ambitious framework of Community. Indeed the evolution of the ‘community’ negotiations proceeded side by side with the negotiations with Europe. We journeyed to Lomé in February 1975, four Caribbean countries had journeyed first to Chaguaramas in July, 1973 to sign the Treaty establishing the Caribbean Community. Within a year, all the present Member States (except The Bahamas) had joined the group. These processes of ambitious endeavour at home and abroad were mutually reinforcing. It helped us abroad, that we were working together at home. It helped us at home that we were working effectively abroad. Neither was without difficulty for all that. But in each area of effort it became easier to overcome.
The path from CARIFTA to Community has been well chronicled by William Demas and others and I hope West Indian scholars will research with rigour the history of integration. For my part, in responding to this invitation to reflect on things past, I share two lessons from these efforts. The first is the importance, sometimes the essentiality, of starting on a regional cause even if only a few in the Region are ready to begin the journey. This may be valid in many contexts: it has a compelling logic in the context of our scattered archipelago. The second is the fundamental necessity for us to act together, particularly when dealing with the world beyond ourselves.
As to the first: where would we have been had CARIFTA not been started in 1965 on the shores of Dickenson Bay in Antigua? I say ‘started’, but that was hardly what happened or was meant to happen I can speak with authority only of the Guyana thinking but, as events were to develop, it was that thinking which prevai1ed. What I can say with assurance is that when Errol Barrow and V.C. Bird and Forbes Burnham signed that Agreement they knew they were starting a process; they knew they were not at their regional destination, but just beginning a journey. They may have had differing ideas about the pace of the journey, hut not about its direction.
They knew, too, the risk of generating suspicion and division by the action they were taking in the longer-
A Sense of Trusteeship
The critical decision was on when the Dickenson Bay Agreement binding the original parties to establishing CARIFTA would come into force. In effect, its operation was suspended for an entire year after it was signed. That was to be the year of growth; a year in which to persuade others that the Agreement was not for an exclusive e trading group but an inclusive reciprocal free trade area. There were predictable initial reactions about going off alone, but it was not difficult to persuade the rest of the region’s leaders that the Agreement through its suspension clause offered them an invitation to become partners from the start.
When Eric Williams decided that this was not an invitation for Trinidad and Tobago to turn down, and when the Associated States also came on board, it did not take long for the Jamaica Manufacturers Association to persuade Bob Lightbourne that Jamaica should not stand aloof-
The second compelling lesson is how critical it is to pool our resources -
"That process of unification -
What was true for the 46 ACP countries then is true for our region’s 13 countries then and now. Remember, the strength of the 46 had first to be pooled regionally, within Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean. Separately, no single Caribbean country could have negotiated participation in Lomé. Had we been 13 ‘associables’ merely, we would have acquired nothing but EEC morsels -
As we look not to Europe alone but also to North America, we do well to remember these unchanging realities. The essential, inescapable lesson of the CARIFTA/ CARICOM years is that we need each other. All else is illusion and mirage. We must not yield to the siren songs of separateness.
I have mentioned Bob Lightbourne among the pioneer players in the evolution of CARIFTA. There were other Ministers as well, not only Prime Ministers and Premiers, who played a part in innumerable Council meetings, sustained by Mrs. Ting-
It took all this and more, including camaraderie at all levels among decision-
To set it out this may imply there was something special in those who were involved. Perhaps there was to some degree, but not special in the sense that they have no counterparts today. They do and in full measure. Some who were there as Ministers are now in the region’s leadership:
"Son" Mitchell and P.J. Patterson, for example. And the newcomers among Prime Ministers, Ministers and officials alike are in that same tradition of West Indian regionalists.
The biggest difference between then and now lies not in the people who had the privilege to be there at the start but in the times in which their successors must carry on. In a real sense, these face a harder struggle. They need in larger measure the attributes that helped the earlier team to its successes; they require new techniques and new structures and, above all, a larger vision. The deepening and widening of the Community is a very different matter from the evolution from CARIFTA to CARICOM. But, the region has started down that road. The West Indian Commission has pointed the broad way forward and there is formal political commitment to the deepening process, and actual achievement in the creation of the Association of Caribbean States.
In these more testing times that lie ahead, CARICOM will need to move with determination to mobilise its political, technical and intellectual leadership potential -
We cannot afford on the regional field either ‘playing and missing’ or too many ‘indigenous strokes’. Remember, Edward Baugh’s West Indian fan warned with anguish:
‘…that is a damm dangerous way to be leaving the ball alone.’
We need to score.’
(Sir ‘Sonny’ Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary General, Commonwealth Secretariat and Chairman of the West Indian Commission).