“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment’.” – Exodus 6:6

The sugar cane plant was the main crop produced on the numerous plantations throughout the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as almost every island was covered with sugar plantations and mills (initially windmills) for refining the cane for its sweet properties. These plantations produced 80 to 90 percent of the sugar consumed in Western Europe. Later, rum was produced from sugarcane by-products, such as molasses, or directly from sugar cane juice.

Also, banana production in CARICOM was widespread. Since the second World War, the Windward Islands, in particular, readily abandoned unprofitable sugar cane production for bananas.

The Lomé conventions granted non-reciprocal trade preferences to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, including agricultural sectoral programmes where a compensatory mechanism was created to offset losses in export earnings due to price fluctuations. Products of the sugar cane plant and fresh bananas were included in these trade preferences. 
The U.S. successfully charged, in 1999, that the European Union’s (EU) trade preferences given to developing African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries were not in accordance with World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations and these trade preferences were eroded to the extent that they no longer exist today. The agricultural economies of many CARICOM countries have been rendered incapable of competing on the world market and were facing economic decline. Efforts are still being made to diversify these once almost exclusively agricultural-based economies so as to achieve sustainable economic growth.

This has not yet been achieved and the prospects look slim except in the few mineral-based economies or in some economies where a tourism model has been well established.

The solution lies in adopting a total mindset change – from the bondage of mental slavery to a positive vision which espouses a region with great potential and the need to get together to fulfil our destiny – one step at a time.

Where else in the world is there a region which can boast of diverse multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-culinary, multi-genre (musical) and multi-lingual characteristics. We are also blessed with a strategic location for the potential creation of wealth since we are nestled between North and South America, Central America in the West and the Atlantic Ocean in the East, within and bordering the Caribbean Sea. How can we exploit this?

The leadership of a country, however small, is complex as it must embrace all aspects of society. As Dr. E. F. Schumacher said in his book, “Small is beautiful – Economics as if people really mattered”, there is an optimal population size administrative unit from a management perspective of 250,000 to 300,000 people. Larger population countries are best served by an amalgam of several optimal-sized administrative units. Incidentally, the implication is that smaller population countries must amalgamate if they are to be optimally managed.

We must get together and adopt a meaningful governance model.

In the August 2014 edition of “The Westerly”, which is an informative magazine geared to the residents of the Western tip of Trinidad (the Diego Martin and Chaguaramas regions), there is a little article tucked away in the bottom left hand corner of Page 11 with the headline “The Bajans are correct”.

It reads: “After 375 years of the Westminster parliamentary system in Barbados, important politicians in that island are saying that they want a change from this adversarial role of governance. According to the Speaker of the House, this system ‘pits Government and Opposition inexorably against each other in aggressive, contentious and often seemingly unnecessary confrontation’. Another has said: ‘Traditional battle lines of political tribalism cannot help this country; what Barbados needs is bi-partisan cooperation, led by a new generation of patriots who put the national interest above all else. Genuine parliamentary reform must find creative ways to embrace all talents and welcome all constructive contributions’. If only the majority of Trinis would agree to change rather than continue with adversarial politics”.

I would extend this and say that this issue has to be addressed by each CARICOM country.

We cannot make it individually, the “seas” are too rough out there.

Why do leaders want to hold on to shrinking economies? If they have their constituents at heart, why does the leadership not adopt the philosophy that it is better to be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond?

We need a regional leadership Think Tank to stimulate a dynamic innovative vision for CARICOM. We must act to nurture new industries or rehabilitate surviving ones otherwise we shall not survive.

Our mindset has been suppressed for too long.

We need a mindset change.

We need to pray for a bigger vision for the region where we follow those successful countries and not be myopic in approach.

If we pray for a limited vision then we are praying to remain slaves.

As Joel and Victoria Osteen reminded us last week: “God is saying that vision is too small, I do not want to make you a better slave, I want to take you totally out of that bondage, I created you as the head and not the tail, the victor and not the victim”.

Let us say to the CARICOM politicians: Unite in a greater whole and free ourselves from the chains of bondage and aspire to rays of hope.

Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET. Columns are archived at: www.cbetmodel.org and www.nothingbeatsbusiness.com.