Regional institutions in the Caribbean are framed by efforts toward integration undertaken by various countries following a variety of concepts. These concepts developed beginning in the 19th century by intellectuals and politicians in various parts of the Caribbean. In both the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Caribbean, proposals have ranged from common markets to more ambitious efforts aimed at creating a regional federation or confederation. In the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, there were proposals for establishing an Antillean Federation that were promoted by leaders such as Gregorio Luperón, José Martí, Eugenio María de Hostos and Ramón Emeterio Betances beginning in the late 19th century. Integration ideas in the English-speaking Caribbean were articulated throughout the course of the 20th century, within the framework of efforts to achieve greater governing autonomy from Great Britain.

Despite the differences between these visions, they all include the common element of imagining and conceiving an arrangement that offers Caribbean countries the opportunity to become bigger actors on the international scene. They are based on the articulation of an identity that transcends the boundaries of the various countries that emerged during the 19th and 20th centuries. In Latin America, the ideas focused on integration that emphasized a primary concern with regional security. Those efforts led to the Congress of Panama in 1826. The regional conferences that were subsequently held tried to establish courts or institutions to resolve disputes, particularly in Central America.

The broadest efforts at regional integration have taken place in the English-speaking Caribbean. At the end of World War II, Great Britain began to make arrangements to move some of its Caribbean colonies toward independence. In that context, the West Indies Federation arose in 1958 with the participation of ten countries: Antigua, Dominica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. The fact that the Federation was an effort by Britain, however, and not the product of an initiative from the Caribbean people themselves, meant that it suffered from internal problems that became obstacles that were impossible to overcome. The departure of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in 1962 was the beginning of the end for the Federation, and the process accelerated with the departure of Barbados in 1966.

Despite the disintegration of the Federation, new efforts at integration and development of regional institutions arose. These efforts were based on a vision of the English-speaking Caribbean identity. Additionally, the need to establish more solid economic bases has led Caribbean countries to create institutions to meet that important objective. One of the first efforts was the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), which promoted commerce among its members. Countries such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana are among those promoting this effort. Institutions such as the Caribbean Development Bank (CARIBANK) have also been established.

These efforts led the Caribbean countries to propose more ambitious initiatives that culminated with the establishment of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1973. This entity included Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. This new regional architecture led to the need to establish regional institutions to cover key areas such as industry, the agricultural sector, communications and service industries. Thus not only was CARIBANK created, but ministries in agriculture, finance, labor issues and mining were also created. Other entities created were the Caribbean Investment Corporation, the Regional Council on Maritime Trade, the Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the Council on Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD), and the Council on Financial Planning (COFAP). Other organisms assigned to CARICOM dealt with areas of regional cooperation such as disaster and emergency management, environmental protection, food and nutrition, agriculture and administrative coordination among the parliaments of the region.

The fact that this important effort at regional integration began in the largest English-speaking countries of the Caribbean led the smaller countries to conceive their own effort at regional integration. This was accomplished through the establishment of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. This entity arose in 1981 with participation by Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Like CARICOM, economic development issues are the primary focus of the organization’s efforts.

CARICOM members also see a clear need to transcend the English-speaking Caribbean to incorporate other portions of the Caribbean. The Association of Caribbean States was born from that concern in 1994. This organization includes the countries that form the greater Caribbean, or in other words, the countries that surround the Caribbean Sea. An important characteristic of this entity is that it includes not only the formally independent states of the region, but also those that are not independent and belong to the United States, France, Great Britain and Holland. Cuba’s presence in this organization is another characteristic that distinguishes it, as it is the only regional organization in which it can participate because of its political system.

The effectiveness of these Caribbean regional institutions is a topic of intense discussion. Above all, in the era of globalization, regionalization efforts offer an alternative for managing the economic currents that are beyond the control of sovereign states. The formation of regional economic blocs, particularly in the Caribbean region, can offer an alternative in an international setting that includes actors of different powers, such as international economic institutions, transnational corporations and more powerful states. Still to be resolved, however, is the question of what framework of identity can be used to create a viable regionalization effort that will allow a greater degree of commitment to the regional institutions of the Caribbean.


Author: Angel Viera Tirado
Published: December 16, 2011.

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