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Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. (File photo)

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts — The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has “missed opportunities” for greater integration since the financial crisis began in 2008, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told the opening of the group’s 32nd annual Summit on Thursday, in a speech read on his behalf by Foreign Affairs Minister Sen. Douglas Slater,.

He said the very difficulties in the international political economy and their acute manifestations in CARICOM ought to prompt greater, not lesser, integration.

Gonsalves said that some CARICOM nations have rather “tended to opt for nationalist or even chauvinist solutions”.

According to him, while CARICOM has marked time over the past two years, member-states of “the more tightly-drawn” Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) “have sought, practically, to deepen and solidify their sub-regional integration framework”.

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Gonsalves said the “collective CARICOM political leadership has permitted a ‘mood of gloom’ to descend upon the wider integration movement”.

This, he said, resulted from the failure of CARICOM heads “to differentiate between ‘mood’ and ‘strength’” and “to build upon the unquestionable strengths present and enduring in CARICOM.

“A sour or crippling mood, if left unattended, is likely to metamorphose into a disability and, accordingly, may sap the inherent strength of the organism,” he said as he reaffirmed the strengths of the regional integration movement, adding,  “it is our duty to build upon them creatively and optimally”.

Gonsalves said that in moving forward, CARICOM “must appreciate that a veritable universal social law of ‘combined and uneven development’ grips our integration movement, inside and outside.

“Objective factors, not easily wished away may account for the ‘unevenness’ in the development of CARICOM,” he said.

He added that “the ‘uneven’ development is not necessarily undesirable”, saying that “enhanced functional coöperation in health education, social security, telecommunications, energy, and national security may yield far greater benefits to the population than a ‘single economy’ which is skewed or unequally yoked”.

He further said as CARICOM looks ahead, the group “demands focused leadership” from from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.

“It is not that the member-states of the OECS, Bahamas, Belize, Haiti, and Suriname are not of vital importance. It is simply that the “Big Four”, for various reasons, must, in a coördinated way, drive, pull, or push the regional juggernaut,” he said.

Gonsalves said that in each of these cases “it is arguable that domestic considerations were, possibly, an encumbrance or a limitation on optimal regional activity.

“If that has been the case in any of these countries, the region can no longer afford the luxury of such relative non-engagement. Indeed, the relative non-engagement by any of the “Big Four” inexorably leads to the diminution of engagement by others,” he said.

Gonsalves, one of the longest-serving current leaders in CARICOM, said it was “perhaps inevitable that the change in government in Trinidad and Tobago in May 2010 would have resulted in a greater emphasis on domestic, rather than on regional, matters.

He said the new government is “populated by committed regionalists” and felt “sure” that Port-of-Spain “would again be at the fore in pushing the regional agenda on all fronts.

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“The simple truth is that on the large strategic concerns, the line between the ‘national’ and the ‘regional’ is blurred to the point of non-existence. Globalisation and the altered architecture of the international political economy have caused this to be so,” he said.

He said that no credible, sustainable regional solution to the challenges of CLICO and British-American Insurance Company and other regional issues is possible without the active involvement of Port-of-Spain.

“The leadership of Trinidad and Tobago, and indeed of the ‘Big Four’, does not in any way mean a diminution of the importance on leadership of the other member-states of CARICOM. I simply make a salient point of practical politics in going forward,” he said.