Democracy alone is not enough

This was the year when many of the Caribbean went to the polls. General elections were held in Anguilla, Belize, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St Kitts, St Vincent, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Suriname, and Trinidad. In each case the losers quickly surrendered and governments either continued in office or saw the peaceful transfer of power.

Even in the highly disputed Guyana election result, the rule of law prevailed and with concerted external pressure, including ironically the Trump Administration rule, the result was recognized, and the opposition was finally declared the winner.

In a rapidly changing world, however, democratic outcomes may no longer be enough.

Parliamentary democracies can provide legitimacy and provide a foundation for stability, but they do not guarantee that those elected to office will address the structural issues that continue to prevent the creation of a Caribbean fit for purpose. for the 21st Century.

Sometimes, however, there comes a moment when the flaws that have been evident for decades are shown in ways that demand to be addressed.

Unlike anything before, the COVID pandemic has highlighted the region’s failure to achieve the foundation necessary to create modern, efficient, diverse and globally competitive societies.

Absence of superfast broadband; the inability of a region with good agricultural subsistence to feed itself; expensive and poor inter-regional connectivity and logistics; the inability of governments, despite rhetoric to the contrary, to act in the regional interest; and an over-reliance on tourism, all suggesting that the Caribbean is unlikely to prosper in the near future.

Some will of course eliminate such failures and remain as if nothing had happened by the end of 2021 a vaccine becomes widely available and the tourists return. However, this would be to profoundly misread what is happening in the world.

It would fail to understand how rapidly changing technology, accelerating connectivity, and replacing unskilled jobs with artificial intelligence are marginalizing many offshore operations and locations, changing supply chains, and changing the pattern of globalization in the future.

Speaking recently to a Caribbean Council virtual conference, St Vincent’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said the Caribbean should “stop seeking the unachievable” through mechanisms such as citizenship through investment programs. Instead, it should act to accelerate change, create a new framework for development, and through education revolution deliver tomorrow’s knowledge and skills.

His words echo those of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who told an earlier conference organized by the island’s Institute of Chartered Accountants that there was a need to move faster, and build new industries with new types and categories of employment that Barbados has never had ‘ the front.

“We want to create new value chains and new ways of distributing opportunities. . . . We will strive to become a leading focus for experiments…. technologies, and companies seeking to achieve sustainable development goals … if it seems …. hard to get, ”said Prime Minister Mottley.

“The time is now to unleash the power of our creative imagination to move our island beyond prudent increments, and begin a period of rapid, large-scale transformation and global excellence,” Mottley told participants.

The future of Barbados, he suggested, should include the possibility of “world-class financial platforms, e-health, e-education, well-being management, life sciences, culinary science, robotics…. modernized manufacturing, care of the elderly, modernized agriculture, software development, data engineering, cultural industries, cloud engineering, Fintech, cyber security, and e-sports ”.

What Prime Minister Mottley and Gonsalves made clear in their own ways is that if the Caribbean states of small islands in the future are to be merely annexes to one or the other superpower, they need to embrace technologies that emerging and innovating and redesigning their education systems so that they are relevant to the future rather than the past.

The logical way to achieve this would be by building a new bottom-up regional integration model designed to overcome global shyness and irrelevance, so that the region could move beyond trying to leverage or see other security concerns votes are counted. in multilateral institutions.

Unfortunately, however, as each day goes by, the idea of ​​an integrated Caribbean of the kind sought by those who brought the region to independence makes this unlikely; leaving the world to watch as all sensible regional enterprises sink to the beach of time, drift without resolution due to the unwillingness of one state or another to block even a sovereignty modulus, and the absence of an executive body that could make integration work.

It is always easy to see and write about the Caribbean as if it were monolithic, but except in a cultural sense the implied coherence of the word has little substance. The changing balance of domestic wealth, education and resources between the nations of the region suggests that without a new regional delivery mechanism, real economics and realpolitik will divide the region freely into new small groups and independent policies.

Nearly all voters in the region aim less or more at a Caribbean version of the daily experience brought to them online or on television from the successful first world lives of those living in wealthier regions.

This suggests that introducing societies close to demand and upholding the laws of democratic legitimacy and the private sector should be learning the multiple lessons of the pandemic, and through technology, education and better social provision taking swift action to develop economies corresponding to the acceleration. developments happening around the world.

Barbados, St Vincent and other nations including Cuba recognize this, what it will take to drive future development, the need to focus on future industries, and the importance of becoming an element in global service supply chains. wide tomorrow.

Absent a fast-moving post-pandemic structural plan at a regional level, the outcome of the pandemic will see nations acting in isolation, further undercutting the CSME, eventually marginalizing existing relationships and diminishing the relevance of a regional agreement written for an era of global demand. interconnected knowledge-based services are not known.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at [email protected]

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