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A Country Called Rihanna
ST LUCIAN Prime Minister Allen Chastanet talked more sense in a single sentence on TV Six’s Morning Edition on Wednesday than his combined brothers and sister across Caricom, the Caribbean Community, have all year. Indeed, Chastanet’s casual comment this week is more important than all the formal official statements made in the near half-century since the “heads of government” have met twice a year – roughly 90 times so far, and counting – ostensibly to bring Caricom countries closer together, but actually to determinedly keep them apart, to protect their own fiefdoms. “The world keeps seeing us as one,” said Chastanet, “and we keep resisting that temptation to becoming one.”
It’s not rocket-firetrucking-science.
It’s not ground-firetrucking-breaking, either.
The late Audley Walker, former chairman of Trinidad’s cigarette-making company, reported that, 50 years ago, on his first tobacco-buying trip, American vendors laughed in his face at his notion that he should be purchasing agent for Trinidad & Tobago alone; there simply weren’t enough smokers here to make it worth a large Carolina tobacco farmer’s while. They sold him, instead, tobacco for the entire English-speaking West Indies and told him he could sell on to all the other higgedly-piggedly little rocks as he saw fit. Even in business, the West Indies combined don’t add up to a small European or American city (neither North nor – definitely not – South). “The only people in the world who don’t seem to think we should come together as one nation,” said Walker, “is ourselves. The world puts us all together as one.” (Barbados Nation, 2009.)
In idle conversation one day, my pardner Gregors summed up our great challenge. “I was talking to the prime minister of St Kitts the other day,” he said – then he paused, reflected, and continued: “That sounds like I’m name-dropping, but I’m not, because we’re talking about a population of 38,000; you might as well be prime minister of a Rolling Stones concert.”
Not to make too much of a song and dance about it but, in its best month, ever, for tourism, December 2016, there were 67,643 arrivals in Barbados (tradingeconomics.com); on one night, 15 November, 2013, 67,000 people went to see Rihanna in Johannesburg; it took Barbados’ best month, ever, to match one good night for Ri-Ri.
Rihanna, in a very real sense, and perhaps also in dollars-and-cents, is bigger than Barbados.
The heads of government and their entourages left Port of Spain this week and returned to their little palaces, each of them a king (or queen), or at least a duke or count, each of them being whisked through airport security and diplomatic lounges to limousines (not counting, perhaps, Caricom Affairs Minister Dennis Moses and Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, who may have dallied to put an impertinent security guard or two in his place).
They will meet again next year, twice.
And the Caribbean Single Market Economy is not much farther advanced than it was ten or 50 years ago.
To put it the way the rastaman on the street might, Caricom heads of government are real head.
Leaders, by virtue of their position alone, are exemplars. If you want to see how the Stones will roll, look to Mick Jagger & Keith Richards. In the Sixties & Seventies, they played rock ‘n’ roll so that they could take drugs and have sex; nowadays, as Sir Mick told David Letterman, they have to take drugs to have sex and play rock ‘n’ roll.
Caricom heads of state aren’t much different.
Half-a-century ago, they began bringing their “nations” (i.e., Rianna concerts) together; half-a-century from now, at present rates of progress, the prime minister of Tobago is likely to pick a quarrel with the prime minister of the Republic of South Trinidad.
The part of the West Indies that plays cricket – the rest of our nation, if we have one at all – is, compared to the rest of the world, infinitesimal; but, not long ago, we dominated the cricket world – and were loved and admired for it; even as we black-washed every other team in the world, their people cheered us. There is no greater illustration, not even the Beatles, of the concept of the whole being far, far greater than the sum of the parts.
But Trinidadians, this week, will prefer to bicker and chatter for hours about a ditzy spoilt child using racist terms, or about drug deals in Westmoorings.
As long as the field workers are distracted by the scandals of the Great House, the real work – the critical work – will go undone, the essential will remain invisible to the eye.
And the West Indies nation will collapse as comprehensively as West Indies cricket – but Kittian hairdressers in Jamaica will be able to employ Grenadian security guards.
And the Great House “governance” fetes will go on.
Twice a firetrucking year.
BC Pires knows that the heads of government care more about wearing suits than pressing them