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We must Integrate or Perish
by Forbes Burnham
Posted on 2012-10-13

- His Excellency Mr. LINDEN, FORBES SAMPSON BURNHAM, Executive
President, and Former Prime Minister of Guyana and Premier of British Guiana
Speech to Conference of Officials of the Commonwealth Caribbean
Territories, Georgetown, Guyana, August 1967.

A gathering of such academic distinction and administrative experience needs no
polemics from me on the vital importance, nay, the inevitability of regional groupings, but perhaps I may be pardoned for adverting to the global picture of successful regional schemes and associations aimed at, and achieving integration of their members and participants. We find them in Europe, Asia, Africa and next door in Central and Latin America.

Perhaps I will be forgiven for reminding even this gathering that the Caribbean can no
longer, like the proverbial ostrich, hide its head in our beautiful sandy beaches and ignore the trends and impelling forces of change in the world economic order. Either we weld ourselves into a regional grouping serving primarily Caribbean needs, or lacking a common positive policy, have our various territories and nations drawn hither and thither into, and by, other large groupings where the peculiar problems of’ the Caribbean are lost and where we become the objects of neo-colonialist exploitation, and achieve the pitiable status of international mendicants.

The history of efforts at Caribbean collaboration fills the pages of many distinguished, and not too distinguished works, and need hardly detain us here. Suffice to say that discussion, argument, rhetoric and semantics without follow-up action, have served only to disguise the failure to act. We delude ourselves, but the judgment of posterity and history will be cold, harsh and accurate. It is my hope, therefore, that this conference while giving its attention to the ultimate, will focus discussions on those areas and subjects from which we can have tangible results in the form of immediate practical action. Hunger and poverty are not relieved by philosophical pratings, or academic outpourings.

No one can deny the need for action. It is that need which is itself the rationale and
raison d’etre of this conference. Today, we are where we were yesterday; precisely
through our inability to concert and our incapacity to yield the form for the substance; precisely because we have failed to match words with action.

Our problems differ only in degree, not in kind. All our economies exhibit an unhealthy
ratio of foreign trade to national economic activity. Less than 3 per cent of our total trade represents intra-Caribbean trade. The other 97 per cent of that total trade is dangerously concentrated on commodities and products controlled from outside the region, like sugar, bauxite, bananas, to take three of the biggest earners.

We all have the persistent menace of unemployment ranging from 10 per cent to 20 percent. Emigration outlets outside of the Caribbean, in spite of high moral posturings, are closed to us. Ours is one of the highest birth rates in the world. The pressure is building up and unless we plan and act, the lid will soon be blown off the Caribbean society with dangerous and world-shaking results.

Ours is a common problem of capital deficiency, of shortages in the professional and technological fields and of the ineligibility of nationally important social projects for international finance. In some cases, over the past decade, in spite of a few flashes of hope and achievement, our economy in this region has been stagnating and in some quarters there have even been signs of slippage. Let us to our own selves be true. These are the facts. This is the naked truth. Either we integrate, or we perish, unwept, unhonoured.

A perfect solution to, or institution for, integration cannot be hoped for. As a former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands said in reference to the European Common Market: ‘International institutions may be more or less well conceived, they usually are far from perfect. They are always born from a compromise.’ Had European leaders waited for perfection, they would still have been indulging in histrionics and idle debate.

Instead, they launched an admittedly imperfect association upon which they have been able to improve the benefit of the experience of operations over the past decade. We cannot expect to start off with some ideal or perfect arrangement. Neither can we hope to be so prescient of the future as to be able to determine all the consequences and difficulties of integration. We can and must, of course, try to analyse and anticipate as best we can from available data, what the effects of integration may be and can be made to be, but it would be folly par excellence to wait for perfect foresight.

Complete integration will take some time and will involve a number of complex decisions at the highest levels but it cannot arise full blown merely because decisive political agreements have been achieved. In practice, arrangements will have to proceed step by step and their success will be dependent upon the research and analyses of experts and officials like those present here this morning. And that is why it has been decided that this conference should be the precursor of the one of heads of governments in October, in Bridgetown.

Doctors Brewster and Thomas in their study have posited the need for a regional integration policy body to give continuous direction to the integration progress: I would add in the same way as the Central American Free Trade Area established the Central American Committee in 1952 only that we shall have to move with even greater despatch and speed. In our context Brewster and Thomas have designated the body as a regional commission. The name may or may not be acceptable to you and your governments but the name is unimportant. What is of vital importance is the institution, its terms of reference and scope of activity. There can be no doubt that it cannot function without a secretariat, that it must have access to or be responsible for an institute of applied research which can mobilize a wide range of professional skills - a sine qua non which has been referred to as ‘the fourth and final factor in the process of integration’.

Heavy demands will be made on skills and expertise especially in the fields of development administration where at the individual territorial levels there is a shortage.

Obviously, provision will have to be made for advanced training and applied
development technology.

Finally, a key institution, perhaps around which all other supporting institutions should revolve, is a regional development bank. An important part of this conference’s duty, therefore, will be to give consideration to the recommendations for the creation of a regional bank made by the U.N.D.P. team. In view of the unanimously strong support
reported within the Commonwealth Caribbean, it is to be hoped that your deliberations will hasten the rapid implementation of the proposals for this institution.

One of the positive advantages of integration is that it enhances the international stature of the region: it increases its bargaining power vis-a-vis the world. There are those who prescribe OAS. status as a short-term solution to our problems - and I emphasise short-term: there are others who propose an involvement in the Latin American Common Market which is to be established in 1985 (1 hope that these proponents are not suggesting that we wait that long to take action as between ourselves), but whatever arrangements may be come to, our ability to get proper and favourable terms will be dependent upon our acting as one group rather than a number of little specks in the Caribbean Sea. It is for you the technicians to analyze, evaluate and advise on the various propositions. It is for you to propose new formulae.

The present government of Guyana stands willing to support and endorse any proposition
or solution which the region as a whole holds valid. We will, unlike some who preceded
us, not opt out of a regional solution and indulge in dishonest rationalisations and
vacuous shibboleths and clichés with which it is sought to cloak narrow political
ambitions. We will not stay out and criticize, we will join and work towards the deal. So important is the concept and goal of integration that even necessary limitations on our sovereignty are a price we are prepared to pay, the Jeremiahs notwithstanding. We aim not at more cooperation but integration.

We in Guyana have acted in the belief that a Caribbean free trade area is a relatively simple first stage towards the ultimate of an integrated economic community. That explains why CARIFTA was formed. It may well be that this meeting will share these perspectives and we can begin serious discussion and bargaining aimed at an expansion of CARIFTA to embrace the entire Caribbean region here represented. We have always shared this hope and the legal instrument establishing CARIFTA has made provisions for accession of other territories. In some quarters, CARIFTA has been dismissed as not being an illustrative solution to Caribbean economic problems. It is true that it is limited to three countries at the moment, but so too was the Central American Free Trade Area at the beginning.

CARIFTA contemplates much more than a free trade area. For a free trade area cannot stand still. It must either move unto a higher level of economic unity or disintegrate. CARIFTA itself contemplates and formulates administrative machinery for dealing with the more involved problems of a greater degree of integration. These include the harmonizing of industrial incentives, the adumbration of a common commercial policy and the streamlining of external tariffs in relation to the rest of the world. The agreement at the request of its signatories has been laid as a conference document and I would urge a serious examination and scrutiny. Let me say that in any case Guyana does not consider its membership of CARIFTA, as constituted at the moment, an impediment to economic integration on a wider scale.

Guyanese in common with other West Indians expect from this conference action and tangible results. We take this question of integration seriously and do not look upon this conference as the occasion for an exercise in debating skills of which we have a surfeit in the Caribbean. As I have said before and in other places, Guyana is willing to place its not inconsiderable natural and other resources at the disposal of the region as a whole.

Our hinterland is not a mere showcase for the passing admiration of curious anthropologists, archaeologists and tourists but a vast place to be peopled and developed.

With whom better can we share our resources than with our neighbours, our brothers, our sisters? With whom do we already share a common historical experience? May I wish this conference every success. May I hope that pragmatism and action will be your watch words. May I argue that we make this conference a landmark in our history when we as a people moved from the theoretical to the practical.

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