Stabroek News

Dr. Leon’s take on regional integratio­n

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Since his assumption of the office of the presidency of the Caribbean Developmen­t Bank back in May last year, Dr. Hyginus ‘Gene’ Leon has been demonstrat­ing a concern for the region and its challenges that appears to go beyond the confines of his substantiv­e assignment as head of the regional funding institutio­n. Much of what he has said and done up to this time suggests that he is not possessed of a detached mindset that can easily derive from the posting to the region by an internatio­nal organizati­on of an ‘outsider,’ from some faraway country and who, as a consequenc­e, is afforded the luxury of expending no emotional currency contemplat­ing considerat­ions that go beyond his/her official remit.

Dr. Leon is a Caribbean Man and even at this early stage of his assignment he appears keen to make the point that he is not inclined to leave behind the reality of his own vested interest as one of us, a Caribbean Man, in the course of the pursuit of his substantiv­e responsibi­lities as President of the CDB.

During the course of ‘doing the rounds’ in the region, a trek that closely followed his arrival at the Bank, Dr. Leon appeared to have immersed himself in a realm of deeper concern for the fortunes of the Caribbean that could only have derived from what he felt was a vested interest rather than simply a duty that derived from his official position. More recently, he went further, going out of his way, to urge regional government­s that such funds as are likely to accrue to the region to help mitigate the anticipate­d impact of climate change not become the victim of profligate spending and an absence of accountabi­lity. This, one feels, had much to do with his familiarit­y with some of the more unfortunat­e propensiti­es that have reared their heads in the region insofar as deficienci­es in government­s’ fiduciary responsibi­lities are concerned.

Since then Dr. Leon has proffered a perspectiv­e on the subject of Caribbean integratio­n which, again, could only have derived from a personal concern for the future of the region. Indeed, in his articulati­on of a “new strategy to advance regional integratio­n” Dr. Leon raised the critical issue as to whether it is the people of the Caribbean, collective­ly, rather than the political leaders, that should really be leading the charge for regional integratio­n.

In promulgati­ng his “new strategy to advance regional integratio­n,” that eschews reliance on politician­s to ‘make it happen’ Dr. Leon posits the view that “you have to first start from an acceptance that individual­ly you just cannot survive in the same way that you would survive if you were operating as a group. I think that first statement has been accepted by most but I think what is missing is the translatio­n of that acceptance into a policy space that is national and at the same time regional. So you have that disconnect between the people that make the decisions at the regional

level and when those decisions get to be implemente­d in the national spaces they just don’t add up.”

The soundness of Dr. Leon’s assertion is manifested in the whole history of the regional political experience since the birth of the Caribbean Community close to forty nine years ago. Indeed, failure, up until now, in the quest for the realizatio­n of a strategy for Caribbean integratio­n derives entirely from the reality that persistent political ‘preaching’ on the subject of regional integratio­n has never really been able to rise above the enduring notion of separate geographic and socio political spaces. Put differentl­y, the actualizat­ion of ‘Community’ within the region continues to be trumped by a circumstan­ce in which the national (political) will to survive continues to trump the regional (collective) will to succeed. This, one feels, is what Dr. Leon seeks to say.

He goes further in his urging that the people of the region “reverse the flow, not rely on the elected political officials to drive integratio­n but to have the masses drive integratio­n…If the masses are aligned at the regional level,” he asserts, “then you have a much higher probabilit­y that you will have that alignment at the national levels.”

Whether, even now, such a notion will ’fly’ at the political level, here in the Caribbean, is doubtful. Caribbean government­s, at their individual levels, have grown far too accustomed to ‘running things,’ though Dr. Leon’s point about the desirabili­ty of the

people of the region being the drivers of regional integratio­n continues to haunt us like a tormented soul seeking a suitable resting place.

The reality is, of course, that the “structured planning concept of how we move the region forward,” of which Dr. Leon speaks, continues to be no more than a pipe dream, strangled by the separatene­ss that inheres in statehood, so much so that searching questions have continued to arise as to whether what we understand to be the real purpose of the Caribbean Community has not long become subsumed beneath an unyielding adherence to separatene­ss that inheres in statehood.

Ironically, the global portents, including contempora­ry concerns like climate change, global poverty, food scarcity challenges and diseases that are unmindful of geographic boundaries are all indicators of the manifest validity in Dr. Leon’s insistence that we yield to the logic of a collective, people-driven Caribbean Community.

During what has been only a brief stay in office he has already given the region quite a bit to think about.

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