CARICOM 50: A giant step for all of us

As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of CARICOM, we republish the address by Barbados Prime Minister Errol Walton Barrow at the signing ceremony of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, July 4, 1973, in Trinidad and Tobago.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, comrades and friends, to those who have not been engaged upon the slow process of Caribbean integration, it would appear that this journey commenced at Chaguaramas a few short months ago, and like a race which takes place in a stadium, the end is where the start was.

But the process, as far as three of us, I would say all of us here, certainly the four Prime Ministers, are concerned, goes a long way further back than that.

To the Chairman of this meeting, and the distinguished Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, it started with his struggles at the University of Oxford, when I can truly say, he wrestled with the beast at Ephesus.

That chapter in his life has not really been written, but some of us are aware that those who would distort the whole course of West Indian history set out to thwart the attempts of our distinguished Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to put the West Indian history in its proper perspective, and to give new hope to the people who had been subjected to colonial tutelage for such a long time.

I think that the writings of Dr Williams and the economic researches of Professor Arthur Lewis were the first faint glimmerings of the indication that the Caribbean people were capable of managing their own affairs.

We have been a people who have been imbued with a sense of our own inadequacy. Half a generation later, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, who is on this platform, the Prime Minister of Guyana who is on my left, and I, under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Guyana who was the President of the first West Indian association founded in the United Kingdom – that was the West Indian Student’s Union – we staged the first public meeting on Caribbean Integration in the United Kingdom, and we followed the biblical injunction by staging that meeting in the lion’s den itself, in that bastion of imperialism which is described as Trafalgar Square.

A lot of our fellow West Indians were rather amazed at our temerity, and we solicited the assistance of our colleagues from other parts of the world in making a bold stand on the need for West Indian integration.

I should like to pay tribute to the President of the West Indian Students Union – the first President, the former President, my colleague, Mr Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, on having the courage and the foresight to lead us on these bold excursions which we followed from time to time, in protesting against conditions in the West Indies, and indeed, supporting our comrades from Africa and other parts of the colonial empires in their protests against the conditions under which our people suffered.

Occasions for making disclosures of this kind are not frequent. I can now disclose that it was on the 4th July, 1965 that the Prime Minister of Guyana met with me in Barbados, at my invitation, to discuss the possibility of establishing a free trade area between our two countries in the first instance, and the rest of the Caribbean at such time as they would be ready to follow our example.

The letter which I wrote was in my own fine Barbadian hand which is sometimes illegible. But apparently, the Prime Minister of Guyana was able to read that letter, because of his, he informs me, Barbadian ancestry. Therefore, the hieroglyphics were not entirely strange to him.

That letter must for some time remain in the archives of the Prime Minister of Guyana because I had a few rather caustic observations to make about the failure of our people to get together in some meaningful kind of association.

I regret to say that in typical style, a style which has not been un-associated with my posture either in the courts of law or legislative councils, I had some rather personal statements to make about the failure of our leaders to get together in a meaningful association.

So we have for the moment to draw a veil of secrecy and silence over the contents, or the full contents, of that letter.

One day, about 25 years after we have both of us relinquished voluntarily the positions which we now hold, the archivist may be given permission, for the sake of future generations, to publish the full contents of that letter.

In that letter, I invited the Prime Minister of Guyana to come to Barbados so that we could hold these discussions and today, I am very happy to be here, some eight years later, to be a signatory to the documents for whose signing we have been summoned by the distinguished Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

To me it is the end of a long journey. Neither one of us, either the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Prime Minister of Guyana, or I, had any ambitions to be Prime Ministers. We had ambitions, at that time, to see the Caribbean integrated. Today I hear the young aspiring political contenders stating that they want to be Prime Ministers, as if being a Prime Minister is like taking an examination and once you achieve the pass mark you are automatically a Prime Minister.

I remember well, that in 1955, if I may reminisce very, very shortly, that the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union and the late Norman Washington Manley, whose birthday we commemorate today – and I hope the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago will forgive me for making reference to this – spent two days trying to persuade the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago that he must take his rightful place on the Caribbean political scene.

This is another illustration of the statement which I made a few moments ago that none of the three of us set out to be Prime Ministers. I can now say that — remembering what took place in Kingston, Jamaica — none of the four of us set out to be Prime Ministers. The distinguished Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago did not even want to be a politician.

So that today when I hear criticism of leadership in the Caribbean, those criticisms would probably have been justified, and justifiably levelled at some of our predecessors in office; but they certainly cannot be levelled against any of the four heads of government here who have been dragged reluctantly to the high offices which we now occupy.

I hope that when the time comes that we will not be dragged reluctantly from those high offices which we now occupy.

The problem which confronts the West Indian people today is one of persuasion – to persuade people of the calibre of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and other distinguished people who have contributed towards the success of this experiment to remain with us and to make further contribution, so that our countries will be able to progress – not because of any predilections on our part to preside over the destinies of our peoples.

But it will be dependent upon the willingness of the people of the West Indies to recognise the quality and the nature of the leadership which some of our countries enjoy, and that does not necessarily include Barbados, but it does not necessarily exclude Barbados either.

So Mr Chairman, it was on the 4th July, 1965 one small step for two countries. Today as a signatory to this agreement, I should like to paraphrase the words of Mr Neil Armstrong and say it is a giant step for all of us.

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