Like voracious vultures circling helpless prey, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the forces it represents are preparing to impose a severe austerity program on the Caribbean, many of whose citizens are already submerged in poverty, warns Pan Africanist, lawyer and Barbadian politician, David Commissiong.
To make matters worse, he said, Caribbean leaders have displayed an unwillingness to want to work together to form a political and economic union to attempt to alleviate the crisis.
The global financial meltdown has contributed to negative economic growth in many Caribbean countries whose economies are based on tourism and off-shore financial and business services.
The IMF recently agreed to lend Jamaica US$1.25 billion over 27 months while the governments of Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent & the Grenadines have approached the international lending agency for financial support.
Commissiong noted there was a TT$18.9 billion decline in government revenues in Trinidad & Tobago which has one of the strongest economies in the Caribbean, and tourism – Barbados’ principal revenue earner – decreased by nine per cent last year.
He also said the Barbados government has been advised by the IMF, with whom they are in consultation, to raise the island’s value added tax from 15 to 17 per cent, reduce the government wages bill which translates into public sector lay-offs and sell government assets.
“Austerity programs are designed to destroy all the mechanism structures for our people’s development and upliftment and keep them enmeshed in poverty and underdevelopment,” Commissiong said at a public lecture last Friday night at the University of Toronto. “If we in the Caribbean continue to be satisfied with economies based on tourism and off-shore financial and business services, we will remain forever vulnerable to those kinds of policies and we will not be in a position to resist them. If we wish to avoid that future, we have to come together in a collective.”
The U of T Caribbean Studies Program and the Global Afrikan Congress (Canada) sponsored the lecture whose theme was “The Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Caribbean and the IMF and Reparations”.
Acting on behalf of the People’s Empowerment Movement (PEM) party established four years ago, Commissiong said he wrote to Caribbean heads of government and opposition party leaders last year proposing a meeting to design and agree on an appropriate political and economic response to the global financial crisis that he sensed was going to have a devastating effect on the region.
He said Barbados’ Prime Minister David Thompson and St. Vincent & the Grenadines opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Arnhim Eustace were the only Caribbean political leaders who responded to the invitation.
“I did not get a serious response,” said Commissiong, a former head of the Barbados government’s Pan-African Affairs Commission. “The Caribbean, in my opinion, has been badly served by its political leadership, certainly over the last 30 years or so. We seem to have a political class with very limited vision…We are still extremely vulnerable and dependent economies and as long as we remain separate and individual small island states, that’s going to be our fate.
“If we insist on this ‘going alone’ approach, we are going to be picked off one by one and all of us are going to fall into the IMF hands. It’s only a matter of time…Political and economic union is the only alternative.
“If we came together in a political union with one central government, a national bank and a new common currency for the entire region that will be issued in the first instance in the form of virtually interest-free loans to territorial governments to be used not for white elephant projects and not to go into the pockets of politicians, but to be used exclusively for building new industries and new structures of production, things that will be impossible as a single territory become possible once we are now talking about a collection of territories and a political union.”
Commissiong invited scholars and activists from Canada to attend the fifth Assembly of Caribbean People in Barbados August 3-8. He said delegates are compelled to come up with solutions to address the problems facing the region.