New thinking about the Caribbean

June 14, 2015

In North America and Europe there are from time to time international conferences that quietly enable new thinking. It is mostly an unseen process whereby governments, foundations or think tanks facilitate conversations, in ways that variously attempt to address intractable problems such as those in the Middle East, form a consensus on future policy, or enable the participants to look over the horizon.

These events allow invited participants to escape from their day-to-day responsibilities and usually in a group of 50 or less, debate and explore new ideas or solutions in private. The value is not just in the dialogue and the outcome, but in the freedom to say what you think knowing that no one will quote you, in the personal contacts made in the margins, and the associated trust that develops which can last throughout a career.

Such events rarely focus on the Caribbean, but a little over a week ago about sixty invited guests from the Caribbean as a whole, the UK and North America met at Wilton Park in the English countryside.

The objective of ‘Caribbean 2030: new thinking for a new generation’ was to bring together a mix of voices, young and more experienced, to consider what the region might look like fifteen years from now, and to hear in particular how younger participants from politics, government, the private sector, academia and civil society see the Caribbean’s future and how they might play a role in taking it there.

The conference, which was developed in conjunction with the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) and Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was wide-ranging in its scope, but a number of general themes emerged which suggest a different Caribbean in fifteen years time.

One of the more significant discussions that ran throughout the conference was whether the future fortunes of the region lay in economic convergence between complementary economies. It was suggested that rather than politically-led solutions, it was trade, investment and financial services between networked groups of nations that would create future growth and integration. One consequence was that participants from the northern Caribbean, and in particular from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, argued that there was greater value in Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic having a stronger economic relationship that might also involve Cayman as a financial hub. The view of some was that such an approach would enable the Caribbean to escape being defined through its colonial past.

This was not to say that in terms of foreign relations and on issues of international or thematic importance that the region should not act through Caricom, nor for most was it to suggest that Caricom should be set aside; but many participants felt there were better opportunities for growth through a more rational approach to economic integration linked to improved infrastructure. The suggestion was that this thinking ought to drive policy across the region.

FYI: Caricom members include

 Antigua and Barbuda 4 July 1974
 Bahamas 4 July 1983 Not part of customs union
 Barbados 1 August 1973
 Belize 1 May 1974
 Dominica 1 May 1974
 Grenada 1 May 1974
 Haiti 2 July 2002 Provisional membership on 4 July 1998
 Jamaica 1 August 1973
 Montserrat 1 May 1974 British overseas territory
 Saint Kitts and Nevis 26 July 1974 Joined as Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla
 Saint Lucia 1 May 1974
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1 May 1974
 Suriname 4 July 1995
 Trinidad and Tobago 1 August 1973 Founder of the Organization before handing over to Guyana
Associate  Anguilla July 1999 British overseas territory
 Bermuda 2 July 2003 British overseas territory
 British Virgin Islands July 1991 British overseas territory
 Cayman Islands 16 May 2002 British overseas territory
 Turks and Caicos Islands July 1991 British overseas territory
Observer  Aruba Country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
 Curaçao Country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
 Dominican Republic
 Puerto Rico Commonwealth of the USA
 Sint Maarten Country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands


There were of course dissenting voices, particularly in some of the working groups. Some in particular from the Eastern Caribbean and from academia objected and declared themselves all but wedded to making what the region already had work, though when it came to the detail there was little to demonstrate how this might take the Caribbean beyond where it is today.

A second prevailing theme was that of the new economy and the growing irrelevance of borders.

These thoughts came especially from some of the younger participants involved in information technology, new media, tourism and the private sector more generally, who made clear that what they were doing made traditional geographic concepts and the size of the Caribbean irrelevant.

The conference was also notable for leaping the language and cultural divide with participants from the Dominican Republic being able to demonstrate in a neutral setting how their experience in many areas from alternative energy to tourism had relevance to most of the region. It also allowed them to set out the country’s thinking in terms of how it might be better connected with and work more closely with the nations of Caricom.

As you might expect there were detailed exchanges on energy security, the environment, and education which all agreed was a development priority if the region was to succeed. There were interesting mentions of the blue economy − the region’s largely unrealised offshore resource − and important exchanges on governance and security about which more in a future column.

There was not a stand-off between the politicians and the private sector. In fact there was a surprising degree of consensus that both needed one another and that the region had to end this false dichotomy if growth were to be achieved. It was suggested that as the generations changed this may no longer be so much of an issue. However, for some, the balance between the competing interests of social equity and the role of the market in Caribbean development needed to be resolved if the region was ever to experience significant economic growth.

For some of the younger participants the real problem that the region has to face in the next fifteen years was to escape from the dead hand of the region’s public sector. In a rarely voiced opinion it was suggested that it is the public sector and those who work with it who have a vested interest in ensuring that thinking and their influence remain the same.

The suggestion was that this was holding the region back.

Strikingly the relationship with the UK, Europe and the US was little mentioned by the younger participants. It was as if the Caribbean had moved on and had a much more balanced view of when and on what issues it wished to relate to a much broader range of external partners. In this context it was unclear whether China’s presence in the region was a threat, an opportunity, or both.

The downside of the meeting was that there was no authentic Cuban voice able to discuss the way it saw the region, the way in which detente with the US may change the Caribbean’s political and economic centre of gravity.

These are of course personal observations, and in due course there will be a report with suggested actions.

The value, however, of this quite different conference will only be known if the synergies, new thinking and the relationships established begin to change the Caribbean for the better.


Previous columns can be found at www.

Happy 4th!


The Last Few Weeks Have Given Us Many Reasons To Celebrate.

The Fourth of July holiday couldn’t have come at a better time this year. The last few weeks have given us many reasons to celebrate. Since the terrible tragedy in Charleston, a substantive conversation about racism has spread across the country and its symbols are weakening. Last week, the Supreme Court made a series of landmark decisions. It upheld the Affordable Care Act and made the historic pronouncement that same sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. And on Tuesday, the Obama administration announced expanded overtime protections that could raise wages for millions. These are all pretty good reasons to feel patriotic.

BOTTOM LINE: It has been a great few weeks of progress in America. Have a great holiday weekend!


The day you signed your first petition on, you became a part of something big. Today we’re celebrating 100 million people all over the world coming to to start or sign a petition. More than one million petitions have been supported by people like you, and there’s a unique story behind every signature.



We’re so proud of the change you have been a part of, and we’re excited to share this moment with you. Join us in celebrating 100 million people using track the impact of the growing community.

Thanks for joining us on this journey,

The team

TAKE ACTION! Protect Caribbean Coral by Improving Fishery Management

Coral can’t live without parrotfish.


That’s why Earthjustice challenged the National Marine Fisheries Service’s failure to address the harmful effects of fishing for algae-eating parrotfish on important reef-building corals and their habitat. Elkhorn and staghorn corals once helped fish to thrive in the Caribbean. Sadly, these coral species  have dwindled by as much 98-99% since the 1970s due to threats such as disease, on-shore pollution, and overfishing.

Take Action: Protect Caribbean Coral>>

The Endangered Species Act tasks the NMFS with bringing back healthy populations of elkhorn and staghorn coral. It’s a big job. And a crucial one. The actions necessary to restore these corals will benefit entire reef ecosystems and the fish and human communities that depend on them.

The NMFS has identified the loss of habitat suitable for new corals to grow as a major threat to the survival of elkhorn and staghorn corals. Much of the Caribbean coral habitat has been overtaken by algae, leaving little space for coral to grow. Caribbean coral reefs need more, larger parrotfish to help clear the way for corals to return.

Tell the NMFS to use the Endangered Species Act to protect our coral now >>

The Fisheries Service has a duty to protect coral reefs from unsustainable fishing and other human impacts. With the development of new fishery management plans for the U.S. Caribbean, the agency now has an opportunity to update fishery management measures to promote the recovery of corals and the reef habitat they provide for so many other species.

Take action:


Brian Smith
Campaign Manager, Earthjustice

Gemma Tillack, Rainforest Action Network ~ Maruchan


Rainforest Action Network
Last week we exposed Maruchan—America’s #1 instant noodle<br />
brand—as the ‘worst performing’ laggard in the Snack Food 20 as it had<br />
yet to make any commitments regarding its use of the controversial<br />
ingredient: Conflict Palm Oil.

Last week we exposed Maruchan—America’s #1 instant noodle brand—as the ‘worst performing’ laggard in the Snack Food 20 as it had yet to make any commitments regarding its use of the controversial ingredient: Conflict Palm Oil. 

With your help we turned the heat up on the company and the instant noodle giant has responded by issuing its first palm oil commitment. Thank you!

We can’t let Maruchan off the hook, however. The commitment it issued falls short of what is required. The company is only requiring its suppliers to meet the entirely insufficient RSPO standard by 2020. To make matters worse, this commitment only applies to operations in the US and not products sold worldwide. Maruchan has a massive worldwide reach; this is simply not enough.

Maruchan can and must do better. We have to keep the pressure on, so today activists are calling Maruchan and demanding it step up and be a leader by adopting and rapidly implementing a truly responsible palm oil policy.

Will you make a quick phone call and tell Maruchan to step up?

It’s simple and only takes a few minutes. Click here for regional phone numbers and a few things to say.

When you make a stand, companies have no choice but to listen. Please make a quick phone call now.


Gemma Tillack 
Agribusiness Campaign Director

Rainforest Action Network
425 Bush Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94108