Supporting civil society in the Caribbean

Alternatives to continental integration

Tuesday 27 January 2004, by Alternatives

Background

With regard to challenges of the globalization, countries of the Caribbean area began to share their efforts, in order to create a political, social and economic bloc, which has a higher bargaining power in front of the most powerful of the continent. This economic regionalization could build an economic and political area, where all together small economies could get what they cannot have by themselves, and thus protect their vulnerable economies.

Until the next Summit of the Americas forecast in 2005, the agenda of the negotiations in the Caribbean area will be very busy. Indeed, the negotiations of CARICOM and CARIFORUM include the preparation to trade agreements with the European Union from September 2002 within the context of the Cotonou Agreement, the management of a complicated agenda following the last negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in Doha about the end of 2003, without taking into account of the nine chapters of negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

However, the results of these efforts engaged in this regionalization remain reserved. If relations within CARICOM are a little bit more harmonious than between the countries of Central America, the diversity of the national realities and the difference of interests continue to hinder a regional integration, strategy adopted as one of the most efficient ways to prepare those countries to the hemispheric free-trade and the setting up of trade and investment rules compatible with the principles of the FTAA.

Note that some agreements, realized within the context of the WTO or the European Union (EU), had perverse effects on some countries in the area. For instance, the milk production in Jamaica has almost completely disappeared on behalf of imports of milk powder from the EU. These prospects of negative growth for the region of the world, which suffer from the worst wealth redistribution, make the citizens to be more and more distrustful towards projects which do not propose durable solution faced with questions of social and environmental nature, essential for people to live.

Another problem is the democratic deficit of the in course process. Indeed, while some institutions like CARICOM and the EU are endowed with integration mechanisms of the civil society, community networks see that they have little influence on the big economic choices. The FTAA, as for it, opens a new debate area. On the other hand, in spite of the will of some states, like Canada, there is no formal consultation area with the civil society yet. The available mechanisms, within which these more little countries can express themselves, are limited to the setting-up of an advisory group on small economies, which have no action power, in the granting of periods of favour for the application of capacities which remain based on the reciprocities and in the allocation of an insufficient, inconsistent financial and technical assistance and essentially intended for the stabilization.

Project

In the winter of 2002, thanks to the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and in partnership with the Caribbean Policy Development Centre, Alternatives realized a series of advisory workshop in four countries of the Caribbean area and a seminar in Ottawa.

These meetings allowed to identify the needs of NGOs of Caribbean, related to the stakes they are facing within the context of economic negotiations. Thus, it was clearly established that regional networks needed to be reinforced, local and national initiatives of most fragile and poorest countries should be particularly supported and the development of an analysis from the view peculiar to the area, peculiar to small economies taking into consideration the political, social, economic and cultural diversity of this area should be a priority of the NGOs.

It is what the current project is aiming at realizing, by supporting the development of consultative mechanisms, the realization of means to reach them and the creation of areas of citizen participation (trainers’ training) allowing this consultation and the appropriation of the debate by all sectors: farmers, women, environmentalists, etc.

So it is about reinforcing the civil society in Caribbean islands in the plural and united construction of Americas, and this more specifically in the context of the process engaged by the FTAA.

In other words, it is a question of building a dialogue between the various sectors and between the organizations, in spite of the language barriers and the cultural, political, economic, ethnic variety of the region for the construction of a regional cohesion and the effort to build mechanisms suited to support this company.

It is also question to favour the creation of spaces of dialogue between the various actors involved in this file and to strengthen the action of the NGOs in their interventions with the population as well as with the national and regional governmental actors, because the NGOs are the best placed authorities to favour the expression of the populations.

On the other hand, the organizations of the civil society in the Caribbean islands concentrated their efforts especially on the analysis of the impacts of the agreements with the EU as well as on the WTO. Few or no concrete work of reflection and analysis was realized on the FTAA, where the importance granted to the development of a multidisciplinary and sector-based reflection to reinforce the civil society by the signature of the agreement foreseen in 2005, in the context of this project.

Partners

The Caribbean policy Development Centre
The Caribbean policy development Canter group together almost 24 organisms and NGOs of the British West Indies area, also including the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. Their actions aim at influencing the development of economic policies, which affect the area.

Haitian platform of plea for an alternate development (PADPA)
Haitian NGO, which coordinates popular education activities and public sensibilization on the stake of the sustainable development. This NGO exits since 1995 and is composed by various sectors of the civil society.

Search group on the continental integration (GRIC)
The GRIC, established in Montreal, works with the Québec Network on the Continental Integration (RQIC), which is a coalition composed by search groups, unions, human rights groups, women, environmentalists, who develop an analysis of the FTAA for years. The GRIC is the main source of expertise, that allows, through the research, the documentation and the training of leading the Network, which was, we remember, responsible for the organization of the 12th Summit of the people of Americas in April 2001. The Network is also member of a continental coalition called the Continental Social Alliance.

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