Book Review Crisis and Promise in the Caribbean: Politics and Convergence. By Winston Dookeran.

Book Review  Crisis and Promise in the Caribbean: Politics and Convergence. By Winston Dookeran.

Photo : Winston Dookeran

Ujjwal Rabidas

University of Delhi

Conventionally perceived as geographically isolated, politically insulated and economically unviable, the proverbial identities and interests of the island societies in the Caribbean have been defined by the Caribbean Sea from where the region draws its name. Winston Dookeran in his Crisis and Promise in the Caribbean seeks to reposition the island societies in the regional and global contexts; attempts to capture the contemporary tides of the Sea and empirically argues for a ‘Caribbean Sea Economy’ built on sustainable footings and framed in ‘convergence’ logic. This book subtitled as Politics and Convergence makes a thought-provoking case for the future of the Caribbean political economy and intrudes into the contemporary small states discourse that has a historical tendency to recur in the line of ‘vulnerability’ vis-à-vis ‘resilience’.

This 15-chapters book is structured in three parts in which the author makes a compelling case in favour of creating a new political economy for the Caribbean and creatively preparing it to respond to the falling capacities of its small states and simultaneously rising expectations of their citizens due to demand of democratic institutions, global network of information communication and globalisation of economic markets (p. 10).

Dookeran shares the view that CARICOM has reached its limit as its framework of integration has not yielded the outcome (pp. 189-200) rather the persistent calls for protection, preferences, special consideration, aid and investment support have discouraged the development of long-term strategic plans in the Caribbean. He sees these calls as incompatible with the region’s low levels of production, productivity and international competitiveness. These together has resulted into a regionalism as a ‘stumbling block’ (p. 151) and ‘protest diplomacy’ (p. 145) in the Caribbean to which the author responds with his vision of a new economic geography in the form of ‘clusters’ or ‘concentric circles’ surrounding the Caribbean as building blocks of regionalism. Here the author seems to be convinced by Takatoshi Ito and Anne Krueger’s (1999) observation of a similar economic geography of clusters of ‘flying gees’ in V-formation in East Asia, and looks at the 1994 concept of Association of Caribbean States (ACS) as a possible East Asian counterpart in the greater Caribbean. Dookeran illustrates:


The argument is based on shifting comparative advantage. As rich countries shift their production to technologically advanced new products, lower value added versions of these products are produced by neighbouring less developed lower cost countries which, taken together, generates a dynamic process of development. […] one can look at Japanese investment behaviour in East Asia in electronics and autos industries. Japanese investment […] shifted […] first to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea, then to Malaysia, Indonesia and now to China (pp. 158-159).

But the author aptly underlines that, like in the East Asia, ‘resource shift’ has not taken place in the Caribbean towards industrialisation; only ‘value addition’ has been attempted and that too has not worked in the right direction. Dookeran therefore provocatively puts forward that the regional economy requires going through de-industrialisation via resource shift from the setting industries to the rising ones in order to re-industrialise the island societies (p. 159). The Crisis and Promise in the Caribbean, however, unequivocally conveys that development cannot be imported. It needs internally generated buffers despite the much contextual appeal of the East Asian experience. Building development in the Caribbean requires social and institutional infrastructure that supports creation of knowledge, links education with economic performance and enhances capacity to networking and makes people the principal driver for the new economic geography (pp. 136-137). Dookeran speculates that with this creation of network and clusters of productive interconnectivities, expansion of regional political space and negotiating strength is possible which in return would free the individual state and allow it to concentrate on governance (p. 162).

Having acquired decades-long experience as a career politician in his native country (Trinidad and Tobago) and having steered the key regional economic institutions in the Caribbean, the author forecasts that the steps towards the Caribbean Sea Economy would indeed be a departure point in the history of the Caribbean political economy. But it is impossible without changing the power structure that controls the institutions in the region (p. 49). He argues that in the absence of change, the Caribbean financial sector has operated in an enclave and has responded to the incentives of the international forces rather than responding to the development needs of the region. The reason behind the financial sector being an enclave is that it has been subject to shocks that are permanent in the region and that the history of the Caribbean political economy has been to manage those shocks. Therefore Dookeran endorses a re-thought in the state’s role in development and looks at the state as a ‘catalytic’, rather becoming controller or owner, of civil society and public participation and partnering with private sector. This altered role of state is possible if it acts in the interest of the public good and not towards enlightened self-interest.

The notion of public good has considerable bearing on the author’s intellectual frame as well as on the central theme of the work, which is the Caribbean Sea Economy with a ‘flying gees’ convergence, that pulls the 15 chapters in three parts of Crisis and Promise in the Caribbean. But the order of division of the book in three parts is a real test of the reader’s patience as the last part of the work addresses its central problem, ‘Caribbean Convergence: Integration Without Borders’, as Part III of the book reads. It is again the thick significance of public good that allows the author to advocate for mobilisation of the mass around the political parties that are idea-based and not ethnicity-based since the ethnic parties keep the public opinion caged within their own ethnic confinements or, in the author’s words, within their ‘enlightened self-interest’. The consequence is a ‘democracy’ without a competitive choice. Dookeran seamlessly knits this localised problématique of the value of political choice with the Caribbean ‘regional state’ (p. 180) through coalitional political unity (against ethnic confinements) that respects diversity and inclusiveness, and finally immerses his thesis of the Sea Economy into a post-colonial thinking of ‘irrelevance of smallness’ that has been making the rounds for few decades now.

The Caribbean small states have been perceived as problems and irritants in the international system. The Crisis and Promise in the Caribbean falls among the works that do not seem to accept such a partial wisdom of the international system. The frame of the book rather seems to throws up a challenge for a similar conceptualisation of the greater Caribbean from a security viewpoint by looking at the region as a ‘space of flows’, and not as a ‘space of area’, where the non-sovereign security and social actors have a say in the regional health of the Caribbean.  

31 October 2017

New Delhi