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Former PLP leader calls Caricom overture a political stunt

Pressing issues: Marc Bean, a former leader of the Progressive Labour Party

Bermuda’s move to seek full membership in the Caribbean Community has been dismissed as a ploy to distract the island’s electorate, according to a former leader of the Progressive Labour Party.

Marc Bean, who led the PLP in Opposition from 2012 until his retirement from politics in 2016, branded the Caricom move — announced in the 2023-24 Throne Speech — an “example of creating negativity, strife and confusion”.

David Burt has defended the move as broadening the island’s access to Caricom resources, including playing a part in decisions affecting the 15-member bloc.

The Premier also emphasised that public consultation would come before any such move, with discussions to take place during the present parliamentary session.

Mr Burt responded last month to criticism of the proposal from Sir John Swan, a former premier, as crying wolf over a move that would not endanger the island’s existing relationships with neighbours such as the United States.

The Premier stated that full membership of Caricom would not automatically open the island’s borders to free movement within the community.

Bermuda has been an associate member of Caricom since 2003, and Mr Bean served as an adviser on Caricom to the PLP government during Ewart Brown’s term as premier.

Mr Bean represented Bermuda as a consultant at Caricom meetings until November 2010.

In an op-ed published today in The Royal Gazette, Mr Bean implied that the announcement to explore full Caricom membership was a political smokescreen.

He added: “It would not be the first time that the Burt Government has deployed such tactics, in particular for the purpose of distracting the public’s mind from the pressing issues of the day.”

Mr Bean led a rival political party, the Free Democratic Movement, ahead of the 2020 General Election.

He also emerged as a strident critic of Mr Burt’s leadership, from moves such as the proposed legalisation of cannabis to health restrictions on the island to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Bean said he would “100 per cent” support a move to further economic and cultural ties with Caricom, and praised Bermudian businesses that had pursued a deeper engagement with the Caribbean.

He said the Caribbean’s cultural influence on Bermuda had been “a life-giving force for Bermudian society, an authentic energy that has declined over the years to our collective detriment”.

However, he added: “The point I am seeking to drive home is this: the economic and cultural benefits of Caribbean engagement exist in abundance, but they are not dependent on full membership into Caricom.”

Mr Bean also took aim at the Government on the issue of free movement of residents within Caricom.

The Premier highlighted earlier that Caricom does not issue its own passports, and that the island’s immigration laws would continue to apply to “any foreign national seeking to reside or work in Bermuda”.

Mr Bean said there was “tribalism at play” in Bermudian attitudes towards the Caribbean, adding that the PLP administration was “bending over backwards” to opt out of freedom of movement, despite calling for planned growth of the island’s workforce to advance Bermuda’s economy.

He added that “being that we depend on the Caribbean to supply our healthcare system with highly qualified and capable personnel — in particular from Jamaica via its University of the West Indies medical school — you would think that national requirements demand that we embrace the [Caribbean Single Market and Economy] provisions to ensure we have easier access to this available pool of specialised human capital”.

Mr Bean wrote that full Caricom membership could benefit the island with “access to highly skilled persons from Caricom, and the reciprocal access of Bermudians to gain business, educational and employment opportunities in the Caribbean”.

Otherwise, he said that embracing Caricom would “only represent politics and a personal opportunity for certain politicians to waste limited taxpayer funds on what amount to be political junkets”.

Mr Bean wrote: “I do not support this path towards fully joining Caricom and would rather the Government focus on promoting our economic and cultural relations with the Caribbean as a whole, alongside other regions such as Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.”

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Published December 13, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated December 13, 2023 at 8:29 am)

Former PLP leader calls Caricom overture a political stunt

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