Institutions for Development: What Lies Ahead in the Caribbean?

Irene Estefania Gonzalez / Inter-American Dialogue

On November 14, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) hosted an event to discuss the Bank’s newest book on the Caribbean region: “Nurturing Institutions for a Resilient Caribbean.” Opening remarks were given by Therese Turner-Jones and Moisés J. Schwartz, both economists from the IDB. These remarks were followed by a moderated discussion by Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue featuring Sally Yearwood, former executive director of Caribbean and Central America Action and Daniel P. Erikson, managing director of Blue Star Strategies. The event focused on the impact of institutions in the Caribbean on sustainable growth and democratic stability.

Turner-Jones began by quoting Darwin: “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature but by our institutions, great is our sin.” She mentioned this to explain what motivated her team to write this book— to figure out what aspects of Caribbean institutions are working well, and which ones are not. She continued by discussing the data gathering methods employed to produce the book and highlighted the importance of distinguishing between commodity and non-commodity producing nations. Not only did she mention the issues regarding institutions in the Caribbean, such as a need to developing education and realistic regional integration, but she also proposed solutions for these issues. 

Following the introductory remarks, Schwartz commented on the existing institutions and their role as the bedrock of economic development in the Caribbean. Schwartz shed light on the findings of the book, especially on the information about the state of the rule of law, fiscal rules, and transparency in the region. He concluded with a word of caution for interpreting the conclusions from the book. The results should be seen taking into consideration contextual conditions, such as history, the commodity-based economy of many nations, and the influential oil extraction industry which is coming to Guyana by 2020.

Erikson continued by delving into the relationship between the Caribbean and the United States. He pointed to the book’s analysis of the US having lost many opportunities to engage with the Caribbean to countries such as China. Yet, according to Erikson, there are friends of the Caribbean in Congress that can potentially shift the isolationist approach of the US. Erikson also highlighted the “Dream for the Caribbean by 2040”, which consists of modern digital economies, thriving innovation, smart and resilient approaches to climate change, and productive, safe, and happy citizens. According to the book, these goals are achievable. However, it is important not only to consider the role of institutions but also the external environment of each country.

While welcoming the results of the book, Yearwood, like Erikson, questioned whether the book takes into account the historical context in various countries. She also recommended the inclusion of Haiti as a case study because it is a successful example of development that is representative of the region. She continued to discuss the challenges of strengthening institutions and how this might affect IDB members in the region. To conclude, she suggested the inclusion of new technologies to complement the book’s findings and clarified that when it comes to development, strengthening institutions is not enough.

The session concluded with a Q&A section which highlighted concerns about the CARICOM strategic agenda, the aging population, indicators to evaluate education, and study methodology. The speakers agreed that this book provides a glance into the institutional development of the Caribbean while recognizing the limitations of the study. 

Watch the full recording of this event here