Leading article: The Commonwealth can help the Caribbean

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The Independent Culture
COMMONWEALTH DAY passed off yesterday with few celebrations. The attendance of parliamentary leaders at Westminster Abbey, and the Queen's Message emphasising the role of sporting links, passed without much impact on public consciousness. This is a depressing state of affairs, for we still have economic, political and judicial links with our old Empire which cannot be forgotten. The Caribbean, in the headlines owing to the "banana wars" with the US, is a good example. The legacy of our rule there is that too many countries are locked in inter-island strife, small economies unable to support specialisation and exposed to economic shocks such as the banana conflict.

Nor is our responsibility limited to a historic legacy. Prisoners in many of Britain's ex-colonies can still appeal to the Privy Council in London. Hundreds of people have successfully appealed against their death sentences in this way. The signs are that Caribbean governments will not stand for this much longer, as they prepare to institute their own Caribbean Supreme Court.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, the Caribbean's sovereign nations have a right to decide their own laws without British pressure - recently extended to urging more liberal laws on homosexuality. The inter-island co-operation inherent in a new Supreme Court can only be a good thing, especially if extended to economics. That should allow these countries to end clashes between European Union aid policy, administered through the Lome Convention, and separate bilateral national agreements that serve only to divide and confuse aid efforts.

More should have been made of Commonwealth Day, revealing our duty to make amends for past exploitation, and encourage economic development and co-operation among those we once presumed to rule.