Letters & Opinion

Will CARICOM Unity Survive Jamaica? Part 2

img: The six OECS, 15 CARICOM and 12 Commonwealth Caribbean member-states will be expected to come out of the current 37th CARICOM Summit, under way in Guyana, with plans to address the expected Brexit Caribbean blowout, which offers both challenges and opportunities for new relationships with Britain and the EU.

The January 2020 US-Caribbean Pegasus Parley

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

I ended my first article in this series with four questions, each of which I will offer my own answers to.

First question: Will CARICOM nations remain united behind the candidate proposed by two member-states for the position of Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), or will at least half vote with Washington for the outgoing US candidate, Luis Almagro, when elections for the position are held in March 2020?

As current Secretary General, Almagro drives Washington’s anti-Venezuela offensive at the OAS. But he he’s largely ran out of favour with most OAS nations — and two candidates will contest against him.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Jamaica earlier this week was primarily to garner Caribbean support for Almagro, Washington clearly wanting as many CARICOM nations as possible to vote against a candidate proposed by CARICOM nations.

But it already seems clear Pompeo has achieved that goal, as nothing said after the Jamaica meeting leaves any hope for a united CARICOM position when the vote is called.

The seven nations – representing half of CARICOM member-states – claimed their usual ‘right’ to take decisions in their ‘national interests’, one key spokesperson even saying, ‘CARICOM isn’t a political union.’

But while their positions on Almagro (like on Venezuela) will differ in similar ways, the main chorus from the Pegasus hymn sheet was that the nations present all wanted all that each could get from the US, in the process competing to sing the best for the same slice of the American Pie that’s already so thin to hardly be seen.

Pompeo, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) before becoming America’s foreign policy chief, did indicate happiness with the results of his tete-a-tete with the CARICOM Seven.

CARICOM Chairman Mia Mottley accused Washington of dividing the regional grouping and was supported by her counterparts from Trinidad & Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada.

But none of the said countries were on the list named by the State Department ahead of the meeting — and it wasn’t the first time CARICOM nations spoke out against the divisive selective invitations.

Commenting to the local press in March 2019 on not being invited to the Mar-a-Lago summit when President Donald Trump met leaders from five Caribbean states, Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said ‘A man has the right to decide who to invite to a party at his house’, so he would not cry for not having been invited to meet Mr Trump at his private golf resort in Florida.

Back then, the Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago Prime Ministers were the CARICOM point persons on Venezuela, with St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris in the CARICOM Chair.

Following Mar-a-Lago, the five countries that met President Trump voted lock-stock-and-barrel with the US at subsequent OAS Permanent Council Meetings on Venezuela.

They did not officially recognize US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido as ‘Interim President’ of Venezuela or break ties with Caracas (as earlier demanded by the pro-US, Canada-led ‘Lima Group’ of OAS member-states opposed to Venezuela).

But each supported Guaido’s appointee to take Venezuela’s seat at the OAS last April – and in each case diplomatic ties with Caracas have been affected either by non-appointment of new Venezuelan Ambassadors, or inability of Venezuela embassies on their soil to function normally.

Following the Jamaica meeting and ahead of the March vote, it will be interesting to watch, listen and closely follow the discussions and debates in each country related to the positions adopted by the seven countries.

In Jamaica, Prime Minister Holness is up against the Americans touting his country as one that has their support for Almagro, but the influential ‘Gleaner’ newspaper is editorially opposed to the US candidate and is clearly against Jamaica voting for his re-election.

It was also argued by some in the Mutual Admirers Club after the Pegasus meeting that while Almagro may be destructive, he’s also ‘leading the charge for promoting democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean.’

With 15 seats on the OAS Permanent Council, the Caribbean Group in Washington only needs four more nations to support its candidate. But this arithmetical conclusion is never automatic in such cases where each nation claims to hold firmly to its right to vote in its ‘best national interests’.

The way some talked in Jamaica about upholding the benefits of 200 years of ties with America seriously downplayed the importance of CARICOM and offered equally serious reason for doubt about a united position on Almagro.

But some Caribbean observers are also taking a historical retrospective glance, some even speculating whether Washington has a grand plan to use Jamaica to divide CARICOM along the lines that Jamaica pulled out of the West Indies Federation nearly six decades ago, leading to its collapse.

Such a scenario may be far-fetched in terms of close timing. But after the Mar-a-Lago and Kingston meetings it’s clear that Washington is playing its usual divide-and-rule trump card, this time the Pompeo way — which has resulted thus far in at least two more CARICOM nations now giving active consideration to being on Washington’s side, against a candidate proposed by CARICOM in March.

Pompeo obviously had no problem convincing his captive audience of willing listeners that it would be in their respective countries’ individual interests, as well as in their common good, to break CARICOM ranks and help the US pursue its geopolitical objectives against Venezuela and in the Caribbean.

Caribbean nations will, once again at the OAS — this time in just a few weeks — have to choose between voting as a bloc, or as individual nations disunited.

It’s happened before — in 1983 in Grenada, where circumstances led CARICOM and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member-states signing-up to as a ‘Rescue Mission’ that never was.

It can happen again!

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