Letters & Opinion

Beyond Barbados: Will leaders sing CARICOM National Anthem or dance to ‘Yankee Doodle’?

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.

Will CARICOM Unity Survive The Jamaica Summit? Part 5

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

FINAL Communiques no longer take forever to come after CARICOM Summits in this age of instant news, constant information flow and demand. But even before it began, this week’s parley between Heads of Government in Barbados was destined to end as both a barometer and a litmus test for CARICOM Unity at leadership levels.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley on Tuesday welcomed her colleagues in the shadow of her predecessors Errol Barrow and Erskine Sandiford, urging them to remain united in the face of the many challenges facing the regional body.

But even before she spoke, she’d had to contend with three significant absences: Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau made it clear that Home Affairs are more important to him than flying to Barbados to lobby Caribbean leaders to support Canada’s bid to join the UN Security Council.

Moise denied his decision not to attend had anything to do with the continuing nation-wide protests against his one-man-rule that have seen over 20 lives lost and also featured many kidnappings, yet also claiming it was to attend meetings aimed at ending ‘the crisis’ facing the country.

Holness didn’t explain his absence, but all bets are on it having to do with Chairman Mottley loudly describing his hosting of selected member-states with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in secret talks last month was an attempt by Washington to divide the region.

Holness and Pompeo both denied the evident, but the Jamaican leader could not have taken kindly his other regional colleagues (Barbados Prime Minister Mottley, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley among them) all supporting the Chairman’s position that by choosing who to invite and to exclude, the US was in fact dividing CARICOM.

The Jamaica PM was the perfect host in Kingston, returning the favour of President Donald Trump who hosted him and four other Caribbean leaders (including Haiti’s Moise and the Prime Ministers of Saint Lucia, The Bahamas and Dominican Republic) at his private Mar-a-Lago golf course and resort in Florida last March.

Since Pompeo met Holness and Foreign Affairs Ministers of six other CARICOM members – constituting half of CARICOM – Haiti has joined Saint Lucia in the Canada-led ‘Lima Group’ of anti-Venezuela member-states at the Organization of American States (OAS).

By staying away, Holness and Moise will not be part of any decision on Venezuela or with implications for the US in Bridgetown.

Since the secret Kingston parley, the three candidates for the position of OAS Secretary General when the vote comes up in Washington next month have presented their cases to the Permanent Council and although US-backed Luis Almagro gave the worst performance, he did not seem concerned thereafter about the threat from the more popular Caribbean-backed woman candidate Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who also has Latin American support.

Not a word has leaked out of Barbados about whether CARICOM would back Canada’s bid to join the UN Security Council, or where the leaders stand in the bitter royal turf war being waged by the UK (with Australian and New Zealand support) against Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Scotland.

Nor did any weather vane signal if the leaders had any discussions on taking a united approach to next month’s OAS vote for Secretary General, or if they remained true to the joint CARICOM declaration last July to oppose external military intervention in Venezuela.

Chairman Mottley’s welcoming address was properly crafted to say all the right things about the wrongs affecting the region, but she knew, like all her other colleagues, that CARICOM is still not as united as it’s being made to be or would like to be.

In the year since President Trump backed opposition leader Juan Guaido as the self-imposed President of Venezuela and the Canada-led Lima Group called on member-states to isolate President Nicolas Maduro and break ties with Caracas, CARICOM’s traditional policy of non-interference in and opposition to external intervention in other countries’ affairs has been shattered on Venezuela.

Only three states (Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Surinam) supported Venezuela’s right to determine its destiny when Washington and the Lima Group moved resolutions at the OAS last year to have a Guaido appointee fill Venezuela’s seat and to further isolate Maduro, all others either supporting the US position, abstaining or absenting.

The US started 2020 with half of CARICOM states willing to share secrets with Washington behind the backs of the other half, those that met Pompeo pleading not guilty to allegations of breaking regional unity and arguing in their defense that they are pursuing vital national interests that precede their common very limited interpretations of regional unity.

Washington, London and Toronto are not the least concerned about what CARICOM leaders may have agreed to among themselves in Barbados this week, as long as their decisions do not affect their respective strategic and geopolitical objectives relating to Venezuela and (in the case of the UK) The British Commonwealth.

As per usual, with no coordination between CARICOM leaders ahead of the summit on the issues that bind or divide them, each entered Barbados on their own steam and with minds either made-up or still blowing in the warm Caribbean breeze.

But by the time they left ‘Bim’, the region’s leaders had surely realized, even though not conceding publicly, that following the private and confidential secret parleys Mar-a-Lago and Kingston, Antigua and Barbuda’s veteran Ambassador Ron Saunders was (and still is) absolutely right that ‘nobody can divide CARICOM’ but CARICOM itself.

Unfortunate but true, ‘CARICOM Unity’ remains not only a widely used-and-abused phrase, but if the trend continues, CARICOM’s national anthem can also soon sound more like ‘Yankee Doodle’ than what it is — or was really meant to be.

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