Letters & Opinion

CARICOM Must Grasp or Grab New Global Opportunities Brought by COVID-19 Challenges

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Some interesting regional and international developments are taking place today that make Crystal Clear just how much the world’s political culture has changed and is still changing – and long before COVID-19.

The USA’s reaction to the 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York realigned world politics along lines dictated by Washington, but the steady rise of China and Russia since then and the subsequent advent of the Donald Trump presidency in 2016, have collided to force the unfolding of the new era of global realignment for the third decade of the 21st Century.

Old alliances are being re-established as quickly as new ones are created, old feuds are being re-ignited while new ones are being sparked, traditional religious differences are being exploited for political gain – and long-standing positions are changing as nations big and small break with the principled past to pursue their own ‘national interests’.

Perhaps the biggest example on the world stage is in the way Arab Gulf states are deserting the decades-old policy of unconditional recognition of the State of Palestine, to establish ties with Israel.

Now there are credible reports of an impending US-brokered alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, to be joined by more Arab states influenced by the outgoing Trump administration through Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which can have dangerous consequences between now and January 20, 2021, President Trump’s last day at the White House.

A lesser-known radical shift of smaller but similar significance has also taken place in the Caribbean, with the quiet withdrawal by the new administration of Guyana’s long-standing support for the Saharawi Arab People’s Republic, which Guyana had for decades supported in its independence claim at the United Nations and other international bodies, including the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Interestingly, the Guyana decision was not announced by Guyana, but by Morocco, leaving traditional supporters of Sahrawi independence as puzzled as supporters of a Free Palestine now witnessing more Arab states recognizing Israel.

An anti-Iran alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be a formidable force for Arab pro-PLO forces to contend with, while Guyana will point to whatever added material benefits will flow its way from Morocco vis-à-vis the historical solidarity with the Saharawi cause.

In this maze of new and old alliances, it is important that Saint Lucia and other CARICOM countries also start to revisit traditional approaches to foreign policy and do more to get more help for Caribbean people in the new, unfolding dispensation preceded but further exacerbated by COVID-19.

COVID having unmasked, yet again, the naked disparity between North and South and the inability of small island states and the poorest developing countries to survive the pandemic’s effects without their debts being erased and replaced by sharp donor cash injections by the rich developed nations and the global community.

In the rushed search for a cure for the pandemic and all its ills, nations and pharmaceutical companies in Europe and the USA are bending rules and cutting corners to be the first to provide a marketable vaccine, with the richest nations already having pre-ordered 90% of the supplies even before any of the vaccines on trial has been approved.

But China, Russia and Cuba have stated clearly that their trial vaccines, once approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) following complete and transparent trial runs, will also be made available, as an equal priority, to developing nations unable to pay the unaffordable costs likely to be charged by the giant pharmaceutical companies (and countries) racing to be the first to market a cure for profit.

So, when will CARICOM (including the OECS) start talking to the Chinese, Russians and Cubans about reserving vaccine supplies for Caribbean people?

Are we waiting to be last in line on the waiting lists?

Or, are we to wait for Big Pharma to start paying doctors, health ministers, chief medical officers and members of national medical boards to recommend their more costly cures?

But COVID-19 has also positively driven home everywhere the need to do what we always knew but never worried to do: rely on national and natural, human and material resources, produce and consume more local foods, use more raw materials for local and export purposes, rely more on local intuition, creativity and innovation, rely more science and share more common experiences.

The health, economic and social crises worsened by COVID-19 have also opened the way for new avenues for South-South Cooperation of yet another new type that can see the 14 CARICOM member-states upgrade their direct and shared ties with the African Union (AU), Arab League and Gulf, European Union (EU) American (OAS) and ASEAN states, Russia, Iran, Turkey and China, in common bilateral and multilateral interests, in the new global environment.

CARICOM and other wider-Caribbean nations will need to learn quickly from the lessons of others and avoid actions that will bring into disrepute the region’s traditional policies of non-interference in internal affairs of nations, opposition to external military aggression and insistence of the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace and a Free Trade Zone.

But some current CARICOM leaders will also have to dump traditional and historical stances like opting for neutrality and abstention – even absenteeism — as safe diplomatic escape routes when solidarity is most required against external efforts to divide the region, or in support of global political initiatives that will augur well for the region.

The new COVID-19 reality has opened new routes for better engagements between developing and developed nations and in the context of the new international political and economic norms, Caribbean leaders have to step-up and join the race, if not the rush, to ensure Caribbean people do not lose out in the global bids for survival beyond COVID-19.

Like with the race for a vaccine (and everything else), it’s not about who is the swiftest, but those who can better chart the course — and endure the most.

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