FOR all the swelling 'friendship' and 'solidarity' rhetoric flowing from
Latin American leaders, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) has traditionally
responded to initiatives and policies originating from the overwhelming bloc of Latin American countries.
The significant difference within the past decade, to reflect more
sensitivity to Caribbean thinking and aspiration, would be the efforts made by
governments in Venezuela, Brazil and, to a lesser extent, Chile and Argentina.
Some 48 years after the dawn of political independence in Jamaica and
Trinidad and Tobago, two Caricom states -- Guyana and Belize -- continue to live
with the harsh realities of border neighbours, Venezuela and Guatemala, respectively maintaining age-old territorial claims against them.
These claims date back to the imperialistic designs in this hemisphere that so often inform the vocabulary of militant Latin leaders -- among them President Hugo Chavez -- today's lead caudillo within the ALBA bloc of states (Bolivarian Alternative to the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas).
In the wider 34-member Organisation of American States (OAS) that has
generally been genuflecting to the politics of the United States of America, Caricom holds the single largest bloc of 15 votes (if we can always count with certainty that of the Dominican Republic).
But Caricom has usually been pressed to summon its best diplomatic skills to secure its objectives in the OAS, including support for the two primary elected officials -- secretary general and assistant secretary general. It is yet to dare its Latin allies to support a Caribbean national for election to the top post of the hemispheric body.
Such an occurrence no longer has to be viewed as a necessary priority in light of a most significant political initiative being vigorously pursued by the Latin American states in collaboration with Caricom.
This initiative has to do with the creation of a new hemispheric organisation that,
once operationalised, will witness the progressive decline in influence and
stature of the 62-year-old OAS.
Birth of CLACS
For the benefit of the people of the 14 sovereign states comprising Caricom, there ought to be a definitive statement - the sooner the better - that offers the rationale for and benefits of what's currently in the making - a "Community of Latin American and Caribbean States" (CLACS).
Driven by its influential Latin neighbours, Caricom has an obligation to ensure that its best interests are NOT submerged in the 'action agendas' to be shaped and pursued by the Latin American allies without due respect paid to the politics, governance system and culture of our region.
The announcement on the establishment of CLACS originated out of Cancun,
Mexico, last Tuesday (February 24) at the close of a two-day summit of Latin
American and Caribbean Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers.
Among the absentees were the president of Guyana and prime ministers of Barbados, Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning was very much an active participant, and hosted and chaired last year's Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain.
Caricom's current chairman, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, felt it necessary to quickly go on the defensive in explaining to
the media that the intention was not to "ignore", or to "mash up" the
Firstly, the OAS is the post-war hemispheric body that was established in 1948 in Washington and which, largely, has remained under the dominant political influence of the USA, in collaboration with Canada.
That influence has been the determining factor, for example, in the
suspension and continuing exclusion of Cuba from the OAS for some 47 years!
USA nor Canada
As I recall, there was a meeting in Montego Bay, Jamaica, last November of Latin American and Caribbean Foreign Ministers to discuss approaches towards an alternative hemispheric body to the OAS - without either the USA or Canada as members. Both are, of course, regarded as traditional and valued "friends" of Caricom.
The Foreign Ministers' recommendations were expected to be submitted to
Heads of State and Government for approval. But there has been a virtual
blackout of news on the matter until the just-concluded summit in Cancun.
There is some disagreement whether a structured caucus of Caricom heads
of delegation did precede the summit of Latin and Caribbean leaders in
Cancun that decided to have CLACS as an alternative to the OAS.
The groundwork for the Montego Bay meeting of Latin American and
Caribbean Foreign Ministers, as well as last week's Cancun summit, would have been laid by the historic conference hosted in December 2008 in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The stated aim of the seminal Salvador summit was "strengthening of
regional integration and establishing effective commitments for joint
action to promote the sustainable development of their peoples..."
It did not escape notice that, for the first time ever, both the USA and
Canada were excluded from such a historic gathering of leaders of the
hemisphere, who had emerged with the far-reaching "Declaration of
Salvador, Bahia" that, seemingly, had provided the intellectual stimulant
for strategising the creation of the emerging "Community of Latin American and Caribbean States".
It is not known whether there has been any prior discussion within the councils of the OAS on the alternative hemispheric body that is to have its own charter, with rotating secretariats, in contrast to the OAS' permanent headquarters in Washington.
Details on the charter of CLACS -- funding, functioning and related matters - are expected to be finalised at a follow-up summit, possibly by June, in Venezuela.
Interestingly, against the background of the Cancun summit and the
expected demise in the importance and influence of the OAS with the
emergence of CLACS, there is to be a scheduled special session of the OAS
General Assembly on March 24 to elect (or re-elect) the organisation's
secretary general (Chile's Jose Miguel Insulza) and his Suriname-born deputy
The special session of the General Assembly will be preceded by a
two-day meeting of the OAS with representatives of the 'Haitian diaspora' in
the USA to discuss the reconstruction of earthquake-shattered Haiti, ahead of
a United Nations-sponsored Donors Conference later next month.