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Yes to trade and aid: What of rule of law?

Monday, June 17, 2013    

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CARIBBEAN Community (Caricom) governments often reveal surprising reluctance to publicly respond to challenges relating to violations of fundamental human rights and the rule of law when, generally, the United States of America is involved.

This attitude was quite in evidence prior to and during meetings with US Vice-President Joseph Biden last month in Port of Spain, where virtual back-to-back meetings also took place with China's President Xi Linping.

The separate meetings between Vice-President Biden and President Xi — minus those leaders whose governments continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan — have served to fuel optimism for increased trade and economic investments within Caricom by these major world players.

Current realities in trade relations with both the USA and China should remind us that, given the nature of small and vulnerable economies, Caricom ought to remain appreciative of practical advantages inherent in sustaining such friendly ties.

All while, of course, being sensibly vigilant against erosion of our national political sovereignty as Washington and Beijing continue to adeptly compete for influence in the Latin America/Caribbean region.

In today's ever-increasing globalised world, practical realities include that both the USA and China would continue to benefit from trade surplus advantages with Caricom countries, even as their respective aid policies vary both in quantum and concessionary terms with Beijing reputedly doing a better job than Washington for beneficiary states.

However, it is felt that while we expectantly await fulfilment of promised improved trade, aid and economic investment from the USA to flow from the framework accord Caricom signed with Vice-President Biden, it's relevant to observe that no official mention was alluded to in respect of two quite important issues currently being debated in the USA and countries in this hemisphere as well as in other regions:

PUBLIC SILENCE

That lapse to mention was consistent with what has emerged as the norm for Caricom governments to expediently become silent publicly on issues involving Washington's contradictions on issues of fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

This time around, the public silence pertains to controversial policies for which President Barack Obama's Administration is facing strident criticisms from various quarters at home and abroad — except, of course, by governments and organisations in our Caribbean Community.

The issues relate to Washington's use of unmanned aircraft to combat international terrorism — including pursuing such surveillance in our Caribbean region. And, secondly, continuing misuse of Guantanamo Bay, part of Cuba's sovereign territory, as a vast political prison for claimed terrorists who continue to be denied standard trials by a court of law.

KILLINGS BY DRONES

This policy of drones surveillance by Washington was executed under the former administration of President George W Bush and is being sustained under President Obama's presidency — even outside of military war zones — and resulting in indiscriminate deaths of innocent civilians.

A related controversy involving the rule of law is President Obama Administration's failure to shut down, as promised since his first term, Guantanamo Bay, where political prisoners have been in detention without a normal court trial, since the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks on the USA.

Since both political issues have to do with the rule of law in civilised societies, and to which all Caricom states claim to embrace, then it's high time for governments and representatives, institutions and agencies of our Community to stand up and be counted.

After all, such indiscriminate killing of civilians, and even alleged wanted "terrorists", without resorting to the jurisdiction of courts of law, could well be viewed as acts of murder by the State — wherever they occur.

President Obama has been driven on the defensive by spreading protests at home and abroad — though not including Caricom — to re-assess his Administration's policy of systematically resorting to killing suspected terrorists unilaterally deemed to be threats to America's national interest.

A "DRONES AGREEMENT"?

Against this scenario, is it relevant to ask what specific development, if any, had led to Caricom's unannounced "agreement" (sic) with Washington to facilitate America's resort to using unmanned aircraft (drones) in the Caribbean to more effectively track narco-trafficking?

It's almost a year ago that disclosure of this vital information of public interest came from Washington, announced by the US Department of Homeland Security.

This columnist cannot recall any official disclosure about such an involvement by Caricom, at any level — diplomatic, ministerial or Head of Government. Are we awaiting the occurrence of an unpleasant, or worse, tragic development before receiving some relevant official explanation from Caricom?

Surely our governments cannot forget the controversies resulting from either arrogance and claimed "errors" by the US coastguard service that made necessary what came to be known as The Shipriders Agreement between Caricom and USA.

And what about the continuing silence by Caricom about political prisoners at Guantanamo Naval Base?

They are languishing; being force-fed; getting chronically ill, a few dying, and young ones reaching the age of manhood. They are all being denied a normal court trial, since 2001, by the self-proclaimed "greatest democracy" of the world that loves to lecture all and sundry on the virtues of the rule of law in governance of a democratic state.

President Obama is currently agonising — again — over when to make good on his original promise to shut down the Guantanamo prison and ensure either legitimate court trials or otherwise arrange for their freedom.

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