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Caricom facing crucial test at upcoming UK/Caribbean Forum

BY RICKEY SINGH Observer Caribbean correspondent

Monday, May 26, 2014    

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Caribbean Community foreign ministers are bracing for a crucial test of their "no-business-as-usual" stand against the Dominican Republic (DR) when they meet next month for the Eighth UK-Caribbean Forum in London.

The core problem relates to controversial amendments to the DR's immigration laws that have effectively denationalised an estimated quarter-million immigrants, the great majority being of Haitian descent.

At their two-day meeting in Guyana last week (May 20-21), the Caricom foreign ministers revisited the controversial 'denationalistion' law in preparation for the June 16-17 forum, which will be hosted by the British Government.

The so-called "elephant in the room", as euphemistically expressed by members of Caricom's Council of Foreign Ministers, is awareness of the DR as a member of the Cariforum group of countries. This is the mechanism by which Caricom and the DR do business together -- trade, investments, etc -- with the European Union (EU) of which the UK is a vital player.

Aware of strong criticisms against the discriminatory immigration law, which has been condemned by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Caricom has vowed against "doing business as usual" with the DR unless changes are made to the "race-based" law.

The big challenge for Caricom's foreign ministers and the British Government would be the modalities in implementing their work agenda at the forum.

This is the first time such a major challenge has emerged in UK-Caribbean relations and, ironically, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague is scheduled to address the first plenary session on June 16 on the topic 'Partners in Prosperity and Security'. The session is scheduled to be chaired by Home Office Minister Karen Bradley.

Meanwhile, in a further related development that's viewed in favour of Caricom's firm stand against the DR's controversial constitutional amendments, the Washington-based Robert F Kennedy Centre has announced its decision to "deepen collaboration with human rights defenders in the Dominican Republic" as well as "expand its international tribunals..."

The amended law, as noted by the Kennedy Centre, is a direct response by the DR Constitutional Court to a petition by an immigrant (Juliana Deguis), born of foreign parents. The ruling retroactively altered the criteria for obtaining Dominican nationality between 1929 and 2010, affecting thousands of immigrants born in the DR and now deemed stateless.

In discussions pertaining to Caricom-USA relations in general, as well as relating to Cuba in particular, the foreign ministers stressed the importance of recognising respect for political sovereignty and reaffirmed their solidarity with the Cuban Government and people.

In this context, Jamaica's Foreign Minister A J Nicholson indicated interest in the need for Caricom's Council on Legal Affairs to consider offering a response to the implications of the contentious issue of foreign nationals, in this case Cuban citizens, including diplomatic personnel, being denied doing business with shopping centres of the US warehouse conglomerate PriceSmart.

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