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Opposition concerned about lack of consultation on CELAC

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicoabserver.com

Wednesday, February 26, 2014    

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OPPOSITION spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade, Edmund Bartlett, has criticised the Government for keeping the Opposition and the country in the dark about its deepening relationship with the newly created regional body, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

In a response to a statement Friday in the Senate from Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator A J Nicholson, about, Jamaica's participation in the 2nd summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Bartlett suggested that the Government should have explored the issue with the Opposition to cement a bipartisan approach to international relations.

"I think international diplomacy and trade are two areas for which consensus should be easily achieved in our adversarial democracy, and a bipartisan approach to the discussion and conclusion of our position on key issues should be possible," he said.

"Certainly, the country should never be committed to any arrangement, political or otherwise, which has fundamental impact on our present and future development and global relationship without, at least, bipartisan agreement. Against this background, I offer to the minister our hand to clasp with his, directing the way forward for Jamaica's international engagements," he said.

CELAC, a brainchild of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was founded at a historic summit in Caracas in December 2011. It has membership of 33 Latin American and Caribbean states, with only the United States and Canada as western hemisphere countries excluded. Chávez and President of Chile Sebastián Piñera co-chaired the forum which drafted the statutes for the organisation.

Jamaica's delegation to the summit in Cuba from January 28-29 was led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, and included Nicholson and other officials from his ministry as well as permanent secretaries and staff from the Office of the Prime Minister.

Nicholson recalled that in January 2013, he represented the prime minister at the first summit in Chile, and reported on the outcome of the deliberations and the significance of Jamaica's membership in this new regional integration mechanism.

He said that convening the Summit in Cuba brought CELAC closer home to the Caribbean, and provided an opportunity for more active participation by Caribbean Community countries.

"This Second Summit of CELAC emphasised the gradual development of the organisation into a credible forum for dialogue and consensus-building, and for promoting and expanding regional cooperation and collaboration, amidst the diversity of the membership of the group," Nicholson said.

"It created an opportunity also to address differences, and to work towards greater understanding and strengthening of the bonds of friendship uniting the CELAC family of nations, which demonstrates the evolving maturity of the group," he went on.

"From Jamaica's perspective, the meeting allowed for frank and open discussion on issues of importance to CELAC member states, and to chart a course forward. The outcome documents, in which Jamaica had an input, adequately covered priority issues for the Caribbean sub-region," Nicholson added.

He noted that the summit was held under the chairmanship of Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz, with the theme 'The Struggle against Hunger, Poverty, and Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean'. He also pointed out that it was addressed by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the OAS Secretary General Miguel Insulza, marking the first visit to Cuba of an OAS secretary general since Cuba's suspension from the organisation in 1962.

But Bartlett said that he was disappointed that Senator Nicholson's "detailed" report did not highlight the principal outcomes of the meeting, including the communique which stated, 'the summit agreed that the region should be designated a Zone Of Peace'.

"Nor did it elaborate on this key outcome. Certainly Jamaica should know if there are any critical security concerns which we should be aware of, and what constitute these threats to the security of the region. Are these threats internal or external? And if it is the latter, which countries are threatened?" The Opposition spokesman queried.

He also noted that the summit acknowledged the interest of China and Russia as potential partners, which would "strengthen the economic and political clout of the region".

"The issue is what of the two North American giants, the USA and Canada, who are strong allies of Jamaica and our major trading partners? What is our attitude towards their involvement as part of the Americas?" the Opposition spokesman queried further.

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