Trump-Pompeo parting shots hurt the Caribbean

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Trump-Pompeo parting shots hurt the Caribbean

Sir Ronald Sanders

Sunday, January 17, 2021

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As they are preparing to exit the White House and the State Department on January 20, the outgoing Donald Trump Administration has planted some explosives for the foreign policy of the Government of Joseph Biden Jr.

A grenade has already been thrown into policies that Antony Blinken, Biden's nominated secretary of state, might pursue in relation to Cuba and, consequently, the Caribbean region. In the dying days of his tenure as secretary of state, and only nine days before Blinken takes over the reins of US foreign policy, Mike Pompeo placed Cuba on a list of state sponsors of terrorism that the US draws up unilaterally.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) stated on January 13 that the listing of Cuba as a sponsor of state terrorism is “baseless”.

Caribbean Community (Caricom) heads of government, on the same day, were unequivocal in their view that, “Cuba's international conduct does not in any way warrant that designation.”

In pursuing this pugnacious policy against Cuba, including unravelling the painstakingly weaved policy of the previous Barack Obama Administration to try to normalise relations between Cuba and the US, Trump's Government is seeking to maintain the support of Cuban-Americans in Florida, both for raising money for his political activity in the coming years, and to be able to deliver the state for a presidential candidate he favours — maybe even for himself in 2024.

Juan Gonzalez, the incoming senior director for western hemisphere in the Biden National Security Council, has pointed out, securing Florida for the 2020 presidential election was the principal motivation of Trump's Cuba policy throughout his term in office.

Little publicised is a corollary of the Trump-Pompeo Cuba policy for the countries of Caricom. Less than a month ago, the US Government sent a questionnaire to Caribbean countries. The answers will be used to compile its annual trafficking in persons report that is submitted to the US Congress. The December questionnaire included a new and sinister section related specifically to workers from China and Cuba. In relation to Cuba — from which every Caribbean country has sought and received vital help through the provision of medical personnel — the US asks questions which are entirely the business of a sovereign State, or the business of sovereign states which have entered contracts. The questions intrude glaringly on State rights. Were the same questions put to the US Government it would, quite rightly, firmly reject the very audacity of asking them.

Trafficking in persons is a very troubling activity which every country should combat vigorously. In this regard, it is true to say that Caribbean countries have worked diligently with the US to try to stamp out the activity, which amounts to modern-day slavery in its worst form, and at its best to the criminal exploitation of vulnerable individuals, particularly women and girls. However, this attempt by the outgoing Trump Administration to include Cuban medical workers and professionals serving Caribbean governments as among those being trafficked — thereby implicating both Cuba and Caribbean governments in criminal activity — is an attempt to politicise an otherwise noble cause.

What's more, it would be the weaponising of a policy against countries and discards cooperation against crime and replaces it with coercion. The implications of this are quite serious and will be a priority of the work of Caribbean countries with the Biden Administration and the US Congress because of the dangers posed to them.

Under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 the non-trade-related and non-humanitarian assistance can be withdrawn from any country considered not to be in compliance “with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and “is not making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with such standards”. Of course, the determination of what is “minimum standards” and “significant efforts” are made entirely by officials of the US Government.

Every year, the trafficking in persons report classifies countries from Tier 1 (the most acceptable) to Tier 3 (the least acceptable). Of the 14 independent Caricom countries, two of them — The Bahamas and Guyana — were listed in 2020 at Tier 1. Seven countries were in Tier 2 — Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. On the Tier 2 Watch List were Barbados and Belize. For unclear reasons, Dominica, Grenada, and St Kitts-Nevis appear in none of the tiers. Currently, no Caribbean country is at the worst level — Tier 3.

However, if the presence of Cuban personnel in Caricom countries becomes a criterion for the US to unilaterally declare a human trafficking offence, this will injure US relations with Caricom countries for no good reason, since US security and US values are not threatened in any way.

The addition to the US trafficking in persons questionnaire of a section on Cuban and Chinese workers fitted well with the anti-China, anti-Cuba stance of the Trump Administration to serve its domestic political agenda. How much of this booby trap left for the Biden Administration is known to its incoming State Department and national security teams is not clear, but the Caribbean must regard advising them as a priority.

The next US trafficking in persons report will be published and sent to the US Congress in June.

The US publication, Foreign Policy, recently quoted a US official as saying that Pompeo's team is engaged in “parting shots deliberately aimed at hampering the incoming Administration's foreign policy”. Where the Caribbean's interests are affected by those parting shots, the region must act in unity to safeguard them.

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the US, Organization of American States, and high commissioner to Canada; an international affairs consultant; as well as senior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He previously served as ambassador to the European Union and the World Trade Organization and as high commissioner to the UK. The views expressed are his own. For responses and to view previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com.


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