Every island for itself… Part 2Monday, March 15, 2021
The following is the conclusion of the discussion started in yesterday's edition of the The Agenda in the Sunday Observer :
LET'S recap: An unelected Venezuelan Opposition politician has a seat at the OAS — a body that only admits States as members, not political parties. That unelected politician brought a damning charge against Trinidad and Tobago — a Caricom member state. He blamed Trinidad and Tobago for events that occurred outside of the territory of Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica — a Caricom member state — was chairing the meeting, with the power to allow or block the charges. The legality of the action was challenged by Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago — all Caricom member states. When the issue came up for a vote, Jamaica, Haiti, and The Bahamas sided with Guaidó's claim.
In the backyard...
Students of Caricom diplomacy are familiar with the two immutable and oft-repeated laws that guide our regional foreign policy. The first law was uttered in 1966 by Barbadian Prime Minister Errol Barrow, who famously declared that his newly independent country would be “friends of all, satellites of none”.
The second law, espoused a decade later by Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, was that his nation was “in nobody's backyard”. In one of his most famous speeches, Bishop said: “Grenada is a sovereign and independent country, although a tiny speck on the world map. And we expect all countries to strictly respect our Independence, just as we will respect theirs. No country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country, or who to be friendly with. We certainly would not attempt to tell any other country what to do.
“We are not in anybody's backyard, and we are definitely not for sale. Anybody who thinks they can bully us or threaten us clearly has no understanding, idea, or clue as to what material we are made of. They clearly have no idea of the tremendous struggles which our people have fought over the past seven years. Though small and poor, we are proud and determined. We would sooner give up our lives before we compromise, sell out, or betray our sovereignty, our Independence, our integrity, our manhood, and the right of our people to national self-determination and social progress.”
It was stunning, therefore, to hear current Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness declare openly on an American news channel that: “Jamaica understands the orbit in which we are. We are in the backyard of the United States, so to speak.”
Since the declaration of Bishop's law over 40 years ago, it is doubtful that any Caribbean leader has so publicly and emphatically located his nation in the backyard of another country.
The political party that Prime Minister Holness leads boasts fresh infusions of admirable new blood and energy on the domestic front and the overwhelming endorsement of its governance by the electorate. This has likely emboldened this restatement of his party's foundational foreign policy philosophy as being based on an unemotional, transactional, and entirely pragmatic acceptance of realpoliti k. It is a perspective undoubtedly shared by some of Holness's Caricom colleagues — even if they lack the courage and the popular backative to so openly challenge long-standing conventional wisdom with this seeming political heresy.
However, in the context of Jamaica, a wholehearted embrace of the diplomacy of might, means, and magnitude lays bare an inherent contradiction in her relationship with Caricom that has been the subject of episodic and unsuccessful debates: How can you be, at once, too big to deal with Caricom, yet too small to deal with the rest of world? In resolving that contradiction, the pursuit of any ephemeral mirage of great power favour will necessarily involve a boss, a subordinate, and a backyard.
Of course, now that Donald Trump is (temporarily?) gone, expect some expedient and united Caricom statements “taking a stand” on this or that issue. But those stands will be akin to whispering behind the bully's back. The time to show true strength and solidarity has passed.
In the aftermath of the abandonment of Trinidad and Tobago at the Organization of American States (OAS), regional response has been depressingly muted. Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister loudly declared that his country would not participate in any further OAS votes until Juan Guaidó was removed from the organisation. A few weeks later, with no other Caricom country joining Trinidad and Tobago's just boycott, his Government quietly walked back the declaration.
Jamaica's Opposition shadow minister for foreign affairs demanded an explanation for her country's seeming “intent on joining others in isolation of sister nations in the region”. Her demands were largely brushed aside.
More troubling was the complete silence emanating from Caricom member states. Caricom foreign ministers met in February, in advance of a virtual summit with the Canadian foreign minister, and the heads of government of Caricom have met repeatedly over the last 10 weeks, most recently during a virtual two-day conference. Judging from the communiqué issued at the end of that meeting, the betrayal of Trinidad and Tobago apparently didn't come up.
If heads of government of Caricom can meet for two days and not frontally discuss this shocking breach of unity and solidarity, then the integration movement is soulless and empty.
Back in 1981, a “wise men's” commission issued a report entitled The Caribbean Community in the 1980s. In it, they said: “The roots of the Caribbean Community are not buried in doctrines of integration economics. Caricom is not just the product of economic regional planning... Caribbean regionalism is the outgrowth of more than 300 years of West Indian kinship — the vagaries of the socio-economic, political history of transplanted people from which is evolving a Caribbean identity. Without that element of West Indian identity a community of the Caribbean would be mere markings on parchment — a community without a soul, without vision of a shared destiny, without the will to persist and survive...”
And here we are today. Will Caricom, as an organisation, disappear? Of course not. We are a bunch of islands and small states, clustered closely together. Geography and reality will undoubtedly force us to cooperate in our own self-interest on various functional tasks. The logic of integration economics remains compelling, but the idea of Caricom, the principle of solidarity, the ethos of “all for one, and one for all”, has died. And with it the dream of a more perfect union.
RIP, Caricom 1973 – 2020.
Camillo Gonsalves is the minister of finance, economic planning and information technology of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Editor' note: This commentary was first published on Gonsalves' blog, Firm Meditation, on March 8, 2021.
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