A less than complimentary article in the Wall Street Journal about the value added of our small Caribbean nations to hemispheric affairs raises some interesting questions that could, perhaps should, give rise to a re-examination of our place in the world. Nothing is ever simple. There is no black and white in international relations.
Sir Ron Sanders, in response to what he describes as a strategically placed commentary by an international affairs professor, Benjamin Gedan, declares that Caribbean nations will “not be shut up.” Gedan’s thesis is that Caribbean States, holding 14 of the 34 votes that comprise membership of the Organisation of American States, have somehow hijacked the agenda of the OAS, rendering it ineffectual in the region, particularly in relation to curtailing the excesses of the Venezuelan Government. He goes on to propose that the 14 votes be collapsed into one vote to be cast by Caricom.
Sanders’ spirited response is of course right on target. Not only does he defend the voting and dialogue performance of Caribbean countries with regard to the Venezuela and other regional issues, he defends the rights of small countries to participate in regional and international affairs as distinct sovereign entities.
Even as large countries will continue to influence the voting patterns and decision making of islands such as ours through agenda-linked aid and other financial incentives, Caribbean countries cannot let ourselves be bulldozed into compliance with a hegemonic perspective that we may not support just because we are small. We must continue to defend our sovereignty and, in fact, we continue to punch well above our weight in regional and international fora.
However, there is no doubt that as an archipelago of tiny sovereign nations we have chosen a most difficult path for ourselves by rejecting the West Indies Federation and continuing to struggle with our separate definitions of independence. The struggle is getting no easier.
For one thing, while the path of Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged many Caribbean islands, we must accept that the economic and social impact on the independent countries of Antigua and Barbuda is surely more long lasting. Dominica has certainly been brought to her knees.
Both Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica immediately sought support from the United Nations, delivering emotive speeches about the impact of developed world-driven climate change on small-island developing States. Powerful statements, but to what end?
The General Assembly hall was largely empty and probably scattered with very junior diplomatic staff seated behind the name tags of the bigger countries holding the place for the senior staff who were taking a break before the real international players were scheduled to speak.
Meanwhile back at home, Venezuelan helicopters have been doing yeoman service rescuing Dominicans all over the ravaged island. Venezuelan pilots run themselves ragged working extended hours with teams of Palestinian medical workers to lend a desperately needed hand to a critically injured little island (Palestine, a country that has itself not secured full voting status at the United Nations).
Antigua and Barbuda also stepped up to extend a hand to Dominica even as that country begins its own post-hurricane recovery. Support has poured from all along the archipelago. In fact, the rallying around the West Indies that has been rekindled in the wake of this season of destruction begs the question again: shouldn’t we just be one?
On the other hand, would we have any more sway in the world if we came together bearing only one vote? The UN General Assembly would very likely be even less interested in the plight of a single-vote-wielding West Indies and the same would probably be true of the Organisation of American States. It’s a bit of a conundrum, since seven million people governed by 14 Prime Ministers is not working so effectively either.