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Thursday 21 March 2019
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Commentary

Caricom and foreign policy co-ordination

REGINALD DUMAS

FOREIGN policy co-ordination was one of the three objectives of the original Caricom Treaty (1973). The Revised Treaty (2001) has triple that number, but speaks of “enhanced co-ordination of member states’ foreign and [foreign] economic policies.” (Aren’t foreign economic policies part of foreign policies?)

“Enhanced!” Well, well. But we do know, don’t we, that the region has often been at sixes and sevens where its foreign stances are concerned. Last month’s anti-Maduro vote at the Organization of American States (OAS) was a classic of Caricom unco-ordination, swiftly followed by illogic. For instance, Saint Lucia, which opposed Maduro in Washington, then cheerfully attended his later inauguration in Caracas.

I’m tempted to ask if there would be more cohesion and coherence if we didn’t have a formal regional agreement. After all, in 1972, before the birth of Caricom, the heads of government of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago jointly agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Four little countries taking a position of principle running wholly counter to that of the disapproving USA! And the decision has endured. What, I wonder, might have been the reaction of some of our nervous nellies of today, who willingly bend the knee before Donald Trump in his determined “America first” quest to control the fate of Venezuela and other states?

We must persevere, however: national co-ordination on anything except finger-pointing is hard enough; regional co-ordination is like the labour of Sisyphus. In the last few weeks, we seem to have achieved it, however temporarily, on Venezuela. On behalf of Caricom, its chairman, St Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris, has even rebuked the OAS secretary-general, Luis Almagro, for “recognising…Juan Guaido as interim president of…Venezuela.”

He went on to tell Almagro that this was “not the only occasion on which you have made public utterances in the name of the organisation without authority,” and that “(such) unilateral action…is a clear departure from normal practice and cause for great concern.”

Tough language, and necessary. Is the spirit of 1972 returning?

We shall see. Before euphoria breaks out, let’s not forget the 1983 Grenada debacle. On October 25 that year, US troops, followed by military and police personnel from several Caricom countries, invaded Grenada. (They variously called it an “intervention” and a “rescue mission.”)

A few days earlier, on October 22 and 23, Caricom had held a meeting in TT, chaired by PM George Chambers, to discuss the Grenada situation. When the meeting adjourned after 3 am on the 23rd, it appeared that consensus had been reached on the way forward which, above all, was not to involve any external elements in the resolution of the problem. (Supreme irony, as things turned out.)

But when the meeting reconvened later on the 23rd, a number of delegations suddenly insisted that no consensus had in fact been reached, and that there should be no further discussion along those lines; Grenada was declared suspended from Caricom. As Chambers ruefully indicated to Parliament on October 26, the day after the invasion, TT had been totally blindsided. (Incidentally, the “intervention/rescue mission” was vigorously opposed by Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Thatcher.)

It was only ten years later, when I read In Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State by George Shultz, and saw the timelines he gave on the Grenada issue, that I understood the extent to which TT and some other Caricom states (Bahamas, Belize and Guyana) had been deceived by the majority of their colleagues.

In my 1995 book In the Service of the Public I wrote this: “(N)early 24 hours before the adjournment (of the Caricom meeting on October 23) and the apparent consensus, the US government, at the behest of most of the very states that were now seeming to acquiesce in the consensus, had already decided to invade Grenada. That decision had been taken in the morning of…October 22. But it is worse than that. The October 22 meeting had begun after 9 in the evening – in other words, (several) hours after the US government decision. It would be straining credulity to believe that that decision had not been conveyed to the relevant Caricom states even before the start of the meeting.”

And Edward Seaga, the Jamaican Prime Minister, would tell a rally of his Jamaica Labour Party on October 30 that “we made our plans in great secrecy. Hence, we did not express the plans to those countries who are now complaining that they didn’t know, because we did not want anything to leak out, and it is a good thing we made (them) in secrecy because we had traitors among us.” Traitors! Comment fails.

Will the current Caricom unity hold? It had better.

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