Decline of OAS in new CARICOM/Latam 'Community'


–urgent statement required
FOR ALL the swelling ‘friendship’ and ‘solidarity’ rhetoric flowing from Latin American leaders, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has traditionally been responding to initiatives and policies originating with the overwhelming bloc of Latin countries.
The significant differences, within the past decade, to reflect more sensitivity for Caribbean thinking and aspiration would be efforts made by governments in Venezuela, Brazil and, to a lesser extent, Chile and Argentina.

Some 48 years after the dawn of political independence in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, two CARICOM states — Guyana and Belize — continue to live with the harsh realities of border neigbours, like Venezuela and Guatemala, respectively maintaining age-old territorial claims against them.

These claims date back to the imperialistic designs in this hemisphere that so often inform the vocabulary of militant Latin leaders — among them President Hugo Chavez — today’s lead caudillo within the ALBA bloc of states (Bolivarian Alternative to the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas).

In the wider 34-member Organisation of American States (OAS) that has generally been genuflecting to the politics of the United States of America, CARICOM holds the single largest bloc of 15 votes (if we can always count with certainty that of the Dominica Republic).

But CARICOM has usually been pressed to summon its best diplomatic skills to secure its objectives in the OAS, including support for the two primary elected officials – Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General.  It is yet to dare its Latin allies to support a Caribbean national for election to the top post of the hemispheric body.

Now, such an occurrence itself may no longer be viewed as a necessary priority, in view of a most significant political initiative being vigorously pursued by the Latin American states in collaboration with CARICOM.

This has to do with the creation of a new hemispheric organisation that, once operationalised, will witness the progressive decline in influence and stature of the 62-year-old OAS.

Birth of CLACS

Therefore, for the benefit of the people of the 14 sovereign states comprising CARICOM, there ought to be a definitive statement — the sooner the better — that offers the rationale and benefits of what’s currently in the making a ‘Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CLACS)’.

Evidently driven by influential Latin neighours, CARICOM has an obligation to ensure that its best interests are NOT submerged in the ‘action agendas’ to be shaped and pursued by the Latin American allies without due respect paid to the politics, governance system, and culture of our region.

The announcement on the establishment of CLACS originated out of Cancun, Mexico, last Tuesday at the close of a two-day summit of Latin American and Caribbean Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers.

Among the absent CARICOM leaders were the President of Guyana, and Prime Ministers of Barbados, Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

But very much an active participant was Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, who hosted and chaired last year’s Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain.

CARICOM’s current chairman, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, felt it necessary to quickly go on the defensive in explaining to media questions that the intention was not to “ignore” or to “mash-up” the OAS.

For starters, the OAS is the post-war hemispheric body established back in 1948 in Washington and which, largely, has remained under the dominant political influence of the USA, in collaboration with Canada.

That influence has been the determining factor, for example, in the suspension and continuing exclusion of Cuba from the OAS for some 47 years!!                                               

USA nor Canada
As I recall, there was a meeting in Montego Bay, Jamaica last November of Latin American and Caribbean Foreign Ministers to discuss approaches towards an alternative hemispheric body to the OAS — without either the USA or Canada as members. Both are, of course, regarded as traditional and valued ‘friends’ of CARICOM, whatever the varied criteria in cases of ‘needs’.

The Foreign Ministers’ recommendations were expected to be submitted to Heads of State and Government for approval. But there has been a virtual blackout of news on the matter until the just-concluded summit in Cancun.

There is some disagreement whether a structured caucus of CARICOM heads of delegation did precede the summit of Latin and Caribbean leaders in Cancun that decided to have CLACS as alternative to the OAS.

The groundwork for the Montego Bay meeting of Latin American  and Caribbean Foreign Ministers, as well as last week’s Cancun summit, would have been laid by the historic conference hosted in December 2008 in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil by President Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva.

The stated aim of the seminal Salvador summit was “strengthening of regional integration and establishing effective commitments for joint action to promote the sustainable development of their peoples…”

It did not escape notice that, for the first time-ever, both the USA and Canada were excluded from such an historic gathering of leaders of the hemisphere, and who had emerged with the far-reaching ‘Declaration of Salvador, Bahia’ that, seemingly, had provided  the intellectual stimulant for strategising over the creation of the emerging ‘Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’.

It is not known, with certainty, whether there has been any prior discussion within the councils of the OAS on the alternative hemispheric body that is to have its own Charter, with rotating secretariats, in contrast to the OAS’ permanent headquarters in Washington.

Details on the charter of CLACS, funding, functioning and related matters are expected to be finalised  at a follow-up summit, possibly by June, in Venezuela.

Interestingly, against the background of the Cancun summit and the expected demise in the importance and influence of the OAS with the emergence of CLACS, there is to be a scheduled special session of the OAS General Assembly on March 24 to elect (or re-elect) the organisation’s Secretary-General (Chile’s Jose Miguel Insulza) and his Suriname-born deputy, Albert Ramdin.

The special session of the General Assembly will be preceded by a two-day meeting of the OAS with representatives of the ‘Haitian Diaspora’ in the USA to discuss the reconstruction of earthquake-shattered Haiti, ahead of a United Nations-sponsored Donors Conference later next month.