THE strengthening of relations between the Caribbean Community and Cuba was one of the major agenda issues for the two-day meeting of CARICOM Foreign Ministers, which was scheduled to conclude last evening at the Guyana International Conference Centre.
In this context, the discrimination in shopping being experienced by Cubans, including diplomats based in some CARICOM states, by the mega US warehouse shopping conglomerate, ‘PriceSmart’, is viewed as a violation of territorial sovereignty, requiring a collective response by the 15-member Community.
The Jamaica government has expressed a particular perspective on the contentious issue, and its Foreign Minister, J.J. Nicholson, was expected to call on his colleagues for the matter to be referred to the Community’s Council on Legal Affairs. The intention is to have a collective response that could be forthcoming at this July’s annual Heads of Government Conference, scheduled for Antigua, when a range of trade and diplomatic issues that involve relations with both Cuba and the USA are to be discussed.
The outcome of the two-day ministerial meeting, hosted and chaired by Guyana’s Foreign Minister, Carolyn Rodriques-Birkett, are to be reflected in the official communiqué expected last evening or today.
The 17th meeting of the Community’s Foreign Ministers got underway on Tuesday with a range of key recommendations for consideration involving trade and other relations with Britain, Cuba, the European Union and the Dominican Republic, as well as an overdue requested meeting with the US’ President Barack Obama.
The Community’s desire for a summit in Washington with President Obama was known since his first term, but has been made more specific following his second-term victory in 2012. Now the Foreign Ministers are set to recommend a new initiative for such a meeting with the US President in 2015, aware that his second term ends in 2016.
An unstated problem by either side in failure to date for such a summit (which was the norm during the era from President Bill Clinton, starting with an historic meeting with Caribbean leaders in Barbados) is said to be related to the Obama administration’s failure to come to terms with CARICOM’s uncompromising friendship with Cuba that does not sit comfortably with Washington on issues like human rights.
The Council of Foreign Ministers were expected to advance arrangements for decisions by Heads of Government at their coming summit in Antigua on the modalities of deepening ‘cooperation arrangements’ between Cuba and CARICOM .
The arrangements include a nine-point memorandum on varying initiatives identified by Cuba to be addressed at the Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit, scheduled for Havana in December this year, and hosted by President Raoul Castro.
In terms of trade, aid and cooperation initiatives in general with the United Kingdom — which remains a major development partner of this region, though with comparative declining influence — the coming Eight UK/Caribbean Forum, scheduled for June 16-17 in London, seems set to engage in critical appraisals on how to make this co-operation mechanism more meaningful, and at the same time deal with a new political irritant.
The latter relates to the Dominican Republic’s membership in the UK-Caribbean Forum, against the backdrop of the disharmony that has erupted between CARICOM and the government in Santo Domingo over the controversial legislation approved by its Constitutional Court that has effectively denationalised an estimated 250,000 immigrants, primarily of Haitian descent.
Deemed to be unmistakably racist in character, failure to correct this horrendous social/political problem would clearly be a major barrier in CARICOM/DR relations via the CARIFORUM group of states in their current structured relations with the European Union (EU), of which Britain is an influential player.
Since an adjustment by the DR in favour of a relevant amendment to the controversial “citizenship” status would be essential for CARICOM’s cooperation in doing business with that Spanish-speaking nation, next month’s Eighth UK-Caribbean Forum is faced with a major challenge to make essential progress.
Simply put, CARICOM cannot be seen as somersaulting on its clearly defined principled stand in opposing a racist-based law in the denial of citizenship of more than a quarter-million immigrants, the majority of them black and Haitians, to simply carry on with “business as usual” within the framework of what exists as the “UK-Caribbean Forum”.
Incidentally, at this Forum next month, the UK government of Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to engage in some diplomatic lobbying ahead of plans to win support for its proposed candidate as new Secretary-General of the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat, Guyanese-born Baroness Valerie Amos. This is quite an intriguing development.
For CARICOM, therefore, now in its 47th year, it seems confronted with a slippery foreign policy road. But the record should confirm that for all of its mix of pluses and minuses, it has done reasonably well when compared with others of today’s bigger, if not necessarily more experienced, regional economic integration movements.
Analysis by Rickey Singh