These days Caribbean Community Summits come and go and hardly anyone in the region notices. Caribbean nationals’ suspicion of these meetings, having gone through a lengthy period of gestation, has fully matured into full-fledged aversion.
They have come to expect little to nothing. They visualize the leaders sitting in a room, talking a lot, laughing at each other’s jokes, talking some more, promising to collaborate, taking a few decisions on which they fail to act, then issuing unreadable, self-congratulatory declarations.
This was what was also expected of the just concluded summit in Guyana and, to a very large degree, it was underwhelming. The final communiqué presented little to write home about and did little to restore confidence – which has been dropping like Phaeton from the blue Caribbean skies – in the regional integration movement.
However, a report in the Jamaica Gleaner on the Citizenship by Investment Programmes – previously the Economic Citizenship Programmes – run by some member countries suggests there were indeed some fireworks at the summit.
The programme provides an avenue for rich people from distant lands – Russia, China, Iraq, Australia and virtually anywhere – to buy citizenship, which comes with a passport.
The vast majority of people who own these passports have never laid foot in Antigua and Barbuda or Dominica or St Kitts and Nevis or St Lucia and never will; many can hardly point these countries out on a map of the world. Many of these individuals – and in some countries no one is sure how many there are – have little or no interest in furthering the economic prospects of the Caribbean countries.
However, the passports they obtain through the programme allow the sort of easy access to the countries in which they are really interested, and which they otherwise could not travel to with the passports of their homelands. So they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege.
With rich countries – members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development – making it more and more difficult for the small Caribbean states to grow their economies by putting pressure on everything from agriculture and tourism to financial service, and now correspondent banking, the CIP is seen as a way out for these struggling economies.
However, it comes with the sort of risks that make some CARICOM leaders uncomfortable. With free movement within the Community, some are worried about security.
This, according to the Gleaner, was the point made by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines as he objected to a legal opinion that CARICOM states without the CIP are bound to accept, as CARICOM nationals, people accorded such citizenship by territories with such a programme.
The paper quoted Dr Gonsalves as saying his country did not agree with the opinion and would not acknowledge its recommendations. Not surprisingly, Antigua and Barbuda, which has been aggressively promoting its own CIP, disagreed and insisted that the treaty must be respected.
Dr Gonsalves and those who argued that “the grant of citizenship without any significant residence requirements or proper due diligence could facilitate criminality, money laundering or, at worst, terrorism and result in damage to the international reputation of the region,” have history on their side.
In one of the most high profile cases, in 2000, a disgraced Australian magnate Christopher Skase purchased a Dominican passport as he sought to evade extradition from Spain. Skase, who has since died, was Australia’s most wanted fugitive at the time and one of the country’s richest men. He had fled to Spain eight years earlier after he was charged with impropriety following the collapse of his Qintex media, hotel and resort empire, which left him with corporate debts of almost $1billion.
The discovery embarrassed the government of Dominica and prompted Canada to impose visa restrictions on the island, citing security concerns.
Ottawa also imposed visa restrictions on Grenada at the time for the same reasons, despite the fact that St George’s had suspended its own Economic Citizenship Programme a few months earlier.
Ottawa said at the time it feared it could not trust the passports issued during the programme’s three years of operation. More recently, Canada also slapped visa restrictions on passport holders from St Kitts, saying it was “acting to protect the safety and security of Canadians and the integrity of the Canadian immigration system.
“The visa requirement will ensure that Canada will be able to properly determine the true identity of St Kitts and Nevis passport holders and to deny entry to those who would otherwise be inadmissible to Canada,” Ottawa said.
Clearly, this issue is driving a fault line between CARICOM states that do, and those that do not, sell citizenship, with concerns about security the main sticking point.
In their final communiqué, the leaders spent all of 140 words on regional security, reporting that in light of the continued threats they had agreed “on ways to deepen and strengthen co-operation” in this area, including the approval of a review of the CARICOM Crime and Security Strategy (CCSS). The remainder of the 140 words said little.
The lack of concrete, measurable outcomes from the summits risks having CARICOM seen as Miracle Mike, the chicken which survived a botched attempt by its owner to behead him, retaining enough of his faculties to perch, walk and preen.
Miracle Mike went on to make lucrative guest appearances as Mike the Headless Chicken, and died 18 months after losing its head.
CARICOM has survived much longer, however, its apparent unending malaise and everlast roost, punctuated by the occassional near inaudible clucking, might lead its citizens to conclude that the movement is an incarnation of Miracle Mike.