The coordination of foreign policy among member states was one of three principal reasons for the establishment of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) under the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973.
The founding fathers obviously recognized that in a global community dominated by the rich and powerful countries, small states such as those in our region stood a better chance of getting their voices heard and their concerns addressed only through acting together in unison on the world stage.
In the subsequent move to deepen the process of regional integration through the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) which is still to be fully implemented after ten years, this theme was reiterated in a frequently heard radio jingle which said CSME was about giving the region “a stronger voice in the global community”.
Despite such commitments, it is unfortunate that CARICOM countries over the years have not stood together in a common position on a number of issues. Because of a tendency to take actions influenced primarily by national interests, CARICOM states at times have rendered themselves vulnerable to manipulation by more powerful countries seeking support in pursuit of their own agendas.
It seems we are witnessing another such episode — this time in relation to the political crisis unfolding in Venezuela — and it is being played out in Washington at the Organization of American States (OAS). The issue has prompted St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves to raise a number of concerns in a letter penned to his CARICOM colleagues.
In a three-page letter that was obtained by Barbados TODAY and formed the basis of the back page lead in last night’s issue, Dr Gonsalves spoke of divide and rule tactics being used in the case of CARICOM countries by “a handful of powerful countries with an agenda of naked self interest” in relation to the Venezuela crisis.
The said countries which were not named but which presumably include the United States, given its history of strained relations with the socialist government in Caracas, had “strategically invited” certain CARICOM countries to attend meetings on Venezuela, Dr Gonsalves said, whilst excluding others.
“In the result, they have succeeded in disuniting and weakening CARICOM countries whose only strength lies in our solidarity,” the Vincentian leader said, adding: “There is clearly a calculated strategy in place by a group of nations to achieve regime change in Venezuela by using the OAS as a weapon of destruction.”
Amidst worsening economic conditions that have led to shortages of food and other essential supplies in the oil-rich South American state, Venezuelans have been taking to the streets over the past weeks in Opposition-led protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez as leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. The aim is to force Maduro to call elections.
Under the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela boosted economic support to CARICOM countries that was started by previous governments, most notably that of the late President Carlos Andres Perez. Through the PetroCaribe initiative, for example, Caracas helped St Vincent and the Grenadines and other regional countries to cushion the economic shocks of the sharp rise in oil prices almost a decade ago.
Barbados was among a few countries which opted not to participate in PetroCaribe under which oil was supplied to CARICOM at concessionary rates. Admitting there were problems in Venezuela, Dr Gonsalves made the point that the countries which were seeking CARICOM support against the Maduro government, had demonstrated scant concern for the development challenges of regional countries.
“The countries that lure our nations into supporting their agenda are the ones that are neglectful of our situation and who worsen them by their actions on matters such as the withdrawal of correspondent banking and branding our countries as money launderers, and drugs and firearms traffickers. When they have accomplished their objectives, by breaking our solidarity through having some of us side with them, we will all be relegated to the margins of their concerns-only weaker than we were before,” he warned.
Dr Gonsalves’ warning has validity based on historical evidence. Pushing a trade liberalization agenda back in the 1990s, it was the United States, for example, which delivered a deadly blow to the banana industry that was the economic mainstay of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the three other Windward Islands. Their economies have not yet fully recovered from this unfriendly act.
Come to think about it, it would be wise for CARICOM, in the pursuit of its global interests, to heed the advice of founding father, the late Right Excellent Errol Barrow, and become “friends of all and satellites of none” in the practice of international diplomacy. For sure, the region’s interests would be better served through adoption of such a stance.