by David Comissiong
This coming Monday, the 21st of January 2019, is the 99th anniversary of the birth of Barbadian national hero Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, and will be celebrated in Barbados as Errol Barrow Day – a national public holiday.
In light of the recent happenings in the Organization of American States (OAS) when, on having to deal with a Resolution that purported to delegitimize the inauguration of Nicolas Maduro as President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, our CARICOM member states found themselves divided on the issue, with some of them voting for the Resolution, others voting against, and some abstaining, I would like to focus this tribute to Mr Barrow on his role as an architect of the concept of a collective CARICOM foreign policy.
It was at the historic Seventh Commonwealth Caribbean Heads of Government Conference held at Chaguaramas in Trinidad that the idea of converting the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) into a Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), as well as the associated idea of equipping the new CARICOM with a collective foreign policy were born.
The date was October 1972, and at that time there were only four independent Commonwealth Caribbean nations, namely Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Barbados, and these newly independent states were led by Michael Manley, Eric Williams, Forbes Burnham, and Errol Barrow respectively.
It was a time of great tension in the affairs of the world – the United States of America (USA) was ablaze with anti-Vietnam war protests; the Black Power and anti-colonial challenges to national and international structures of domination were going strong; and the so-called “Cold War” between the USA and the Soviet Union was still at a dangerous peak.
Indeed, by 1972, the Caribbean had come to be regarded as one of the primary theatres of the “Cold War”, with the USA making every conceivable effort to isolate the revolutionary Fidel Castro-led government of Cuba.
We need to recall that when in 1959-the Cuban Revolution triumphed, that the new revolutionary Cuban government entered a Western hemisphere environment that was organized around the OAS-a multi-lateral organization dominated by the USA and dedicated to an USA inspired anti-Communist mission.
Indeed, in 1954, at the instigation of a USA steeped in Mc Carthy era anti-Communism, the OAS had issued the “Declaration of Caracas” which declared that all Marxist revolutionary ideology was intrinsically alien to the Western Hemisphere and that Marxist revolutionary movements were to be treated as foreign invasions of the Hemisphere.
It was not surprising therefore that as early as June 1959, the USA began pressing the OAS to take punitive actions against Cuba-a founder member of the OAS, but now led by a revolutionary socialist Government.
In August 1960, the USA not only orchestrated a condemnation of Cuba at the OAS on the ground of Cuba’s acceptance of economic assistance from the Soviet Union but also urged Latin American states to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba – an urging that Venezuela and Colombia adhered to in 1961.
And then the “coup de grace” came in January 1962 when, at the 8th Consultative Meeting of OAS Foreign Ministers in Uruguay, the OAS suspended Cuba’s membership, thereby effectively expelling Cuba from the OAS!
This was then followed by the US compiling a so-called “blacklist” of all countries still trading with Cuba and threatening to cut off US economic and military assistance to them.
But even this was seemingly not enough for the anti-Cuba forces, and during the 9thConsultative Meeting of Foreign Ministers held in Washington DC in July 1964, a resolution was passed urging all governments of the Western Hemisphere to break diplomatic relations with Cuba.
And, sad to say, in the following years, every single Western Hemisphere nation except Mexico and Canada fell in line with the OAS stipulation and either broke diplomatic relations with Cuba or refused to recognize the revolutionary Republic of Cuba!
This then was the scenario facing the four independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries-three of them being newly installed members of the OAS-in October 1972!
And, needless to say, the leadership of the OAS was insisting that the new Caribbean member states must adhere to the by then well established, USA-supported policy of non-recognition and isolation of revolutionary Cuba.
The magnificent response of the Right Excellent Errol Barrow and his fellow Commonwealth Caribbean leaders-Manley, Williams and Burnham-was to issue the following historic Declaration:-
“The Prime Ministers of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, meeting together during the Heads of Government Conference at Chaguaramas, have considered the state of their relations with the Government of Cuba and the obligations which the OAS has sought to impose upon its members in regard to relations with that Government; and make the following statement:
(1) The independent English-speaking Caribbean states, exercising their sovereign right to enter into relations with any other sovereign state and pursuing their determination to seek regional solidarity and to achieve meaningful and comprehensive economic cooperation amongst all Caribbean countries will seek the early establishment of relations with Cuba, whether economic, diplomatic or both.
(2) To this end, the independent English-speaking Caribbean states will act together on the basis of agreed principles.”
Here then were the four smallest and youngest states of the entire Western hemisphere standing on principle; courageously speaking “truth to power”; and setting a noble and principled example for all the other nations of the hemisphere to follow!
Indeed, six months later-in April 1973 – Mr Barrow gave an address to the Empire Club of Toronto, Canada, and explained the significance of the unified Caribbean stance on Cuba as follows:-
“……we have managed in our four countries, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Barbados to sustain our independence to the extent that we were considered to have committed an act of defiance in October last year when we took a lead in the western hemisphere in deciding to open diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, much to the chagrin of our neighbours to the north.
But it demonstrates that the developing countries can take a lead in conditioning the minds of people who should know better…………And I have no doubt that the other countries which are mightier and more powerful than the four small independent countries in the Caribbean will soon shamefacedly or not, have to follow suit……
We cannot sit down in the Caribbean and wait for our strategy to be dictated or governed by the political or other economic or social prejudices of people in other countries because to entertain such a belief would be an abandonment of the sovereignty that we believe in and we have never subscribed to the doctrine of limited sovereignty. And I have been, myself, very firm right from the beginning of Barbados’ independence that we would be friends of all and satellites of none.”
Happy Errol Barrow Day to all my Barbadian and Caribbean brothers and sisters!
Long may the spirit of Errol Barrow live in our beautiful sovereign Caribbean homeland!