A prominent champion of regional integration has waded into the debate over the Caribbean Community’s position on the political unrest in Venezuela, with a warning to regional leaders that “fragmentation is suicidal”.
Jamaican former prime minister PJ Patterson said the Caribbean is in danger of “reverting to a time we thought we had passed long ago to the days of subservience. And being subject to the dictates of others based on their interest”.
He was delivering a speech last night at the launch of his book, My Political Journey: Jamaica’s Sixth Prime Minister.
Opposition forces in Caracas, backed by United States and some Latin American countries, support President Nicolas Maduro’s removal from office after he was sworn in for a second consecutive term earlier this year.
Political unrest escalated into a humanitarian crisis, with thousands fleeing the country.
In February, CARICOM reiterated its position of non-interference in Venezuela’s affairs at the community’s inter-sessional summit in St Kitts.
The leaders said at the time that they were prepared to mediate to bring a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
But St. Lucia, Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica, subsequently broke ranks with their regional colleagues and supported the so-called Lima Group that is seeking Maduro’s removal.
Patterson recalled the 1972 decision by then leaders Errol Barrow, Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana’s Forbes Burnham, and Jamaica’s Michael Manley, to exercise their right as equal sovereign states to enter into relationships with other countries of their choosing, “to promote regional solidarity and achieve meaningful and comprehensive economic cooperation among all”.
Patterson said: “That is the basis on which we tore down the hemispheric barriers against Cuba and the embargo that was imposed. Guyana and Jamaica led the way to recognise China instead of Taiwan before the USA came to its senses and followed.
“In all we seek to do, I regard the pursuit of a common foreign policy as fundamental. It wasn’t put in the Chaguaramas Treaty by accident. It was because we recognized this as vital for us as small states of limited means and might.”
Patterson stressed that is the only way to preserve region’s sovereignty and collective strength.
“We expect all our 14 leaders to act in accordance with that decision, and not to veer off in support who have a contrary view whether in the halls of the OAS or the corridors at Mar-a-Lago,” he said, referring to a recent meeting between US president Donald Trump and the four leaders.
He continued: “The Caribbean, we at the OAS are 14 nations strong. We have the voting power.
“Once we assert it as a single bloc to protect and safeguard our sovereign control, the Caribbean will prevail.
“We live in our own Caribbean space not in anybody else’s backyard.”
Patterson told his audience that a unity is critical to the Caribbean’s success in confronting its many challenges.
“My experience has left me in no doubt, and more so as we seek to confront historic problems and complex issues, the deepening and widening of regional economic integration is an inescapable imperative for the Caribbean people.
“We have to assert a united voice as sovereign nations singing from the same hymn sheet if we are to make our voices heard in the global din.”
He also pointed to the need for new insights to tackle some of the dominant issues of the day.
“For us, Climate Change is almost like what it is to the pig in a bacon and egg breakfast. We have to be looking at the knowledge economy. We have to be looking at the creative industries where we excel.
“We have to provide lasting security by leading the fight against guns [and] narcotics as we build a zone of peace in the Caribbean,” Patterson said.