Recently my friend and former colleague, Sir Ron Sanders, stated that “only CARICOM countries can divide CARICOM”. Ambassador Sanders is correct. His comment was related to the recent meeting of seven Foreign Ministers from the Caribbean (that included six CARICOM members and the Dominican Republic) with the US Secretary of State in Jamaica.
The US is the most powerful country in the world and like any powerful country (such as Russia and China), they often act as bullies and exert their position of power, directly or indirectly in discussions/negotiations, etc. This is normal, standard procedure of a powerful country and is to be expected. It reminds me of what I learned as a schoolboy at the Lodge School, namely that a “small boy” at school knew that certain areas of the school were considered for “big boys”. If any “small boy” entered an area that the “big boys” considered to be for them exclusively, they did so at their own risk as they knew the consequences would be painful! The use or misuse of power has nothing to do with what is right or wrong, rather it has to do with power itself.
The idea of a “level playing field” does not exist between a super power nation like the US and a small country like Barbados. We may pretend that it does and yes, we can sit down and “negotiate” and we can have an intellectual conversation. In fact, I have participated in meetings with the US government where the Barbados representatives clearly matched the intellect of the US negotiators. However, I knew, and the US knew that in the end, (if you want a deal), we had to agree to their terms because it was basically a matter of “take it or leave it”. I also appreciate that in some forums we have a better chance when it is “one country, one vote”. While that is true mathematically, I can assure you that a US vote is perceived as being “more important” and a US vote can have more influence on the final outcome.
Regarding the meeting in Jamaica, as far as I know, the US did not invite CARICOM to the meeting because such an invitation would have to go to the SG of CARICOM who would advise the members of the invitation. That did not occur, and the US has every right to invite who they wish to a meeting. Hence, it is inappropriate to infer that the US is “dividing CARICOM”. The US has the right to extend an invitation, and the recipient has the right to accept or decline. An invitee does not have the right to tell the inviter whom to invite.
Ambassador Sanders’ viewpoint is also very valid when he says that CARICOM, unlike the European Union Union (EU), does not conduct their collective policies through a single CARICOM Commission under the direction of a Council of Ministers of the member states, because CARICOM governments have placed the rights of “sovereignty” over the obligations of “Community”. This is tantamount to “wanting to eat your cake and have it too!”
It appears that one of the main issues of the meeting in Jamaica was for the US to gather support for Almargo who is a candidate for re-election as SG at the OAS. This position is a very important one as the OAS is a vital institution in the Western Hemisphere and is considered by many to be the “UN” of the Western Hemisphere.
Ambassador Sanders is also correct in suggesting that at the next CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in February, CARICOM should “thrash out this issue and decide on a united stance”. I would also suggest that they should go one step further and decide on one or two candidates who are citizens of CARICOM, to run for the SG post in 2025. In order for a CARICOM national to win at the next election in 2025, CARICOM must start planning ASAP.
Presently, there are 3 candidates for the SG position at the OAS, namely:
1. Almargo from Uruguay who is the incumbent. He has the support of Colombia, US, Brazil, Uruguay and others. CARICOM members unanimously supported him at the last election in 2015 but are very disappointed in his performance and his autocratic style. CARICOM should consider trying to come to some agreement with Almargo.
2. Hugo de Zela from Peru. He is a former Ambassador of Peru to the OAS. He also worked at the OAS in a key position with the former SG of the OAS and is known to be very capable. He is currently the Ambassador of Peru to the US. If CARICOM is unable to work with Almargo, they should consider voting for Hugo who I believe will only seek one term. This could allow Hugo to commit and will be supporting a CARICOM candidate to run for the SG position in 2025.
3. Espinosa from Ecuador. She is being nominated by Antigua & Barbuda. It is rumoured that she is an ALBA Trojan horse candidate and may become a citizen of Nicaragua due to possible corruption charges in Ecuador and her husband is a close advisor to Ortega’s anti-democratic regime. She is unlikely to be elected.
In closing, I am reminded of the wise comment of Dr Peter Laurie (he served as the Barbados Ambassador to the US and the OAS and is a former PS in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) who noted that there is an African saying – ”when elephants fight it is the grass that suffers”. I hope CARICOM is prepared but perhaps their insularity and “small island” mentality may prevent this!
John Beale is a former Ambassador of Barbados to the US and Permanent Representative to the OAS for seven and a half years and was also a Financial Consultant to the OAS.