Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by John Beale
Although the CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett is Belizean, and the current CARICOM chairman is John Briceño, Prime Minister (PM) of Belize, not many Bajans know much about Belize.
This is understandable as Belize is located in Central America and borders Spanish-speaking countries and does not play cricket! Suriname in South America is in a similar situation as they have links to the Dutch culture.
Guyana is also in South America but they speak English and have a long connection with the English-speaking Caribbean islands and they play cricket. Hardly any Belizean or Surinamese visits or lives in Barbados, unlike the Guyanese who have many families and interests in Barbados.
It is worthy to note that CARICOM has 14 countries and while each member has a vote the countries are not perceived as equals. At the Centre of CARICOM are four countries, namely Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago.
The waters can become a bit muddy between CARICOM members as was the case in 2015 when Guyana put forward Ambassador Bayney Karran as a candidate (without discussing it at a formal CARICOM heads meeting) for the position of Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) and Belize then also nominated Ambassador Nestor Mendez as their candidate.
Both were very good CARICOM candidates. However, Mendez spoke Spanish perfectly whereas Karran did not. In addition, Mendez was more energetic and better connected.
Moreover, Belize is a member of SICA which is a Central American Integration System that comprises Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
SICA has been the economic and political organisation of Central America since 1993. It was therefore almost certain that Mendez would have the support of SICA members and
in fact, if push came to shove, he could have been nominated by a SICA country.
As the Barbados Ambassador to the US and the OAS at that time, I believed that Mendez was clearly the better candidate and would defeat Karran of Guyana.
However, when I recommended that Barbados support Mendez some people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Barbados had a closer relationship with Guyana and that we should support Guyana.
While I can appreciate that viewpoint, the overriding factor was that we should support the best candidate. Luckily our PM agreed and we voted for Mendez.
The situation at the time was a bit tense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana even asked the Barbados Foreign Minister to stop me from supporting the Belizean candidate. It was unfortunate that CARICOM could not agree to field one candidate. Guyana was quite upset with the result because not surprisingly, Mendez won easily.
Needless to say, it appears that CARICOM is about to repeat this mistake again with nominating two candidates from Dominica and Jamaica for the Commonwealth Secretary General.
On May 14, Caribbean National Weekly (CNW) stated that the Belize Agriculture Minister Jose Mai had “growing concerns regarding intra-CARICOM trade and Belize will have to revisit its trade policies with CARICOM”.
Minister Mai said “the matter has been raised at COTED (Council for Trade and Economic Development) a number of times” and that their PM will lead a delegation to Guyana for talks on this matter.
He believes that the future of Belize lies in Central America – the population of Mexico is 128 million, Guatemala is 15 million and El Salvador is 6 million.
On a regional level, the total population of CARICOM is 18.9 million.
Minister Mai further stated that while he loves his CARICOM brothers and Belize is a part of CARICOM—it is embedded in their constitution, but when it comes to trade, he has huge reservations.
CARICOM faces many problems and will continue to do so. I am concerned that the Barbados foreign policy seems to be like a shot gun approach. Barbados is a small country (with limited financial resources) that has exceeded the wildest expectations since our independence in 1966.
It appears that we seem to be going all out in recreating our ancestral links to Africa. While that has lots of historical and sentimental value, I wonder about the practicality in producing realistic results that will improve our standard of living for all Bajans.
It appears more realistic in developing possibilities with our Latin American neighbours that are much closer. Rwanda is over 10,000 km from Barbados whereas Belize is about 3,100 km and Panama is 2,400.
The poorest country in CARICOM is Haiti with a per capital income of about US $1,100 and Belize is US$4,400 whereas Rwanda is about US$800 and Ghana is $2,330.
While we have challenges in developing markets with Central America, it stands to reason that Africa will be much more complicated and difficult and it will probably take a lot longer.
EXPLORE SICA AND LEARN SPANISH
Regarding developing the Central American market, CARICOM should seriously explore possibilities with SICA. Belize can certainly help with this. I understand that at the last in-person meeting of CARICOM heads held in Belize that the matter was discussed.
However, these things require a lot of effort. It is also fundamental that Bajans speak Spanish. Every Barbados PM has said it is important but none has ever taken it seriously and followed through.
As a person who had no ability to speak a foreign language, I am fluent in Portuguese and so I know that anyone can speak a foreign language. A lot depends on necessity such as economic advancement or romance. Having a proper plan and dedication also helps. We will never develop a strong connection with Latin countries if we do not speak Spanish.
I have to assume that one of the reasons Barbados is developing relationships with Africa is for getting African support in the international arena.
That is fine but I can assure you that as good as Mia is, she cannot get elected to the major position at the UN or the OAS, unless she speaks another language fluently and that will require her living in a Spanish-speaking country to not only be fluent but to understand the nuances of the culture, history and way of life.
We must remember the words of Nelson Mandela: “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, you speak to his head. If you speak to him in his language, you speak to his heart.” That is the reason he learned to speak Afrikaans.
John Beale is a former Barbados Ambassador to the US and OAS and a former Honorary Consul of Belize