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CARICOM: Unity on All Fronts is Necessary

CARICOM: Unity on All Fronts is Necessary, but Sparring goes on

• United we stand, divided we fall over the choice of the next OAS Secretary-General. Will CARICOM vote as a united entity or fracture its formidable bloc?

• Chilean OAS candidate José Miguel Insulza’s recent trip to Haiti to lobby for the vote of the U.S.-instituted Latortue government in Haiti is a slap in the face to CARICOM and an act of sheer political pandering.

• In contrast to Insulza’s latter self-serving act, on January 7, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) announced once again that the resumption of normal relations with Haiti would be postponed until fall elections are held and an elected government takes office. During CARICOM’s 16th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government, held February 16-17 in Suriname, this position was further emphasized.

• Some observers have raised doubts about the future of CARICOM's Single Market and Economy (CSME) initiative and have asked whether it can actually reverse the Caribbean’s current low growth rates.

• The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the region’s proposed chief tribunal that would function much like the European Court of Justice, is scheduled to eventually replace the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which dates back to the colonial period. The formation of the CCJ recently met a setback in Jamaica's legislature.

• Trinidad & Tobago’s Patrick Manning and Barbados’ Owen Arthur carry the ball for Washington on Haiti.

CARICOM continues to be divided over the hot issue of the soon-to-be elected Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General. Given the fact that the members of this regional organization normally vote as a bloc, it is somewhat of a departure to see individual states pledging their votes to different candidates. Following CARICOM's summit, reports confirm that Belize and St. Vincent and the Grenadines will continue to support Mexico's entry, Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, while the remaining 13 members appear likely at this point to vote for the Chilean candidate, José Miguel Insulza. Others contend that a number of islands in the Insulza column could switch at the very last moment.

A vote for Insulza will probably upset Washington, which has urged its Caribbean "friends and allies" to join them in voting for El Salvador's ex-President Francisco Flores. Insulza, who attracted great respect for strongly opposing the U.S. attack on Iraq, recently visited the region again to drum up support. Together with Chile’s Foreign Minister, Insulza ended up in Haiti to shamelessly lobby for the vote of the country’s controversial interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue. The trip could be seen as a slap in the face to a majority of CARICOM countries, which all along have refused to acknowledge the Latortue government. The visit was further complicated by the fact that the UN Secretary-General’s special representative to Haiti is Juan Gabriel Valdes, a former Chilean foreign minister and lifetime friend of Insulza. Ironically, even though he has scant legitimacy, Latortue’s vote may be enough to clench the election for Insulza in what could be a tight race, enabling him to emerge victorious as Secretary-General. If so, Latortue could be awarded by the U.S., just as was Haiti’s Duvalier when Port-au-Prince received a new airport during the Kennedy administration as a prize after it supplied the winning vote in the OAS to suspend Cuba’s membership in that body.

Just how united is the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) when their representatives consistently give priority to national rather than collective interests? The Caribbean lost many of its trade preferences and benefits with the end of the Cold War and the commencement of globalization when the area was no longer seen as being vital to Washington’s strategic interests. Since then, spearheaded by a Clinton administration diplomatic blitzkrieg at the World Trade Organization (WTO) aimed at stripping the region of its all-important trade benefits – pertaining mainly to bananas – granted by the EU’s Lomé Accord, the tiny Caribbean economies have suffered. The creation of NAFTA in 1994 also profoundly affected CARICOM, and, unlike Mexico, they still face tariffs and quotas in the U.S market—a result of a lack of economies of scale and comparative advantages, which prevented them from effectively competing in the world market. Additionally, many of their political processes are beginning to corrode as drug trafficking, a rise in common crime and the ill-effects of corruption become commonplace.

As a result of these liabilities, it became logical for CARICOM governments to achieve a more multilateral approach in dealing with the U.S. and outside trade blocs. As proven by the European Union, it was possible to create an overarching commission with broad executive powers to implement and maintain cooperation among the participating sovereign states. Some CARICOM nations argue that they should consider deepening existing ties among themselves rather than join organizations like the FTAA or NAFTA where their voices might be swamped. As the Caribbean community continues to face increasingly difficult choices - some bringing unity, others yielding division - one fact remains undisputed: in geopolitical terms, it is difficult for any one nation to be the "Lone Ranger" of the Caribbean. In truth, CARICOM members depend on each other for their very survival as viable societies—they would more likely become botanical gardens than vibrant states if they go it alone.

Latortue's Haitian Regime Unanimously Condemned by CARICOM
Although CARICOM has a history of aligning its policies with those of the U.S. rather than confronting Washington, in recent years the region increasingly has not marched to Washington's tune. CARICOM took a stand by establishing and then tightening relations with Castro’s Cuba, opposing the war in Iraq and, more recently, refusing to recognize the unconstitutional and repressive Latortue regime in Haiti. Jamaican Foreign Minister Keith Knight declared on January 7 that CARICOM, once again, has decided not to readmit Haiti until free and fair elections take place and democratic processes are restored. The unanimous decision by CARICOM refutes Latortue's claim that only three nations were thwarting Haiti's readmission efforts, although it is true that the region has been internally divided over whether or not to lift its suspension as a functioning CARICOM member. In this respect, Trinidad & Tobago’s Patrick Manning and Barbados’ Owen Arthur have done yeomen work for Washington at the risk of straining ties with some of their neighbors.

The five-member CARICOM delegation of foreign ministers – led by Barbados' Dame Billie Miller and including her counterparts from Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, the Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda – which visited Haiti last July, flirted with turning a blind eye to the degenerating situation there and went so far as to suggest that they enter into "full engagement" with Latortue. However, even Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and Grenada, which had been Washington’s allies in supporting an Aristide-free Haiti and have supported its reentry to the Caribbean Community, voted against Haiti’s readmission this past February. CARICOM’s decision shows that it has not relinquished its principled stand by succumbing to pressure from Washington, even though there were some lonely days for the nations most opposed to readmitting Haiti, such as Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These tiny countries took the lead in courageously refusing to blindly follow the Bush administration’s anti-Aristide policies, steadfastly insisting that CARICOM should not have ties to the U.S.-instituted interim Latortue government.

During CARICOM’s 16th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government held in Suriname, February 16-17, the members stood firm in their refusal to recognize the Latortue regime. CARICOM firmly stated that if representatives of Haiti’s current government were in attendance, it would not participate in the March meeting in Cayenne, French Guiana – led by France and other donor countries – to discuss the financing of Haiti’s restructuring. Maria Levens, Suriname's minister of foreign affairs, stated in a news conference, "There is a problem with this meeting and if Haiti is invited we will withdraw from the talks." CARICOM does channel some aid to Haiti, but only through the UN and the OAS.

Withstanding intense international pressure – mainly from the U.S. and France – to recognize the Latortue regime, CARICOM instead requested an OAS investigation last May into Aristide's ouster, signifying its distrust of the UN Security Council, which inevitably would be heavily influenced by the U.S. and France. CARICOM’s persistence in this matter did lead to an important OAS resolution, which acknowledged that "an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime" had occurred in Haiti. By its conduct, the Caribbean Community maintained that its members will not quietly allow the U.S. to bully its members.

CSME’s Nuts and Bolts
The goal of the Single Market and Economy (CSME) is to establish an environment in which goods and services, people, capital and technology can freely circulate, thereby removing physical, monetary, legislative and technological barriers. It is quite contradictory, however, that in fact a number of CARICOM members would like to retain their complete national sovereignty while simultaneously going through the motion of establishing a single market – a move that necessarily would result in limited progress toward achieving the organization's goals. Unless the change to a single market economy is accompanied by the creation of machinery that would radically alter and consolidate the decision-making process of CSME (much like the European Union Commission), the system eventually will end up providing little more than a parallel trading market within CARICOM.

Is the CSME Prepared to Meet the Challenge?
While CARICOM was developing unanimity when it came to the situation in Haiti, the move toward a single economy was proceeding much more haltingly, on a state-by-state basis, reflecting the lack of consensus on the subject. Caribbean regional integration was scheduled to begin a new phase of development when the CSME came into effect. However, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, which were supposed to be the first CSME members, did not end up launching the CSME on February 19, but will likely do so in July. Ten of the remaining CARICOM states are scheduled to join by December. However, most of the smaller and less economically developed states will be hard pressed to meet the CSME requirements on integration, making the December goal very difficult to achieve.

The Bahamas, with the third highest per capita GDP in the hemisphere, and whose bustling economy certainly qualifies it for the CSME, has decided not to join the system because it feels threatened by the “free movement” clause, which could lead to a surge in immigration from the poorer islands. Even if this were possible, the belief that hordes of migrants would flock to its many islands may be an exaggeration. Critics of Nassau's position argue that if the Bahamas wants foreign investment, it will most likely have to accept foreign labor. Additionally, joining the CSME could turn out to have a protectionist advantage for the Bahamas, especially considering that ongoing WTO and FTAA trade negotiations could prove to be devastating for the Caribbean, especially for the relatively wealthy Bahamas. And, as a member of the CSME, the Bahamas could not be asked to reduce its tariffs lower than what is dictated by relevant economic formula – which would be a distinct advantage to it.

The CCJ and its role in the CSME
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is an essential component for the implementation of the CSME because in its absence the courts of each nation could independently interpret and apply the Revised Treaty of CSME, causing a host of conflicting decisions. Some nations' intentions to replace their somewhat anachronistic present arrangement – whereby the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London acts as CARICOM’s Supreme Court – will not be realized because the required legislative votes needed in a number of the members’ legislatures have not yet taken place.

Trinidad & Tobago’s House of Representatives unanimously voted February 2 to implement the CCJ, but only as it related to the functioning of the CSME; the Privy Council in London will still be its final appeals court on all other matters. In Jamaica, however, the process of making the switch to the CCJ had to be aborted after it was ruled "unconstitutional and void" by the UK-based court. Apparently the government's legal advisors were not aware that a two-thirds legislative vote, as opposed to a simple majority, was required on the issue. Even though Jamaica finds itself back at square one, it could follow the model of Trinidad & Tobago, and with the support of two-thirds of its Parliament, could integrate the CCJ as part of the Constitution. What seems clear is that, as stated by St. Lucia's Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, "[the countries involved] must firmly press ahead with operationalizing the CCJ and that the inauguration ceremony should take place on April 16 in Port-of-Spain."

If CARICOM Could Only Agree on Everything
One would think that CARICOM needs to develop both economic and political ties within its own community, making concessions, if need be, for nations like the Bahamas to join in and make CSME viable. With enhanced intra-Caribbean relations, CARICOM could become an effective bargaining vehicle with the world's major economic powers. Unfortunately, in some of the member states, national interests will probably supersede the level of unity that is needed to advance the CSME. Based on past experience, however, optimism is not merited because CARICOM under any scenario is likely to continue to have uncertain economic prospects for some time to come, as the necessary unity is likely to continue to elude its grasp.

This analysis was authored by COHA Research Associate, Rebecca Rush.

© Scoop Media

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