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CARICOM could politically and economically isolate the Dominican Republic
Published on December 11, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

An interview with Miguel Ceara-Hatton

Note by Professor Norman Girvan: Miguel Ceara-Hatton is one of the most knowledgeable and respected economists in the Dominican Republic. His interview for a Dominican Republic online publication underlines the significant impact that the CARICOM Bureau statement of 26 November on the Dominican Republic Ruling 168-13 is making on public opinion in that country. Dr Ceara draws to the attention of Dominican Republic readers the fact that the CARICOM bloc, with the votes of 14 independent states, is a force to be reckoned with in the OAS, CELAC, CARIFORUM, the ACS, the ACP and the Commonwealth. He emphasises that the issues of racism, human rights violations and retroactive application of laws raised by Ruling 168-13 are of great importance to CARICOM states. He points out that, in the light of the CARICOM position, the Dominican Republic is facing the danger of “complete international discredit and isolation” if it continues to implement the ruling.

The preliminary finding of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, whose members visited the Dominican Republic last week, has completely vindicated CARICOM’s position. CARICOM can take pride in having come out so firmly in its statement of November 26. This, and Dr Ceara’s interview, reinforces the importance of CARICOM speaking with one single, united voice in hemispheric and global fora, by coordinating the positions of its member states, in order to mobilise the potential diplomatic clout of the CARICOM bloc to ‘right the terrible wrong’ committed by Ruling 168-13.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The repercussions of the ruling of the constitutional court, which strips the nationality of children of irregular residents in the country from 1929 and which fundamentally affects Haitian descendants, has raised the proverbial hornet’s nest not only in the Dominican Republic, where there is sharp division between those who favour the ruling and those against it, but also internationally.

Miguel Ceara-Hatton
Recently, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) suspended indefinitely any consideration of the request by the Dominican Republic for membership in the Community, a goal officially reiterated this past July by the incumbent president, “We have come with open arms and we promise to work hard to make of the region a better place,” said Danilo Medina, during a summit held in Port-of-Spain.

In response, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago and chair of CARICOM, highlighted the necessity of making the organization more efficient and important. To achieve this, she said, “I urge consideration of increasing our membership to include the Dominican Republic in the CARICOM family”.

Now, with the ruling of the constitutional court, this prospect seems distant. Even worse, it could isolate the Dominican Republic from markets fundamental to its development, as explained by economist Miguel Ceara Hatton for

What consequences derive from the suspension of the Dominican Republic from membership in CARICOM?

When President Medina recently requested full membership in CARICOM, it seemed to me to be, an extemporaneous request, since CARICOM has been for many years facing many problems in the process of advancing the constructing of its Single Market and Economy. It did not seem to make sense for the Dominican Republic to get involved in a process of this nature. I thought that efforts should be focused on deepening the free trade agreement in effect since 1998, or in trying to reach a multilateral agreement with EPA, which states that countries that are signatories must grant each other the same treatment that the European Union receives. In this way the EPA agreement is much more profound regarding trade disciplines than the CARICOM-DR agreement.

Now it seems that political tension between CARICOM and the Dominican Republic could make trade more difficult. What is the value of this trade?

According to Centro de Exportacion y Inversion de la Republica Dominicana the trade exchange for 2012 was close to US$800 million. However, according to “Trademap”, which is a model to determine trade flows between countries from mirror data, in 2012 the Dominican Republic imported from CARICOM around US$1,500 million, with 73% of these imports coming from Trinidad and Tobago. At the same time, Dominican Republic is exporting to CARICOM, excluding Haiti, around US$160 million. US$47 million goes to Trinidad and Tobago; US$43 million goes to Jamaica; US$16.3 million to Suriname; US$12 million to Antigua and Barbuda, and the list goes on. In other words, exports to CARICOM are not crucial, even though the numbers are worthy of consideration.

Does CARICOM’s decision affect in some way the economic association with the European Union, through CARIFORUM?

CARIFORUM is a regional organization created in 1992, due to initial pressure from DR and Haiti, since they became part of the Lome agreement in 1989. It originated because the Dominican Republic and Haiti did not feel represented by CARICOM in negotiations with the European Union. Likewise, Cuba was invited to be a member, although it was not a beneficiary of first cooperation agreement. Initially, it was thought that it could be a political space and in fact in 1999, when Fidel Castro, visited Dominican Republic, for political discussion it was in the frame of a CARIFORUM meeting. Eventually, in 2002, Haiti became a member of CARICOM and CARIFORUM was converted into an institution of a more technical nature for Dominican Republic and CARICOM to negotiate with the European Union, a process in which Cuba did not participate. Within this it is assumed that countries should act as partners; however, a tense situation between the Dominican Republic and CARICOM could mean that the later decides to act by itself and this could generate an uncomfortable isolation for the Dominican Republic in its relations with the Europeans and the ACP countries.

CARICOM also proposed to reconsider its relations with the Dominican Republic in other forums, What could be the negative impact of such revision?

Essentially, political isolation with adverse economic impact eventually: CARICOM consists of 14 independent countries, and Montserrat which participates as part of the OECS, that’s why it is thought to be 15, but in reality it is 14 independent countries with full voting rights in many international organizations. For instance, the OAS has 34 members from whom 14 are CARICOM, CELAC is formed by 33 countries and 14 are CARICOM; besides the troika that governs is “three plus one” and that additional one is a CARICOM country permanently. The ACP is formed by 79 countries of which CARICOM represents 14. We can also talk about the countries of the Commonwealth, which comprises 53 member states. Finally, in the ACS, where I worked for more than five years, there are 25 members and 14 of those are CARICOM.

Definitely, CARICOM countries could generate a process of isolation, especially, when the matters at stake are racism and human rights violations, i.e. once the nationality issue is indeed declared a human rights issue, and of course the retroactive character of the law is unacceptable. This isolation could affect the image of the Dominican Republic as a tourist destination and eventually it could be used to the benefit of competitors, it would also make economic and political international relations more difficult.

Can bad relationships with CARICOM influence relations between the Dominican Republic and the European Union?

I imagine that if CARICOM convinces other members of ACP group, and we are talking about 79 countries facing the European Union with a very extensive common agenda, that somehow the European Union will have to take a position on the matter. I should reiterate that we are talking about countries that have shown sensitivity on matters of racism, violations of human rights and the application of retroactive laws. It is very difficult for the Dominican Republic to appeal its sovereignty to violate human rights; furthermore, the Dominican Republic is a signatory of at least six or seven conventions where nationality is recognized as a human right.

Finally, what is the strategic regional importance of CARICOM as a bloc of countries?

I think our diplomacy is very deficient, traditionally, international relations are considered to be of lower importance and we have few professionals in this subject, it is rather a source of scholarship for the children of public servants.

On the other hand, the subjects debated at this moment in the Dominican Republic carry heavy weight in the international community: racism, human rights violations, and the implementation of retroactive laws.

Third, CARICOM has the potential influential power in other international organizations and this could generate further isolation for the Dominican Republic in this globalized era, where, I would like to reiterate that you cannot appeal to sovereignty to violate human rights arbitrarily.

Under these circumstances, it is my understand that continuing the process of stripping three generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality, will lead the country to profound international discredit and isolation.

Miguel Ceara-Hatton is one of the Dominican Republic’s most prominent economists. He is author of numerous books and articles on the Dominican Republic and Caribbean economies; former president of the Association of Caribbean Economists and former director in the Secretariat of the Association of Caribbean States. He was also director of the Dominican Republic’s National Human Development Report with the UNDP.

Spanish original. Translation courtesy of Shabaka Kambon and Alejandra Mendez.
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