By Ian Francis
My commitment to functional and regional cooperation in the Commonwealth Caribbean will always have my support. At the same time, it is important for me to express my personal views and observations about the many obscure regional initiatives hatched in Georgetown and Castries that seek to serve the needs and survival of certain regional bureaucrats that remain distant from true reality. Having made the above comments, my focus in this article will be about Barbados’s Stuart’s visit to Toronto and Canada’s Harper’s visit to Los Cabos in Mexico for the G20 Summit.
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Based on existing media reports, Barbados Prime Minister Stuart recently visited Toronto, where he was graced at a charity ball; honoured a Barbadian-Canadian Centenarian and promoted Barbados’s trade and investment agenda. He spoke exclusively to potential Canadian investors, where he took the opportunity to explain his nation’s investment code.
Surprisingly, there was very little mention about the recent Caribbean-Mexico summit held in Barbados; no updates about the progress of the CARIBCAN trade agreement; the downgrading of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) credit rating and no indication as to whether he would be a special guest of Mexico during the Los Cabos G20 meeting where Canada was expected to pitch a word for CARICOM nations.
Those who attended the various presentations, receptions and tete-a-tetes, praised Stuart for his individual trade and investment mission, as it is seen as a move to ensure his party’s survival during the next Barbados polls. His motive was Barbados trade and investments. He never accused Owen or Mia of political eavesdropping, although recent credible polling data has indicated that there could be some difficulties ahead for the DLP leader.
As Stuart completed his trade and investment mission in Toronto, it is still unknown whether he was accorded the Ottawa attention he expected from Harper and John Baird. Prime Minister Harper was very busy defending his Parliamentary Secretary and key point man on ethics for allegedly unethical breaches of the Canada Elections Act. He participated in a 24-hour voting marathon during a House of Commons debate on 800 amendments proposed by the opposition in an omnibus budget bill, which later passed the lower house and received the Senate’s approval.
Canada also showed its generosity by donating $1 billion to the State of Michigan to build a new bridge that will improve trade between the two regions. Added to this generosity are the ongoing social and economic uncertainties in Quebec and Ontario that are impacting on some federal jurisdictions. To culminate all of the prime minister’s attention to the above, there was a tragic shooting incident in his home province, which resulted in the death of three persons. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies were able to apprehend the alleged shooter, who is now confined to police custody.
The above episodes did not prevent Canada from preparing a strong delegation to the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. As media reports indicate, given the deteriorating economic situation in Europe, the Greek elections outcome, the Syria and Egyptian situation and the recent death of Saudi Prince Nyfal, G20 leaders will be overwhelmed with diverse matters. In addition, Canada has its own agenda, pushing for participation in the Pacific Trade Partnership Service agreement, for which he might get the final nod at the Summit.
During a recent fact finding conversation with an Ottawa based senior Canadian foreign affairs official familiar with G20 issues, he was quite adamant that the request to Canada that Caribbean heads had made to Prime Minister Harper at the recently concluded Summit of the Americas in Colombia might go down the drain. When asked why, there was an immediate outburst of laughter, as the official reminded me that there were other poor nations asking Canada to raise their concerns at the G20.
1) CARICOM nations, especially the OECS groupings, small African and Pacific nations have all asked Canada to express various positions on their behalf regarding their economic conditions and to ensure that their economic situation is reflected in the final G20 communiqué. With fairness and sympathy, the African and Pacific small states have kept Canada fully informed of developments in their jurisdictions, thus allowing Canada to be fully apprised.
2) Unfortunately, CARICOM nations were less forthcoming with Canada, which makes it difficult for the latter to advocate on their behalf at the G20 Summit. The official noted that there was the CARICOM-Mexico Summit in Barbados and other development events in the region that Canada should have been appraised of the outcomes but they were not. The official also lamented that time had been allocated for a Canadian delegation to visit Georgetown or alternately for a CARICOM delegation to visit Ottawa to brief Canada on recent development outcomes in the region. Unfortunately, this never occurred and my source only re-emphasized the need for CARICOM nations to follow up in a timely manner on issues where Canada’s support is required.
3) My conversation with the official further revealed both Canada and the United States concern about CARICOM-Mexico relations. It is felt that Mexico’s foreign policy initiatives in the region are mirrored in a two tier system. Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana have strong bilateral relations with México. While many OECS nations also enjoy similar relationship with Mexico, it is not at residential ambassadorship level. It is strongly felt that, given the level of corruption in Mexico, violence and human rights abuses and the extending presence of the Mexican drug cartel in the region, the OECS Castries-based Secretariat should immediately rise to the occasion by developing a strategic plan that outlines foreign policy coordination on this very important situation.
So my conclusion is that Canada will always be open and willing to assist CARICOM nations in various forums where assistance is needed. However, CARICOM nations, and especially those in the OECS, have a responsibility to ensure that Canada gets access to the relevant flow of information that would enhance their advocacy capacity.
Finally, the display of donated high speed interdiction and speed boats in the Caribbean waters will not impede the growing presence of the Mexican drug cartel in our midst. We need to get back to basics by designing an effective intelligence gathering mechanism that will first weed out local corrupt officials, who tend to be local accomplices with the rogue cartels.
CARICOM and OECS nations must understand the rapid changes taking place in the global environment. After the G20, the Rio Summit and the July heads talk shop, what next for the region?
Well, Mitchell, Bird and Arthur might make a sudden reappearance on the regional political scene. Stay tuned.