By Ian Francis
Many in the Caribbean region and Diaspora are eagerly looking forward to the United States election results on November 6, 2012. It is generally assumed that the eagerness and interest for the results of this event are bordered on two critical issues. President Obama is an African American and represents a party that is more in sync with Caribbean thoughts. The other issue is that observers are probably interested in the future of US foreign policy in the region and how it is likely to impact on the populations of the region.
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
In my view, whichever individual gets access to the Oval Office, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and drug interdiction will remain key policy platforms in the region. Suffice to say that if Romney gets the green light, CARICOM /OECS leaders and their Washington diplomatic representatives are likely to get a two-hour breakfast invitation to the White House, as Mitt will want an opportunity to meet with these players.
However, they should not expect much but a sympathetic ear and of course a likely rehashing of the CBSI virtues. Fortunately, as it looks over the next two weeks, Mitt is likely to be shut out and will have no interest in meeting with our leaders. As I said earlier, at the next Summit of Americas, at least three of our current leaders would have disappeared in oblivion and will be replaced by newly elected ones. President Obama will have a breakfast rap at the Summit with our CARICOM/OECS leaders and, as anticipated, poverty will not be on the agenda but national security and drug interdiction.
Let's hope our leaders will show strength and vision by telling Washington that the region's needs require more than fast patrol boats and security intelligence gathering. The region's population requires jobs, good healthcare and resources to improve their quality of life.
The United States foreign policy practices in the region have never been on the basis of respect for the region's sovereignty. In a recent discussion with a well known Commonwealth public policy practitioner, there was a conversation on the above and the assumption attributed is that the United States has an adjustment problem in dealing with independent Caribbean nations.
Prior to Caribbean nations gaining independence, if Washington wanted to implement a policy in the region, it was one call to Whitehall and the response would be instant and positive. Unfortunately, they have adopted the policy to pursue bilateral arrangements with the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad. The US has strong diplomatic and USAID personnel stationed in the MDCs. Unfortunately, the OECS is relegated to Bridgetown and the Castries-based secretariat is extremely happy once they can access the multilateral resources to hire their friends and high priced bogus consultants.
There are also two intriguing questions about US policies in the OECS. It is often asked why there is a US consulate in Grenada and Antigua? The Grenada Consulate was established in Grenada in 1983 as a result of the US military intervention. In the case of Antigua, there were a number of political events involving the Afro Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM) under deceased Tim Hector. These events apparently challenged the Bird government and, after seeking the US assistance, the decision was made to establish a local consulate.
Washington has always sought to justify the presence of these two consulates by telling the region's population that the intention is to deliver additional consular services. This is not the case and a former United States president has said that "these two consulates are to monitor the growing Cuban influence in the region".
Returning to US and CARICOM/OECS relations, there are many dynamics that should be observed and understood. US/CARICOM relations will always be at the multilateral level and the CARICOM Secretariat’s first priority is to ensure that the US multilateral assistance significantly contributes to the survival mode. If CARICOM governments are so naive to think that the Secretariat’s priority is to access US multilateral assistance to assist them in national development, this is not the case.
The OECS might be slightly different. However, given the delinquency of members not paying their contributions to upkeep the Secretariat, the technocrats running this institution are very much committed to its existence. At the same time, they recognize that the delinquent and callous conduct of OECS members not honouring their contributory responsibilities in a timely manner, forces them to seek multilateral resources to survive.
Since USAID is a willing contributor, their only option is to accept the multilateral assistance, secure their well being and the pittance left over will be directed to project activities in member states. In recent weeks, there were two initiatives hosted in OECS nations with USAID support. If my memory serves me right, one related to climate change and the other is not remembered. What is interesting is that the measureable outcomes and direct contribution to the economies of the nations is yet to be determined.
In essence, CARICOM and OECS leaders need to take a much deeper look at the regional economic situation. Our leaders need to understand that at the end of the day, the local economic and social challenges faced by various populations must be answered by them. They made promises of change, they got elected to serve; however, they have surrendered their responsibility to bring about the necessary changes.
What have our leaders done? Surrender the bilateral responsibility and maintain the national development fallacy that multilateral assistance will resolve the critical issues. It cannot and will never resolve the challenges faced by respective nations in the region.
In conclusion, the call is once again made to regional leaders to examine the ill effect of multilateral aid and begin the process of embracing true and genuine bilateral initiatives. It can be done.