By Ian Francis
Many are aware of this situation. Privately, they bemoan the situation, criticize the various leaderships but continue to practice bedroom policy by remaining tight lipped. As a regional commentator and writer, at times I am also confronted by friends who are of the view that I am going too far. With due respect to those who care, there comes a time when the ills of a nation must be exposed and policies challenged. Therefore, in my humble view, since I am not on the searching block, it is important that I continue to express my opinions and at the same time make suggestions for structural changes.
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 email@example.com
The silence and bedroom diplomacy practiced in the region is having a devastating effect on our population, with a growing amount of youth victims. Concrete issues must be addressed, constructive suggestions must be advanced and there must be the creation and sustainability of effective monitoring and policy implementation mechanisms that will facilitate the changes.
Since the July Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government meeting in St Lucia, there was much glee and expectations when St Lucia’s Dr Kenny Anthony assumed the chairmanship. At the post-meeting media briefing, the new incoming chairperson was flanked on his right by OECS chairperson Comrade Gonsalves, while Barbados’s Stuart showered the media and the hangars on present with promises of a CARICOM revival; implementation of decisions and foreign policy coordination. Interestingly enough, three weeks after Stuart’s promises, he silently embarked upon a solo trade and investment journey to Canada, where he took the opportunity to promote investment opportunities in Barbados.
One would have thought that, given Stuart’s enthusiasm for CARICOM’s revival and in light of the CARIBCAN trade agreement being negotiated between CARICOM and Canada, Stuart could have asked a few of his regional colleagues to join him on his solo trip, where the opportunity would have been provided for him to continue espousing the future of CARICOM and at the same time promoting his nation’s trade and investment strategy.
Unfortunately, he chose to leave them at home wandering, where they found ample time to plan and implement embarrassing foreign policy tactics between Beijing and Taipei that many are now dubbing “dollar diplomacy”. Unfortunately, at some time in the future, “Dollar Diplomacy” will come crashing down and many, if they are still around will have to grip their shovel and become part of the clean-up team.
While, I do not wish to bore readers on this forum about regional foreign policy tactics, there are many unanswered questions regarding the policy implementation of “One China”, which was accepted by CARICOM heads or their foreign ministers. I, like many others, had hoped that, when Anthony assumed the CARICOM chair, he would have moved swiftly to ensure acceptance and implementation of the One China policy.
Unfortunately, it is very clear that Anthony will not venture into this foray, which recently led him to embrace Taipei and abandon Beijing. Given St Kitts, St Vincent and Haiti’s diplomatic loyalty to Taipei, it is reasonable to conclude that the same old CARICOM game will continue under Anthony’s leadership. It is embarrassing and a great disappointment in the action of the Saint Lucia Labour Party and its current administration.
However, there must be a strong word of warning to regional governments that engage themselves in “dollar diplomacy”. There are impossible thoughts that are cherished among their foreign policy personnel that dancing at the same time with Beijing and Taipei is possible. It is not possible and can only result in further diplomatic embarrassment. It is clear and obvious to anyone making a sound foreign policy decision. It is either Beijing or Taipei. There cannot be the same male crabs in the same hole.
While “dollar diplomacy” has encumbered my mind and thoughts for the last week, there are many other troubling concerns affecting the future of populations in various CARICOM and OECS nations. The continuing economic and political decline in Europe is likely to impact upon us in the near future. The ACP changing donor strategies will have a devastating impact on small states that the OECS nations are bound to receive shock waves.
The stiffening trade and market access preferences that we once received in Europe are slowly disappearing and Caribbean governments remain aloof and disengaged from the situation. In my view, it is survival of the fittest and Caribbean governments are making a tactical error by hoping that the CARICOM Secretariat, the OECS and weak kneed OECS member diplomatic missions in Brussels might alter the situation. They cannot and it is highly suspected that, since some independent Caribbean nations have surrendered their responsibilities, it is only a matter of time that Caribbean nations will wake up and it might be too late.
Within the CARICOM region, there are growing concerns and issues regarding the sustainability of some of our nations. Many have linked the deteriorating economic situation of their economies with developments in the global economy. Grenada has been in the forefront of advancing such an analogy, along with a major drop in revenue generation. Many had hoped the Caribbean-China Economic Cooperation Program would have given quick cash flow to address their problems but it has not occurred. Therefore the situation is very gloomy and getting worse daily.
CARICOM governments cannot afford to ignore the potential military rift that is likely to develop between Iran and Israel. The coming elections in the United States and the likely hood of Obama returning to the Whitehouse will not bring immediate economic relief to the region. It did not happen four years ago, after many CARICOM nations honoured him by naming mountain peaks, parks and bays. The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) was injected with new funds but clearly designed and prioritized for drug interdiction.
Finally, it is assumed that when large nations assess bilateral and multilateral developments in the region, they look closely at the CARICOM method of decision implementation and the handling of foreign policy management. It there is a conclusion that our nations appear on their radar screens as unreliable, dependent, corrupt and weak, we are likely to be treated in that manner. This dilemma facing the CARICOM nations and it is an opportune moment to smarten up.
The dependency and sympathetic route is drying up. The cupboards are becoming empty and sooner or later, CARICOM nations will be left wondering.