By Dr J. Edsel Edmunds
I refer to the article by Sir Ronald Sanders which has been published in our regional press. Reference was made to the need for Caribbean countries to pool and share physical space as well as resources for effective representation in capitals.
Dr Joseph E. Edmunds is the former Ambassador of St Lucia to the UN, OAS, and US. He is currently Consultant and Senior Advisor to The Edmunds Group International, LLC (www.theedmundsgroup.com)
I wish to draw to the attention of Sir Ronald that over a decade ago I was mandated by the prime ministers of St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines to locate a suitable building which would house the embassies of the OECS countries in Washington. After inspecting over ten buildings, I recommended to the OECS Secretariat, through the said prime ministers, that we purchase a building which was being vacated by the government of Finland.
With the assistance of embassy staff, a legal advisor, negotiations with the embassy of Finland, the guidance of the US Department of Foreign Missions and the concurrence of the OECS ambassadors in Washington, the OECS governments accepted my recommendation.
Today the OECS governments (with the exception of Grenada, which was well established in its own building) now own a structure in Washington, referred to as The OECS Building where one can see five flags flying in front of a building housing the embassies of Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda.
The cost savings, although not audited, is estimated at well over one million dollars since its establishment. For example, instead of having five separate conference rooms, the building is equipped with one large conference room which accommodates regional and international meetings, there is one reception area, and maintenance costs are shared by the five embassies. I understand that there is discussion about moving as a result of space limitations and the age of the infrastructure. I am nevertheless pleased to learn that such a move is contemplated as an OECS initiative.
The idea behind this arrangement was to facilitate easy dialogue related to OECS and Caribbean issues and to share and agree upon issues related to common interests, and where agreed upon to report as a group to regional headquarters. In the early stages of the building a reference library was established and computerized linkages were contemplated with the OAS Secretariat, OECS headquarters as well as CARICOM.
The shared values and common objectives mentioned by Sir Ronald were envisioned by our OECS Heads and Ambassadors in Washington. I was pleased to lead this initiative.
It is interesting to note that upon the establishment of the OECS Building, the Central American embassies were looking at our initiative as a model for their joint embassies. To my knowledge, a CARICOM arrangement comparable to the above was never mandated by our heads of government. Nevertheless, CARICOM ambassadors meet from time to time at their respective embassies and coordinate activities and positions on different issues based upon the mandates of respective governments.
Unlike Latin America, Caribbean ambassadors are accredited to both the White House and the OAS, making it difficult for them to cover in depth matters related to US trade and commerce as regard policy and application as they affect our region. Most times there is little representation on those issues and the Caribbean becomes reactive rather than proactive on those issues. This brings to light, the question of the inadequate CARICOM and OECS representation on trade and commerce and the need for investment promotion as regards US /Caribbean interests.
It is noteworthy that Latin American, Asian and African countries are well represented in this regard by their agencies and also engage professional services and advisors to support their respective embassy and country efforts.