By Ian Francis
In 1962, Jamaica and Trinidad began the process of dismantling the colonial empire by accepting the challenge to become independent nations. Many other small Caribbean states embarked upon a similar journey, which ultimately led to the regional terminology “Caribbean Commonwealth Nations/States”.
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
The important factor in this process is that they are independent and are responsible for driving their own agenda rather than allowing 10 Downing Street to direct them on all initiatives and decisions geared to improve the status of our population.
While independence has arrived, readers should not lose sight of the fact that, although Caribbean nations boast and brag about independence, the strong presence, attitude and persistency of neo-colonialism is evident in all of our sectors. Denials will be made but its existence is well known, actively promoted and sustained.
The importance of strong and effective bilateral relations between Canada and the Caribbean Commonwealth cannot be achieved without the understanding that there must be strong diplomatic representation that could be augmented with the current weak-kneed approach of many Caribbean governments having an honorary consular presence that is often described as a diplomatic presence. This interpretation is incorrect and misleading and it is high time that our foreign affairs permanent secretaries comprehend what is correct and advise the government minister responsible in a proper manner.
To ensure the impact and full understanding of this article, it is necessary for me to specifically address the disgraceful diplomatic shortcomings in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Suffice to say, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, Belize and The Bahamas all have a strong diplomatic and consular presence in Canada. While many observers have noted that many of these states/nations’ consular presence can be improved, it is my view that Rome was not built in a day and these nations seem to be better in tune with realities than the OECS.
Contrary to the posturing by certain elements in the OECS Castries Secretariat and the willingness of its member states’ permanent secretaries to take mutton for beef, it must be said loud and clear that the OECS and its member states do not have a diplomatic presence in Canada. As earlier written on this medium, the alleged advice given to the Castries Secretariat by Canada on diplomatic cost containment unfortunately made its way the OECS Authority at a St Vincent meeting which closed the OECS Mission in Ottawa.
Interestingly enough, the OECS Authority and its Secretariat gurus seem to have fallen down on the job by not understanding the importance of a diplomatic presence accredited to a friendly nation like Canada. If the Authority and Secretariat officials fully understood the importance and benefit of a diplomatic presence in Canada, then commonsense should have indicated that, given their independence status and formal existing diplomatic relations with Canada, they have the legitimate right of appointing a non-resident High Commissioner who will have the directives to conduct bilateral business with Canada.
As I have alluded in the past, OECS members should not surrender their foreign policy management to the Secretariat and ensure that it is properly and efficiently managed within the precincts of the respective local foreign ministry.
Canada maintains a High Commission in Bridgetown, which is accredited to Barbados and the OECS. Canada's diplomatic presence in OECS jurisdictions are at the non-resident level status. It is my understanding that the non-resident High Commissioner regularly visits the OECS nations to deliver diverse messages on development assistance and other matters from Ottawa. Upon arrival in the OECS nation’s capital, the political lineup is formulated, commencing with the prime minister and other ministers only to be delivered with the same rehearsed message received from across the river.
OECS nations must understand that there should be no compromise or vacillation when it comes to the practice and management of its foreign policy. It is abundantly clear that the Castries based Secretariat does not have the tools, resources and vision to conduct an effective foreign policy mechanism for its members. Therefore, member states should be encouraged to pursue the notion of nominating a non-resident High Commissioner.
It is expected that, by having a diplomatic presence in Canada, engagement will definitely be expanded from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). With clear and proper instructions from their respective foreign ministry, there are surely many other doors to be opened and appropriate follow up can be conducted by the local honorary consul in the respective Canadian jurisdiction.
In 2006, following the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Harper of Canada publicly announced a change in Canada's development assistance programs. Harper's announcement clearly indicated that Caribbean small states will receive special focus and that it was a new re-engagement in place. Shortly afterwards, rather than rallying and responding to Canada's call, OECS members got duped into Washington's Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) as the Yankee dollars dangled in their eyesight.
The Yankee dollar was not the only attraction, the European Community and their organs invaded the Caribbean Commonwealth region with diverse funding and promises, our governments and regional multilateral agencies acceded to the greed and totally ignored the Canadians. Now that Europe has collapsed, our governments and multilateral agencies have been told that re-jigging will have to take place. As a result of short sightedness and greed in the region, panic and uncertainties seem to be obvious that abeng might hail Canada.
Caribbean Commonwealth governments, regional multilateral agencies and other known donor recipients need to take a serious look at Canada's re-engagement in the Caribbean. However, the regional multilateral agencies who have found success in the Ottawa multilateral till need to reason with member governments and ensure a fair balance in Canadian aid donation in the region. Canadian multilateral aid in the region far exceeds the meagre bilateral aid being allocated. To ensure balance, individual regional governments are obligated to delve deeply and request the Canadians to make the necessary adjustments.
Regional multilateral agencies’ number one priority is survival and accessing enough to pay high priced consultants to recycle and plagiarise strategic reports. They are not too concerned with the daily cash flow and recurrent expenditures faced by regional governments.
Canada Caribbean relationships have a strong historical standing going back to the 17th century. However, if regional leaders remain scared and weak-kneed about Canadian development assistance, they will continue to give open and unchecked umbrage to the messengers based in Barbados.
It is time that OECS leaders demonstrate courage, vision and vision about Canadian development assistance in the region as they embark upon re-engagement with Canada, bilateral, multilateral and institutional development assistance. The latter is of great interest and this is why interested and committed governments must take a deep second look at three Canadian institutional projects currently managed by the Canada Hunger Foundation; Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. There is a strong feeling that these projects were dumped in the region under the pretext of re-engagement.
There is much that Caribbean governments can derive bilaterally from Canada and apply the assistance to meet felt needs which still address poverty. On the other hand, if OECS governments remain docile with stretched hands and tom fool advice from Georgetown and Castries, there is no doubt that Crapo will continue to smoke our OECS government pipes.
It is time to accept Canada's challenges, but not at all costs.