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Challenges and Uncertainties of CARICOM States Will Continue in 2013

As the observation train makes it way through the region, a perfect starting point will be from our northern CARICOM nation of Jamaica. The recent return of the People’s National Party (PNP) to power has no doubt generated great expectations especially amongst the poor and suffering. Unfortunately, the PNP’s JEEP development strategy was sidelined by Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in the destruction of roads, homes and public service utilities. 

Although Sandy diverted many positive initiatives, the lively debate about Jamaica’s membership in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) brought two distinct views on Jamaica’s entry into this regional institution. The government of Jamaica’s position seems to suggest that a referendum was not necessary and there are other devised mechanisms that can be applied to proceed to membership. The opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has clearly indicated that a national referendum is necessary before considering membership in the court. 

Given the polarization of party politics in this nation, I am somewhat sympathetic to the position of the PNP government and the views expressed by noted constitutional expert Dr Lloyd Barnett. It is hoped that both parties will find an acceptable mechanism or understanding that will resolve the CCJ membership.

In Belize, crime, corruption and drug trafficking seem to be on the increase. Unfortunately, the events surrounding Mr MacAfee have so consumed the government’s efforts in resolving this matter that everything seems to have taken a back seat. On the other hand, Belize’s Prime Minister Barrow has adopted a firm and unswerving position that stresses upon vacillating CARICOM members about their responsibility in accepting the CCJ as their final appellate jurisdiction. Belize must be commended for their position on the CCJ. However, many have felt that the McAfee matter was not properly handled.

In Antigua and Barbuda, the Bird dynasty seems to have come to a sudden halt that will most likely give further impetus to Antiguan voters to bid farewell to Baldie. In addition, the internet gambling saga and litigation between the regime, the US and WTO continues. The good news is that public servants and pensioners will be paid on time for Christmas.

In Basseterre, PAM’s no-vote of confidence against the Labour Party administration of Dr Douglas is likely to fizzle out. PAM does not have the numbers for a successful vote and, unfortunately, Douglas is yet to share with the regional population about the founded mechanism that would bypass the holding of a referendum for membership in the CCJ. It is time to share greater highlights on the proposed reference. 

Natives seem very satisfied with the directions of Douglas. Crime and lawlessness have subsided as the regime seems to have carefully prioritized its crime prevention strategy with a strong focus on technology. Unfortunately, the region’s population is still anxiously waiting to hear about the newly founded legal mechanism that would avoid a referendum as a pre-requisite for membership in the CCJ.

The two tucked British colonies of Montserrat and Anguilla present many challenges for the region. While very little doubt exist about their full commitment to regional cooperation, London’s required stamp of approval is required, so these two colonies are consistently reminded that they have to tread cautiously, as Britain’s appointed bacraman is watching. Therefore, both colonies are urged to continue examining the possibility of becoming independent nations.

Winding our way into Roseau, the uncertainty and future of the regime is very evident. With constitutional motions hanging against the prime minister and one other minister, a positive court ruling against the regime’s leader could plunge the administration into great disarray. At the same time, I must express appreciation to former president, Dr Nicholas Liverpool, for his public service contribution to the people of Dominica.

While the Dominican leader faces various challenges, he must be commended for forging ahead with geothermal development and explaining Dominica’s role and membership in ALBA. In addition, his government’s sensitivity and support for the First Nation peoples must be recognized, as they enjoy a special status in the nation.

The St Lucia Labour Party administration of Dr Kenny Anthony projects a government in crisis and contradictions. Prime Minister Anthony’s capability and capacity is not under the microscope. My concern with the administration is its foreign policy process by ignoring the one China policy, ignoring Beijing and cozying up with Taipei, which is seen as a renegade province of Beijing. 

My other concern seems to be the inability of the regime to effectively address the challenges of crime and lawlessness. While it is not my intention to dictate to any regional administration how its foreign policy should be conducted, the mounting evidence of foreign policy fallacies require a much more informed approach.

In Barbados, Stuart struggles for survival, hoping that Owen remains stuck in Holetown, which might not give him immediate access to the mantle of power. The adoption of foreign policy coordination following the Heads meeting last July in St Lucia seems to have disappeared from Bridgetown’s radar screen. An abstention vote on the PLO’s application to upgrade its observer status at the United Nations leaves much to be desired. 

While it is clearly understood that Barbados has lead responsibility for the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME), the recent woes and challenges hinted by Stuart clearly show that CSME will remain stuck and foreign multilateral donors might be having second thoughts about continuing support for this initiative. One way or the other, this nation could possibly face a game change in the near future.

St Vincent and the Grenadines seems deeply focused on the completion of its international airport, which is proceeding very well. At the same time, the Comrade Prime Minister chairpersonship of the OECS has not brought about the necessary structural changes as promised. The Castries Secretariat continues in limp mode and carefully monitoring events in the Euro zone.

Arriving on the shores of Grenada, it seems to be a nation tangled in political comedy and commess. A prorogued parliament has resulted in mass layoff of both elected and appointed members, although their salaries have not been affected. The economy seems to be in shambles; a nervous and concerned public service remains very unsettled about their salaries and an organized and effective opposition National New Party (NNP) continues to hammer away at the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) by portraying them as weak and incompetent. Like Antigua and Barbados, the possibility of game change is a certainty.

Trinidad and Tobago continues to play a vital role within the region. While cracks appear in the economy, the gas carbon reserves have allowed for stability that Jack and Winston continue to duke it out within the partnership. While the internal sniping continues, it is a time and occasion to remember former Prime Minister Manning, who has not been in the best of health. Although the disintegration of the partnership is obvious, a strong and independent judiciary remains intact .The departure of two foreign senior law enforcement officers was welcome news, as the region’s population felt that the republic had slipped back into some form of neo-colonialism.

The Cooperative Republic of Guyana continues to move in a very progressive direction. The functional cooperation between Guyana and Suriname is very encouraging. Their very presence at the recent non-aligned meeting in Tehran was extremely courageous at a time when most of the CARICOM membership opted to play “peek-ah-boo”. It shows clearly that the foreign policy stamp of Forbes Burnham lives on, given Guyana’s long support for the Non-Aligned Movement and the Africa Liberation Movement.

The puzzling factor in regional affairs remains with the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. While it is accepted and known that a regional identity problem exists within this nation, its foreign policy is also quite baffling. The Bahamas recently demonstrated three puzzling foreign policy positions. At the last CARICOM Heads meeting held in July 2012, along with Barbados, The Bahamas spoke strongly in favour of the CARICOM One China policy. 

A few months after, again with Barbados, it abstained from a very principled vote at the United Nations when the Palestine Governing Authority sought assistance to upgrade its status at the United Nations. The Palestinians were overwhelmingly supported and their application was approved.

But the most interesting signal came five weeks ago, when a Bahamian foreign ministry delegation attended a meeting in Morocco, which was hosted by Middle Eastern states that aimed at getting broader recognition by the Syrian Coalition currently engaged in military action against the Assad regime. Interestingly enough, while Canada attended the meeting, they have withheld recognition, given the makeup of the coalition that is known to be harbouring elements of various jihadist movements.

Unfortunately, Nassau has remained extremely tightlipped on its Morocco mission without other CARICOM member states, not knowing whether formal recognizance was granted to the coalition. Frankly speaking, the CARICOM Secretariat should be guiding member states on this very important foreign policy issue.

Without being accused of sending out alarmist sentiments, as we enter 2013, the Georgetown Secretariat and its regional membership will still be confronted with these long and chronic challenges:

• Membership into the CCJ and its full recognition as the region’s final appellate court;

• Implementation of the CSME and its full acceptance by member states, their institutions and population;

• Completion of the negotiations with Canada to finalize the CARIBCAN Trade Agreement and a deep commitment and understanding to the region’s population that the success and sustainability of this agreement can only be facilitated by them.

• The implementation of recommendations made for the radical restructuring of the Secretariat to ensure greater relevance to its membership and a much leaner Secretariat.

• The urgent restructuring of the Barbados based CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) to ensure more timely response and relevance to the needs of member states in light of the declining global economic situation.

• Greater emphasis by heads of government on the management, operations and decision making process within the Secretariat.

As I conclude this article, my thanks and appreciation to those of you who have expressed support for many of the articles written and published on this medium. To those who have expressed great abhorrence, especially when I express my opinion on Grenada or St Vincent, as a writer, I can tell you that I will continue to express diverse and credible opinions in 2013. It will indeed be a challenging year as Barbados and Grenada are slated to go to the polls.

Have a Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year. See you in 2013.


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