Stabroek News
June 8, 2000

In his always interesting column in last week's Sunday Stabroek Mr David Jessop, the Executive Director of the Caribbean Council for Europe, urged the need for Caricom member states to develop pressure groups if they are to "set the agenda for the Caribbean before others choose to do so." "This," he said "may not fit easily with the comfortable niceties of diplomatic life, but in any fight for survival governments and interested parties conduct negotiations and diplomacy alongside appropriate actions that enhance the political agenda of those involved in the negotiations."

Mr Jessop noted that Israel had the best organised and most influential lobby in the world, making use of its many citizens overseas. The Caribbean diaspora is now widespread due to more than half a century of emigration and presents many opportunities. He referred to the success of the anti-Castro lobby in Miami and the lobby mounted by the large US banana multinationals against the EU's banana regime for the Caribbean and the ACP.

Mr Jessop argues that lobbies must be driven by need and clear objectives and be well co-ordinated, derive strength from groups convinced of the justice of the cause and be based on an understanding that change is brought about by coalitions of interests working together towards the same goal including governments, regional institutions, religious groups, the media and corporate and civil society. "This matter is now far from academic. The development of a powerful Caribbean lobby in Europe and the US is now vital. Very soon the region will face a further series of challenges to its economic survival. There are signs that a number of EU member states and other interests in Europe and beyond have begun to consider the future of the present preferential arrangements on sugar. In September 2002 a new round of negotiations between Europe and the regions of the ACP will begin on trade liberalisation. The WTO is looking at how to liberalise services, the industry that represents much of the region's future. And once the US Presidential elections are over, further moves towards global trade liberalisation will again be on the international agenda. Quite rightly the region and its Regional Negotiating Machinery are preparing intellectually for these challenges but who will support the Caribbean's cause in Europe or beyond? From where will the region's political muscle come?"

We have not been without our experience of successful lobbies in the past. In the old days the sugar planters had a very powerful lobby in the British parliament. The Burnham government had secured the broad support of Afro-Asian countries against Venezuela's unjust claim. And in the late eighties and early nineties there was considerable lobbying by Guyanese in the USA and elsewhere in the fight for the return of fair elections.

Mr Jessop is clearly right. We must take steps to mobilise opinion and political influence in key nations. The banana dispute was a missed opportunity and we allowed Chiquita Brands and others full rein. But there are many challenges ahead in which it will almost certainly prove quite inadequate to rely on traditional diplomatic initiatives. What about the present oppressive tactics by Venezuela and Suriname? Wouldn't it help if some of our overseas colleagues could mount protest marches or pickets outside the United Nations in New York and outside embassies in say Washington, London and Ottawa?

It really is time we put Venezuela under some sort of international pressure for their intolerable pursuit of this land grabbing claim which was allowed to surface against us by the imperial powers in the cold war atmosphere of the sixties as Dr Cedric Joseph has so carefully documented and is now being shamelessly pursued by a `progressive' government.

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