The onus is on the Caribbean to establish a credible lobbying effort with the USA
Stabroek News
February 17, 2002

Dear Editor,

I read with great interest an article in the Chronicle entitled 'Americas's contempt, CARICOM's silence' [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] written by veteran Caribbean journalist Rickey Singh. Let me at the outset make clear my respect for and admiration of Rickey Singh as a person and as a professional. In fact I was fortunate to begin my own career in journalism under the guidance of Rickey Singh and others at what was then the Guyana Graphic. I was particularly struck by Mr. Singh's description of US Secretary of State Colin Powell's allocation of two hours for a meeting with his Caribbean counterparts as "a manifestation of sheer contempt." I fully respect the right of any journalist to characterise events as he or she sees fit. In fact, any society which does not allow for such free expression of views, especially by reputable journalists, stands to be worse off as a result.

However, I think regional journalists need to understand how Washington, and other powerful capitals function before embarking on criticisms which frankly in no way enhance the region's position in its relations with these foreign powers. These journalists need to pick their battles more carefully. To begin with, meetings in general in the private and public sectors in the developed world tend to be much shorter than those in the developing world. We in the developing world have a tendency to "long talk" spending a lot of time at unproductive meetings. In fact we seem to like meetings and committees, often achieving little from these. The point I am making here is that the Secretary of State of the US no doubt allocated as much time as he thought he could, and perhaps should afford for such discussions. As is always the case Mr. Powell went to that meeting merely to reiterate the Bush administration's position on those issues which were on the meeting's agenda. It would be foolhardy for anyone to believe that a change of American policy could have been wrestled from Mr. Powell during that meeting.

Equally, the Caribbean reiterated its views on the issues and so both sides each heard the other's position from "the horse's mouth" - a process that hardly needed more than the two hours it took. In my view the problem is that CARICOM continues to neglect the preliminary work that is required to encourage American policymakers to craft policies which would benefit our countries. Our countries, for the most part, fail to pursue an aggressive diplomatic campaign in Washington. We seem to merely react to developments. Lobbying is the name of the game in Washington and it all comes down to using an approach designed to win friends and influence people. As someone who has been around the Washington circuit for sometime and has observed our diplomats at work, I feel our efforts leave a lot to be desired. I should point out that Jamaica, particularly under Ambassador Richard Bernal, Barbados under Ambassador Dr. Peter Laurie and Trinidad and Tobago under Ambassador O'Neil Lewis do stand out as countries which, during their respective tenures, seemed to understand how the game is played. While much progress has been made in recent years in terms of a collective approach to our diplomatic efforts in Washington and elsewhere, more needs to be done.

Regional governments need to ensure that the ambassadors they appoint are people with a combination of skills including the ability to develop personal and family relationships which often require a certain level of prior exposure to a quality lifestyle. Our diplomatic efforts in Washington need to focus more on relations on Capital Hill so that members of congress and their aids (the aids are very influential) could better appreciate our problems and concerns. This, in turn, would make it easier for the executive branch to fashion polices which better address our problems. I think Mr. Singh's criticisms should have been, like he did regarding Haiti and Zimbabwe in the same article, targeted at regional governments for not doing "the foundation work" which would have provided for more favourable policies being crafted by American policymakers ahead of the meeting.

In my view Republican administrations are more fortright in their dealings with the Caribbean than are Democratic administrations. Republicans tell it the way they see it and deliver what they promise, good or bad. I think they mean it when they say the Caribbean is "our third border" and will act accordingly-apply pressure when and where they think it is necessary and likewise provide assistance where and when necessary. Testimony to this is the fact that it was Ronald Reagan that introduced the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) which despite its imperfections, still allows for duty free entry of a range of regional goods into the US as well as intervened or invaded (take your pick) Grenada and George W. Bush that crafted the Enterprise of the Americas Initiative (EAI) which provided for significant debt write-off, among other things The onus is on us, the Caribbean, to establish and maintain a credible lobbying effort through which we win friends and influence policy.

You can trust a Republican administration to deliver what it promises but we need to seek to influence their understanding of our problems. Mr. Powell might well be already one of our friends and baseless suggestions, if not accusations of "sheer contempt" should hardly be the way to characterise a friend who did not talk with us for as long as some of us might have wished. Mr.Singh is among the region's most credible journalists with access to regional leaders and I'm sure, in many cases, their privately held views. It would not be surprising if some officials in Washington see Mr.Singh's views as a reflection of the private views of our Caribbean leadership. I hope not. The world has changed since September 11. I am of the view that no country should blindly follow the policies of another for any reason. However, I am equally convinced that sovereignty, in real terms in today's world is nothing but legal fiction. Our world today has become more selfish and uncharitable than ever before.

Nothing is given for nothing these days. It's a reality we have to come to grips with. So let us seek to win friends and influence policy so that we might better be able to provide a better quality of life for our people. Mr. Editor, I am a far from frequent contributor to your letter column. I would like to contribute more to the discussion on various issues but time does not allow me to fully grasp all the facts surrounding the various issues. However, without all the facts at my disposal allow me to voice my concern about the reports of police brutality coming out of Guyana. These are having a negative impact on our international image. Some members of our police force seem out of control. Perhaps they need to read an article in today's edition of your competitor's newspaper about a Guyanese being arrested for killing his wife. hey should take note of the restraint exercised by the New York cops. Unless something is done about the alleged police brutality soon, our country might well be the subject of international pressure which we could do without. Yours faithfully, Wesley Kirton