America’s contempt, CARICOM'S silence By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
February 10, 2002

IF NOT a manifestation of sheer contempt for an entire sub-region of this hemisphere, then United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, may wish to explain why he could schedule merely two hours of his time for a meeting last Thursday in The Bahamas with some 14 Foreign Ministers of the Caribbean Community, knowing that at his request, that meeting was postponed since June last year.

This is no way to treat a region that US Presidents, from Ronald Reagan to the current occupant of The White House, like to refer to as America's "third border". Or, as Reagan, chose to hail Caribbean people after the 1983 US invasion of Grenada as "fellow Americans".

Powell cannot really believe that Caribbean Foreign Ministers or Community officials have a lot of time on their hand to jump on and off planes and overnight in an expensive hotel.

Or that they are so anxious to meet with a US Secretary of State that they simply have to wait on him to pick his time, two hours or a little more, to learn of his decisions or positions on their requests, even on matters of mutual cooperation, like narco-trafficking, gun-smuggling and terrorism.

From the reports out of Nassau, there seemed to have been more disagreements than consensus, whether the issues had to do with the release of frozen aid to Haiti; getting some four CARICOM states off the so-called punitive "blacklist" of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); or America's blocking of soft loans to Caribbean states from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Edwin Carrington, was quite diplomatic in his response when I telephoned him in Nassau before the meeting with Powell got underway. Chuckling as he put a positive spin, Carrington said: "Often, it is not the time but the quality of the discussion and decisions taken. Let's see what comes out of this meeting".

As the chief servant of the Community, Carrington is not expected to engage in any public ruffling of feathers of ministers and diplomats.

In due course, however, we would have to assess the real "quality of the discussion and decisions" during that pre-lunch meeting with Powell whose Caribbean connection, via his Jamaican parentage, we have collectively noted with pride on his rise to the powerful office he holds in the George W. Bush administration.

Cleverly crafted official communiques often conceal more than what they disclose of a meeting/conference. Powell's own spin was that they had "solid and civilised discussions". For his part, Guyana's Foreign Minister and current chairman of the Community's Council of Foreign Ministers, Rudy Insanally, who co-chaired the meeting with Powell, had a different perspective, explaining that "we spoke our minds very clearly...Sometimes, a scream is better than a thesis, so I ask you (Secretary of State) to forgive us if we screamed a lot this morning".

It was known, before last Thursday's meeting, that the Caribbean Foreign Ministers had much to discuss with Powell, including the release of frozen economic aid to Haiti, migration, and issues pertaining to security and justice as well as economic development, in accordance with the Bridgetown Plan of Action.

That 'plan' had resulted from the historic May 1997 meeting in Barbados of then US President Bill Clinton and Caribbean leaders, including those from Haiti and Dominican Republic.

And the understanding was that in order to ensure effective follow-up action at very high levels, there would be at least one official meeting annually between the US Secretary of State and Caribbean Foreign Ministers, outside of an informal session during the period of the United Nations General Assembly. It has not turned out that way except for two meetings with Powell's predecessor, Madeleine Albright.

Criminal Deportees
If we focus on one specific issue for now, that of the mere five-day period Washington wants for the region to check the background of nationals to be returned as "criminal deportees", this itself points to a level of arrogance and unjustified pressure, in dealing with the governments and people of the Caribbean that remain constant in their friendship with the USA.

The Caribbean has been cooperating with successive US administrations in the war against narco-traffickers, aware that this region has become a significant trans-shipment point for cocaine and other illegal drugs from South America to Europe and the USA.

America also knows of the high incidence of murder and alarming levels of criminal violence in the region that are often linked with the drug lords, gun runners and criminal deportees. Yet, it persists in its unilateral dumping of these deportees, particularly in CARICOM countries like Jamaica, Guyana and Belize, while governments are struggling with very limited resources to battle the escalating crime wave.

Crime and other social problems, for instance HIV/AIDS, cannot be de-linked from economic development. Hence, this region's concern for special and differential treatment in the quest for trade, aid and investment also should be properly discussed at meetings like the one that was planned for Nassau with Powell.

This would be in keeping with the spirit of the document on 'Partnership for Prosperity and Security in the Caribbean’ that resulted from the 1997 summit with President Clinton and hosted by Barbados.

However, pending an assessment of the official outcome of the meeting with Powell, there is a related attitudinal issue on the part of Caribbean leaders that also requires some attention. And a reminder of this came with the conclusion of last week's Inter-Sessional Meeting in Belize.

Bush and Sharon
Never mind the surprising public silence of our CARICOM leaders on Ariel Sharon's ongoing war to prevent a Palestinian homeland under Yasser Arafat's leadership. Or George W. Bush's own plans to extend his "war on terrorism" against Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Bush and Sharon, whose politics are increasingly endangering world peace, met again at The White House on Thursday, while Powell was having his session with Caribbean Foreign Ministers.

I do not know why the silence on crimes against humanity -whether of Islamic, Jewish or Christian origin - while the Caribbean leaders are engaged in dialogue on issues of human rights, criminal violence, terrorism and sovereignty.

Our CARICOM leaders could not even summon the strength during their just-concluded meeting in Belize, to make even a mild condemnatory statement - ahead of next month's Commonwealth Summit in Australia - against the atrocities taking place under Robert Mugabe's dictatorial rule in Zimbabwe.

Or, for that matter, take a stand against the flagrant, murderous attacks on press freedom nearer home, in Haiti, where journalists not killed or brutalised have either gone into hiding in their native land or seeking refuge abroad.

In their "statement" on CARICOM's special mission to Haiti last week, the Community leaders could only have brought themselves to "note" the "observation" by the team that went to Port-au-Prince that "press freedom and the independence of the media were areas which need to be addressed (sic) and in which CARICOM could play a role".

After their deliberations on coming international conferences of importance to the Community, Zimbabwe got mentioned in one sentence in the 13-page communique in reference to next month's Commonwealth Summit in Australia, stating:

(They) "also noted (sic) that the situation in Zimbabwe would be under consideration with a focus on possible sanctions by the Commonwealth".

It is all so pathetic. Why the reluctance to speak out against blatant criminal violence and murder, irrespective of the nationality or ethnicity of the perpetrators, knowing that failure to condemn wrong doings by our own diminishes, if not robs us, of the right to expose and condemn others.

As Sharon was bargaining to have Bush cut all contacts with Arafat, the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, was vigorously and loudly declaring: "Europeans are unanimous in not supporting US policy in the Middle East.... We think it is a mistake to blindly accept the policy of pure repression conducted by Ariel Sharon..."

Well said, indeed, Monsieur Vedrine!