Cracks in solidarity for OAS security strategy By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
June 4, 2002

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BRIDGETOWN -- The 32nd annual General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) is scheduled to end its three-day meeting this afternoon on a disappointing note of failure to endorse a strongly advocated "multi-dimensional approach to hemispheric security" as the central theme for the event.

In addressing the formal opening ceremony of the Assembly Sunday night, Prime Minister Owen Arthur, whose government is hosting the event, made a special appeal that beyond official calls to combat international terrorism, this year's meeting of the hemispheric body should make a difference by adopting a multi-dimensional approach to hemispheric security.

High on the priorities of such an approach, as Barbados had earlier communicated to Washington, and the OAS Secretary General, as the "main theme" for the Assembly, were issues of poverty in a hemisphere with 170 million mired in poverty; the pandemic of HIV/AIDS afflicting the Caribbean-Latin American region; illegal arms and drugs trafficking; ecological disasters and national crime plaguing nations of the Caribbean at this time.

But questioned by this newspaper's correspondent at a brief media briefing whether the U.S. had agreed to endorse the Barbados Initiative for a "multi-dimensional approach to hemispheric security" - in contrast to the specific focus by the U.S. on combating terrorism - Secretary of State Colin Powell avoided a direct answer and instead of explaining, discussed a range of issues covered during a 40-minute private conversation with Prime Minister Arthur during "what was in effect a courtesy call".

Powell had also failed to be present for the opening session of the Assembly that was addressed by OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria and Prime Minister Arthur.

But as noted with open surprise by a number of Foreign Ministers, diplomats and officials of the Caribbean and Latin American region, seated proudly on the stage among delegates for the ceremonial opening was the new Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich.

Reich, a Cuban-born emigre of the U.S. known for his consistent anti-Cuba policies and activities and involvement with the contra-rebels during the U.S. war against the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua, is a personal appointee of President George Bush but yet to be ratified by Congress.

Questioned by the 'Chronicle' during Powell's press briefing at the Sherbourne Conference Centre about how he felt in being involved in discussing anti-terrorism policies at an OAS Assembly having himself been implicated in documents about his role in anti-Cuba, anti-Nicaragua terroristic politics, Reich flatly denied "ever being involved in acts of terrorism". But he declined to offer any comment about the continuing hostile U.S. policies to keep Cuba out of the OAS as its 35th member.

Some 30 of the 34 members of the OAS present for the Assembly participated in yesterday's signing ceremony of the much-revised Inter-American Convention against Terrorism. Those who did not sign were Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Canada and Dominica.

Powell, who arrived for the morning session, took part in some bilaterals, met the Barbados-based U.S. Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean and was among the signatories to the Convention, which had earlier been revised at the insistence of the Caribbean nations when the OAS last met in Peru. The Caribbean controls some 16 of the 34 votes in the OAS.

Arthur had stressed that "any meaningful definition of security can no longer be limited to the traditional military operations, but must recognise the need for an integrated approach to conforming to the conditions which create instabilities in our societies and which endanger our humanity."

But in his pre-signing ceremony address on the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, Secretary of State Powell remained emphatic in his focus on combating international terrorism and ensuring compliance to democratic norms, such as in Caribbean states like Haiti and Venezuela.

He, however, said that to encourage reforms to attract development and underpin growth, President George Bush had announced the creation of what he called a "Millennium Challenge Account" that will involve an expenditure of some US$45B per year for the next three years.

Delegates were yesterday locked in various lobbying groups to resolve differences on a range of issues involving democracy and human rights, free trade and aid on special and differential terms, before trying to find agreement on an end-of-conference document today.