Uncle Sam blends war ' warning' with CARIFESTA 'help'
Analysis by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
March 28, 2003

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IT IS not exactly the classic carrot and stick approach.

But the George Bush administration seems to be blending pressure tactics on some Caribbean Community governments to fall in line with its new doctrine of "regime change" by military force in Iraq, with canvassing assistance for the Caribbean's premier cultural event, CARIFESTA, scheduled for August in Suriname.

Consequently, there is the interesting coincidence of a "helping hand" at work out of United States embassies in CARICOM states for the Eighth Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts from August 25-30 in Suriname.

At the same time, some embassies are forwarding a "diplomatic note" from the U.S. State Department telling regional governments to oppose any initiative for a special session of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the war on Iraq.

Even ordinary Caribbean folks may well ask: What's really going on with "Uncle Sam?"

The U.S. diplomatic note relating to war on Iraq, has been provoking both sharp and muted responses in CARICOM capitals over the past week, and before the start Wednesday of the special session of the UN Security Council scheduled to end last evening.

Bush's doctrine of "regime change" by military might, that led to the enforcement of the war unleashed with seismic force on Iraq, had inspired the U.S. State Department's note to member countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, among them CARICOM states.

It "urged" them to either vote against or abstain from any resolution proposed for approval by a special session of the General Assembly.

This arrogance, which not even the niceties of diplomatic language can conceal, has clearly been motivated by the fear of the new "empire" for colonial dominance enduring an anticipated condemnatory vote at the UN General Assembly, having already been frustrated in getting its way in the 15-member Security Council.

The damage control that some of the Bush people in the region have been attempting, following exposure of the diplomatic note, carries a threat that cannot be ignored.

Paragraph six states:

"Given the current highly charged atmosphere, the United States would regard a General Assembly session on Iraq as unhelpful and as directed against the United States. Please know that this question, as well as your position on it, is important to the United States..."

That's the way the world's sole superpower -- now having some "shock and awe" of its own from Iraqi resistance in a war we all know Bush will eventually "win" -- goes about "urging" (sic) small and poor nations like our own how to vote.

Basically, how to conduct their foreign policy at the UN on very sensitive issues, like the current U.S.-led war against a sovereign state to enforce -- at all cost -- "regime change".


In contrast, though less puzzling, is the involvement of U.S. diplomatic missions, including those in the Surinamese capital, Paramaribo, and in Port-of-Spain, in extending a "helping hand" in preparations for the weeklong CARIFESTA in Suriname.

First, there was this e-mail forwarded -- not to me -- from the Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo, Vernelle Trim, explaining how Suriname was hoping to boost its "under-developed tourism industry by 3,000 to 5,000 CARIFESTA visitors..."

The message went on to state: 'CARIFESTA's organizers welcome any technical or financial assistance as well as participation of artists...Much is riding on Suriname's ability to effectively host CARIFESTA".

Responses have been invited to be made not, as would normally be expected, to the relevant Surinamese authorities, but to the U.S. Public Affairs Officer in Paramaribo, with e-mail address provided. Also mobilised to help is the Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Port-of-Spain, Rose-Blass Stacey.

I have no doubt that Suriname, one of CARICOM's plural societies, mired in its social, economic and political problems, would welcome any help it could obtain to make CARIFESTA a success.

Nevertheless, two questions are relevant here: first, to what extent has the official Eighth CARIFESTA (Suriname) Committee, in which the Community Secretariat and the Suriname Ministry of Education and Community Development, as well as its Director of Culture, are influential participants, have been succeeding in popularising this year's festival in the consciousness of Caribbean peoples?

Secondly, why diplomatic missions of the U.S. had to become involved in the promotion of and seeking financial assistance for the scheduled CARIFESTA in the former Dutch colony?

As I pondered on the reactions of Caribbean artistes, cultural and community organisations receiving such a "message" from an official of a U.S. diplomatic mission in the region, I was led to ask if this kind of "assistance" was sought by the Suriname Government, or the CARICOM Secretariat, or both?

It would be useful to learn whether such assistance was also requested of representatives of other diplomatic missions located in Paramaribo.

One can well appreciate the assistance of the U.S. in the participation of CARIFESTA of say its colonial territories U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. But certainly not for CARICOM states such as Trinidad and Tobago, with its acquired specialised knowledge in hosting, not just its annual Carnival but previous CARIFESTAS.

I sought an explanation from the Community Secretariat in Georgetown, and learnt that the officer directly dealing with the forthcoming CARIFESTA was on "travel duty".

So, I turned to the Suriname Ministry of Education and Community Development. I learnt from a very friendly officer that the U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo was indeed "helping out with some logistics", as she explained, for the coming CARIFESTA.

I wonder if the U.S. ever became so involved in seeking financial and technical assistance, and promotion, of any of the seven CARIFESTAS we have staged across the region since the grand festival had its inauguration in Guyana in 1972. But then, we are living in different times.

A time when, superpower U.S. is cheerily blending a "helping hand" on regional cultural promotion with a not too subtle warning on how sovereign Caribbean states should vote, at this time of "regime change" by military might, if a special session of the UN General Assembly takes place to deal with the war on Iraq.

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