Rickey Singh column

Guyana Chronicle
May 9, 2004

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THE SURINAMESE-born Caribbean diplomat who is in line to become the next Assistant Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) has been busy this past week in Miami and Washington holding aloft the banner for CARICOM as an "integral part" of the international politics in the Western Hemisphere.

At 46, Albert R. Ramdin who has an impressive career in public service that also spans offices with the Caribbean Community and the OAS, could be the third Caribbean national to hold the number two spot at the 34-member hemispheric organisation in June 2005.

Previous nationals of CARICOM who have served with distinction, each for two consecutive terms as Assistant Secretary of the OAS were Barbados-born Val Mc Comie, and, secondly, Trinidad and Tobago's Christopher Thomas.

Now, for the first time in the 30-year history of CARICOM, a national of Suriname, which became a member of the Community some nine years ago, is widely expected to be the new OAS Assistant Secretary General as a consensus candidate.

Within days of last month's Seventh Meeting of CARICOM's Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) in Barbados that commended his candidacy for endorsement at the coming 25th CARICOM Summit in Grenada in July, Ramdin was engaged in presentations at a retreat of US Congressional Staff in Miami and later participated in a forum of the influential think-tank, Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

At what was basically an intellectual ideas-sharing occasion, the Retreat of US Congressional Staff reportedly learnt of Ramdin's perspectives on US-Caribbean relations in the post-Cold War phase, with a particular focus on current developments and conflict situations that included Cuba and Haiti.

While the May 1 Congressional Staff Retreat in Miami was largely a private affair that benefitted from the Surinamese envoy's ideas on how and why concerted efforts should be made to improve Caribbean-US relations, the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD) forum in Washington on May 5 was of an open, public nature.

The IAD profiles itself as "the premier centre for policy analysis, exchange and communication on issues in Western Hemisphere affairs" and encourages cooperative responses to key hemispheric problems and opportunities.

Effective Vehicle
At last Wednesday's panel focus on `CARICOM in Actioní, the Jamaica-born Caribbean economist and diplomat, Richard Bernal, Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) also spoke on trade issues of importance to this region.

Ramdin, currently Suriname's ambassador to the OAS and Adviser on Caribbean Affairs to OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria - who retires from office next month - presented an overview of CARICOM's more recent role in helping to strengthen the Inter-American System in terms of inter-state relations as well as "the increasing relevance of collective policy-making as an effective vehicle for consensus building, shared action and advancing principled positions".

The former CARICOM Assistant Secretary General for Foreign and Community Relations feels that the insertion of sovereign Caribbean nations in the global economy has opened up opportunities for market expansion as well as "threats towards the development of indigenous production systems".

Additionally, he has pointed to opportunities provided by CARICOM, although a comparatively small player, for "political engagement and 'power-play', together with possibilities of conflict and disagreement".

Acknowledging that it remains as a "work in progress", Ramdin told the IAD forum that "fundamental principles underlying and determining" CARICOM's foreign policy, can be identified as: peace, solidarity, proximity and security (in hemispheric relations), as well as "pragmatism" in response to global and hemispheric developments".

Conscious of current tension in CARICOM - USA relations, aggravated over developments in Haiti, but also including the Community's unwavering solidarity with Cuba, Ramdin offered an interesting observation:

Relations with the USA are "proximity and security-driven", he said, while "solidarity and proximity" are guiding principles in the shaping of political relations and engagement with Cuba, Haiti and, to a lesser extent, Venezuela.

Guiding Principles
In what was viewed as an extension of concerns expressed at the earlier Congressional Staff Retreat on the need for positive elements of engagement in US-CARICOM relations, the Surinamese envoy has given friendly advice to a Washington administration:

While no one would argue that CARICOM-US relations should be "a positive and friendly one for both sides", it is "wrong", he feels, to advocate the perception that "good CARICOM-US relations benefit only CARCOM and, as a consequence, "bad relations will be detrimental to the CARICOM nations".

Ramdin thinks that if "convinced and supported", CARICOM as a group can be of "major importance" in not only translating US foreign policy, but also in increasing its acceptance such policy beyond this sub-region and hemisphere.

He also noted that CARICOM's involvement with Haiti - pre and post-Jean Bertrand Aristide - offers a historic "test case" in demonstrating its ability to successfully help resolve a political crisis in its own "backyard".

In this regard, he has made a point of immediate relevance, namely that as of now, "there is no fixed set of rules and guiding principles in the political, legal and operational structures of the Caribbean Community on how to respond to conflicts..."

It is an observation that would hold no surprise to the framers and implementers of CARICOM policies, but one that perhaps should be given more focused attention as the Community becomes increasingly caught up with sensitive conflict resolutions.

For the Suriname Government of President Runaldo Venetiaan, ambassador Ramdin - who is married to the Trinidadian national Charmaine Baksh - brings to the candidacy for OAS Assistant Secretary General "extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy, intimate knowledge of the Inter-American System and proven leadership ability and management expertise" as well as profound respect and understanding of the role of the OAS in hemispheric developments in general.

Albert Ramdin is clearly losing no time in profiling the role of CARICOM as he understands it in an integrated partnership role in hemispheric developments, as he looks forward to being elected to the OAS number two post.