Stuart chooses bajan students in Cuba over crucial Commonwealth vote
He was among nine Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders who attended last month’s Cuba-CARICOM Summit in Havana.
However, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart absented himself from a December 8 meeting, which was specifically called to decide on a regional candidate for the post of Secretary General of the 54-member Commonwealth.
Informed sources tell Barbados TODAY that instead of taking part in the critical vote, Stuart opted instead to meet with Barbadian students studying in Havana.
In his absence, nine of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries endorsed former Antigua and Barbuda High Commissioner to London Sir Ronald Sanders for the top job at the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat.
The Prime Minister could not be reached for comment today on the matter, neither could his Permanent Secretary Sonja Welch nor Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxine McClean, who is currently in China on official business. However, a senior member of the Stuart administration told Barbados TODAY “it clearly would have been more advantageous for us to put up a Caribbean candidate, but issues came up”. The official could not elaborate.
Regional sources say Stuart, who supports the Dominica-born, British legislator Baroness Patricia Scotland for the post, had been informed of the majority decision to support Sir Ron, who was Antigua and Barbuda’s nominee and also enjoyed the strong backing of the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Despite the outcome of the vote, the Barbadian leader was reportedly adamant that the matter should be put before the full gathering of CARICOM Heads of Government at their February inter-sessional meeting in the Bahamas.
Also absent from the Havana meeting, which occurred on the sidelines of the December 8-9 Cuba/CARICOM summit, were Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, who is supporting Trinidadian scholar Dr Bhoendradatt Tewari for the Commonwealth top post and her Dominican counterpart Roosevelt Skerrit, who has put forward Baroness Scotland for the job, which is due to be filled in time for the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Malta in November.
The developments in Havana led to the immediate withdrawal of Sir Ron, who is a resident of both Barbados and London, from the race in early December, leaving CARICOM’s candidature in serious doubt, with Scotland currently commanding the support of two heads and Tawari, one.
In announcing his withdrawal last month, Sir Ron said while he was grateful for the support he had received from nine of the 12 CARICOM governments, he was “deeply anguished” that the region had not been able to settle on one candidate.
“To be successful, the region must have a single candidate and should not delay any longer its entry into a campaign that has already started by others.
“I have no wish to be part of a fragmented process in the Commonwealth Caribbean at a time when our need for unity is so urgent in our own interest. Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my name from contention within the Caribbean for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General,” Sir Ron said in his official letter of withdrawal.
In a separate letter to Stuart and other CARICOM heads dated December 10, 2014, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said he agreed with the “principled” position taken by Sir Ron. Browne, who was CARICOM Chairman at the time, also complained that “the region has delayed too long on this matter, and further delay is inimical to a regional candidate’s chances.
“Therefore, notwithstanding the majority support for Sir Ronald and in full support of the principled regional position he has taken, my government hereby withdraws from the process,” the Antiguan leader added.
Since then, several regional and international officials have reacted to the decision, including a top official of the University of the West Indies, who said he was saddened by the development.
“Sad indeed that we remain so fragmented and uncertain about the future. I do hope that this is not the end of the matter,” the official said, adding that “the logic of Sir Ron’s choice is so clear.
“It’s further proof of fractured leadership.”
One regional United Nations official also said “ it is [with] deep sadness– near to tears — that I read of Sir Ron’s withdrawal”. He also expressed deep disappointment over what he termed “the continued vacillation of regional leaders on matters like these, especially in this case when your candidature is/was unassailable.
“What a pity,” he said.
Also lamenting the development was a former British government minister, who suggested that Sir Ron would have “made a very good Secretary-General. And do we need one!”.
While some countries are said to be adamant that the Caribbean cannot with any credibility field a sitting member of the British House of Lords as a candidate, and have also highlighted the fact that Trinidad already has two of the top jobs in the inter-governmental Commonwealth system, the Baroness remains of the view that the Caribbean can still unite around one candidate.
“You will know that I’ve worked with virtually all of the countries in the Commonwealth at one stage or another. I helped to design the family court in Trinidad, I worked with the governments on criminal justice, on civil law, on domestic violence, on children’s issues. On all those issues I’ve been able to make a difference,” the barrister and former British attorney general said in a radio interview last month.
Currently, there is no requirement in the Commonwealth for a regional candidate – each Commonwealth country is entitled to nominate a candidate.
In the past, CARICOM countries have ignored the consensus route in the elections for the Secretary General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States grouping and for the Deputy Secretary General post for the Organisation of American States.