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On making a mockery of regionalism

The coordination of foreign policy among member states was one of the principal reasons for establishing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) back in 1973. The founding fathers felt that by arriving at common positions and speaking with a single voice on the world stage, they would be much more effective and achieve greater benefits than if individual countries acted on their own.

Following a deepening of the process of regional integration with the launch, on January 1, 2006, of the first phase of what eventually is expected to be
a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), a promotional jingle broadcast on radio stations across the region told listeners that a CSME objective was giving the region “a stronger voice in the global community”.

Time and time again, however, regional governments have deviated from this commitment to arrive at common foreign policy positions to deal with issues involving the outside world. As a result, the region has stood divided. The latest case involved agreement on the choice of a single candidate to fill the post of Secretary General of the 53-nation Commonwealth.

Initially, the region put forward three candidates: Baroness Patricia Scotland, the Dominican-born British peer who also served as that country’s Attorney General; Sir Ron Sanders, Guyanese-born Antiguan diplomat and former Trinidad and Tobago government minister and academic; and Dr Bhoe Tewarie. With the withdrawal of Dr Tewarie from the race after the change of government in Port of Spain a few months ago, the field was reduced to two.


As the two remaining candidates were backed by different governments of the subregional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) –– Baroness Scotland by Dominica and Sir Ron by Antigua and Barbuda –– the issue of deciding on a single Caribbean candidate proved divisive within the nine-member grouping. As a result, the names of both candidates were entered into the election and came up against a third hailing from the African nation of Botswana.

At last week’s Commonwealth summit in Malta, Baroness Scotland, who also had the backing of Barbados, was chosen. With the weight of the British establishment behind her, she obviously had a distinct advantage from the outset, even though some media described Sir Ron as the front runner.

On the eve of the election, Sir Ron was the subject of an exclusive article in the British newspaper The Telegraph that levelled a number of misconduct allegations which Sir Ron had previously denied.

The timing and intent of the article were clear –– to derail his chances. Sir Ron withdrew following the first round of balloting in which he polled the least number of votes. Antigua and Barbuda then threw its support behind Baroness Scotland.

It is open to debate whether the government of Antigua and Barbuda exercised sound judgement in pressing ahead with Sir Ron’s candidature.
Did it not envisage the likelihood of these old allegations being resurrected?

In a case like this, the perception of the candidates would have played a major role in the final decision. Even though Sir Ron proclaimed his innocence of the alleged wrongdoing, the fact of the matter is that any candidate for such a high-profile international position must be like Caesar’s wife –– above suspicion. It is unfortunate that the Caribbean was unable to agree on a single candidate ahead of the Malta summit. It would have transmitted a powerful message of regional unity to the Commonwealth.

What is the purpose of CARICOM if it is unable to deliver on a fundamental objective? Another foreign policy issue on which the region remains deeply divided relates to the two Chinas. Some countries have diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, which is recognized by the United Nations, while others have relations with Taiwan, considered by Beijing to be
a “renegade province”.

The two-China issue came about after the 1949 defeat of the nationalist government by the communists. The nationalists retreated to the island
of Taiwan while the communists solidified their hold on the mainland where they have remained ever since. The Caribbean division on China is heavily influenced by “aid dollars” diplomacy.

Despite disagreement, the Caribbean still succeeded in getting one of its candidates to head the Commonwealth. It may not always enjoy the same luck on other important issues. Our countries need to stick to the original spirit of the Treaty Of Chaguaramas. Division can never be to our advantage in a global environment where small states like ours are at a disadvantage.
Unity is our only hope of strength.

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