CARICOM’s #1 agenda

leaders focus on DR; Haiti/Venezuela dispute

After two days of deliberations, leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have ended their 36th annual conference here with two items – the protracted border dispute between Guyana and its neighbour Venezuela, and the decision by the Dominican Republic to deport thousands of its residents of Haitian descent, following a 2013 Constitutional Court ruling – dominating the agenda.

On the matter of the dispute between the South American neighbours, Guyana’s President David Granger, in his maiden address to CARICOM, called for the withdrawal of a territorial decree issued by Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro in May, which he describes as an attempt by Caracas to annex its waters after oil was discovered in the area.

Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro
Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro

CARICOM met with a delegation from Venezuela in an attempt to settle the matter. Granger would later tell reporters he expected CARICOM to issue a “strongly worded” position on the issue.

However, at the end of the conference, the CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart stated that while the regional grouping stood behind Guyana, border disputes were inherently very difficult, “and therefore what one has to aim for as the dispute or the differences continue is for a cooling of tempers wherever they flare up.

“We do not think that there can be any compromise so far as Guyana’s territorial borders are concerned. But that’s not a matter for CARICOM to decide. The issue is part of a process at the moment and that process has to work itself out,” Stuart said.

The Barbadian leader noted that as an original signatory to the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established CARICOM, Guyana had proven its commitment to the regional integration movement, adding that President Granger, who was elected to office in May, was no exception to that commitment.

Stuart also noted that CARICOM had enjoyed strong ties with Venezuela and the 15-nation grouping was not about to disrupt that relationship in any way.

“At the same time, we have to insist that Venezuela plays by the rules, and of course there is no evidence available to us that Venezuela is not so committed,” Stuart said.

Several CARICOM member states are signatories to Venezuela’s Petrocaribe initiative under which countries can purchase oil from Caracas at concessionary rates. Six CARICOM states are also members of the Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas (ALBA).

Given CARICOM’s position of support for Guyana, there were questions as to how other member states would be affected by the current dispute.

However, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, called for maturity in dealing with the current impasse.

“It is not because you have a dispute over a piece of land as a neighbour that you must not speak to your neighbour,” he said.

“Those principles also infuse themselves into the conduct of nations. This is not an either or situation. Indeed, the multiplicity of relations, as pointed out by Prime Minister Stuart, are a cause to be celebrated to ensure that we don’t have active disruptions in violence,” Gonsalves noted.

As for President Granger, he said he was pleased to be able to convey to his people the message of CARICOM’s support for Georgetown.

“I will tell them that CARICOM is united is solidly behind ensuring there is no disruption to the peace and stability of the region, that it’s in support of the sovereignty of the states of the region, and that as far as the specific decree is concerned, that is the fly in the ointment, that is what brought us to the present situation,” he said.

The other vexing issue addressed at the summit was the uncertainty facing thousands of people of Haitian descent who are being forced out of the Dominican Republic.

Gonsalves gave an assurance that leaders were addressing the matter at the highest level.

“There is sometimes a sense that the leaders whom you elect, there is sometimes such a mistrust, and I don’t understand the basis upon which it is generated.

“Believe me, you have people of decency and principle and who are firm in the defence of Haitians and citizens of the Dominican Republic of Haitian descent.  So we must grasp that with clarity,” Gonsalves said.

The European Union’s (EU) blacklisting of several Caribbean countries as tax havens also drew strong condemnation from the leaders.

Prime Minister Stuart said the CARICOM Secretariat had written to EU officials on the matter.

“There’s consensus on this issue that the blacklisting of the countries named was wholly unjustified.

“The truth is that these jurisdictions . . . really cannot do anything right. Because whenever they think that they have obeyed every rule, they discover that the rules have changed and that they’re other rules still left to be obeyed,” he said.

Despite the concerns addressed at the just-concluded conference, Stuart hailed the talks as “successful”, adding that leaders also welcomed the establishment of a Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy, which will be the implementation hub for sustainable energy activities and projects within the Caribbean.

“We took the decision today that Barbados will be the host country. The government of Trinidad and Tobago also put on the table the establishment of a Caribbean Energy Fund, and the conference gave its full endorsement to that proposal,” Stuart said.

Regional leaders also met with the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma and the President of Panama Juan Carlos Valera.

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