Another Caricom miss
It was clearly too much to hope for a united Caricom position on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Last week, in response to a call by Brian Meeks, UWI Professor of Social and Political Change at the Mona Campus, former Antigua prime minister Lester Bird expressed his pessimism saying “you very seldom ever get Caricom on a matter of this significance to have unanimity on it.… I really do not believe that Caricom has the capacity to come to a unanimous decision as to how we should move forward.”
Mr Bird obviously understands his Caricom colleagues.
In the days since his comments on the issue, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines have issued separate statements, followed by Trinidad and Tobago. The positions of all three governments are close enough to suggest that, if widened to include other governments in the region, the issue of Syria might have elicited an all-too rare achievement for Caricom of consensus among the governments of the region.
The substance of the position expressed by the respective governments is reasonable and may well conform with general public opinion throughout the region on how the world should treat with the chemical murder of people in Syria. So the question is why was Caricom unable to hammer out a common position that would strengthen the region’s hand and enhance its reputation in matters of international diplomacy. Could this be a failure of the Caricom executive management in Guyana or the consequence of the habit of insularity among our governments? Or is there some other explanation?
The individualism represented by the separate statements flies in the face of the recent findings reported by the Caricom Change Facilitation Team which has been travelling up and down the region, talking to a range of people in order to inform the Community’s five-year (2014-2018) strategic plan. The report has found “a passion for regionalism” with the people of the region wanting the heads of governments to “make hard decisions, through the planning process, that would secure the future of Caricom”.
Far from securing the future of the regional bloc, the governments’ insistence on individual endeavour in situations where a united front is clearly indicated, only serves to undermine Caricom’s authority in the eyes of the diplomatic world.
As for the situation in Syria, the world continues to hold its breath as progress is recorded, inch by inch, in the matter of that country’s possession of chemical weapons. The entire world, including US President Barack Obama whose threat of military action has succeeded in bringing the Syrian government to the negotiation table, has a lot invested in the outcome of dialogue. The tourism-based economies of Caricom know, first-hand, the consequences of war which include the interruption of tourist travel and dramatic hikes in the price of oil. It is clear from the T&T Government’s statement that this concern is understood and shared.
All the more reason, therefore, to deplore this missed opportunity to speak as one