Saturday, December 16, 2017

Caricom’s crucial UN split

Rickey Singh logo55

Mark Fraser

 POLITICS, they say, could be “one hell of a thing”, with myriad somersaults, contradictions and more.

Last month, which incidentally marked the 11th anniversary  of America’s military invasion of Iraq, was chosen by the administration of US President Barack Obama as the time to engineer a winning vote in the UN General Assembly to condemn Moscow’s involvement in Crimea’s secession from Ukraine.

And not since the US military invasion of Grenada back in October 1983 were Caricom partners to reveal such a crucial foreign policy division as they did last Thursday, with Trinidad and Tobago for one being among the quartet of regional states to give political joy to Uncle Sam with a “yes” vote.

While a General Assembly vote is non-binding—in contrast to the UN Security Council  where Russia, like the US and China, Britain and France, all have veto powers—the 14 member states of our Caribbean Community were to break ranks on the  vital issue of foreign policy co-ordination when the  vote was taken.  

Some 100 of the UN’s 193 member states voted “Yes” in favour of the resolution, while 58 opted to abstain; 11 voted “No” and there were those who failed to show up.

In this hemisphere, the Caricom quartet of “Yes” votes apart from T&T’s, came from Barbados, The  Bahamas and Haiti. The “Nos” included Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Among the 58 abstentions were Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia and St Vincent while at the wider international level, there were Brazil, South Africa, India and Pakistan as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. 

If the latter two have had more troubles with America’s devastating “war politics” than they bargained for, the most surprising “absentee” country  for the  crucial period of voting was undoubtedly Israel. For Caricom, the no-shows were  Grenada—invaded by the US on October 25, 1983—and Belize, which remains locked in territorial conflict with neighbouring Guatemala.      

I cannot recall any Caricom leader or foreign minister taking time to explain anything of relevance to the people in their national jurisdiction in relation to the implications of the issue for territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Not either before or after the dominant pro-Russia people of Crimea had freely cast their overwhelming referendum vote—some 97 per cent—to secede from Ukraine and return to the embrace of Russia.  

In this context the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, whose Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, is current chairman of Caricom, did  well in the release of  a statement which noted that “one of the essential contributions to be made by small states like ours is the tireless advocacy for timeless principles enshrined in international law….We consider it our solemn obligation not only to articulate  these principles but to ensure that they are applied consistently and upheld in the international community as universal truths…”

I am aware of strenuous private initiatives made among governments to ensure a Caricom consensus for the UN vote, consistent with a shared commitment to foreign policy coordination. Regrettably, consensus proved elusive. There was also the intensive lobbying efforts by the US to garner support in favour of the resolution. They succeeded with the named quartet of Community partners.

No need to dwell now on why and how America and Britain played key roles years earlier to achieve Kosovo’s secession from Serbia. But surely the people of Caricom deserve to be treated with respect by their respective  governments with at least a statement providing the rationale for voting at the UN on vital issues pertaining  to political sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

After all, bitterness still lingers on Caricom’s division over America’s military invasion of Grenada when Cold War anti-communist propaganda was used to justify that unprecedented development in our region amid Washington’s self-serving propaganda against Cuba and Nicaragua as  being part of a conspiracy by the then Soviet Union to spread communism in the Western Hemisphere. 

Now the US and its major European partners are busy pointing to “threats” posed by Russia to Ukraine because of the annexation of Crimea. The bottom line, as viewed by some informed international observers, is the careful orchestration by the US  and its major allies to preserve their dominance in various spheres of influence.  

It should, however, be evident that small states like those comprising Caricom owe it to themselves to be ever vigilant against being disadvantaged in their quest to secure  and preserve the political and economic space they need for survival with dignity and freedom. 

They should not be expected to surrender their own fundamental rights in order to win favours from the big, rich and powerful. That’s not what friends are for.

 * Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born, Barbados-based Caribbean journalist.