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Chance of consensus on flight Mandela

By Mark Fraser

Assuming that Caribbean Prime Ministers who made the trip solo to South Africa decide to take the ride back home on the soon-to-be-christened Nelson Mandela Caribbean Airlines plane, the opportunity might arise for an informal mini-Caricom caucus on some critical regional issues.
Three burning issues immediately suggest themselves: Intra-regional travel under the terms of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas for facilitating the Caribbean Single Market; the denationalisation of persons of Haitian descent by the Dominican Republic’s Constitution court; and the Caribbean Court of Justice to which several countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, maintain an ambivalent relationship.
While much is being made in some quarters about the routine courtesy offer of a ride to and from South Africa by the T&T Prime Minister to fellow Caricom leaders, the real achievement would be if the flying prime ministers were to find common ground on these burning issues.
In two weeks, Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s stint as Caricom chairman will come to an end, bringing the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonzalves, into the chair. In tallying the achievements scored under her stewardship, the one significant development has been the uncharacteristically tough statement issued by Caricom last month on the situation in the Dominican Republic. However, even Mrs Persad-Bissessar would agree that the credit for pushing Caricom on this matter belongs to St Vincent’s Ralph Gonzalves. Until he spoke out, Caricom was quite content to hide behind the cloak of the Dominican Republic’s sovereignty.
On the issue of intra-regional travel, much work remains to be done. Travelling together would have given PM Persad-Bissessar and her Jamaican counterpart, Portia Simpson-Miller, a face-to-face opportunity to build on the recent discussions between their respective Ministers of Foreign Affairs. At least publicly, Mrs Persad-Bissessar has taken no issue with the intemperate intervention by National Security Minister Gary Griffith following those Kingston talks. An informal chat between her and Mrs Simpson-Miller not only has the potential to repair any damage caused by Minister Griffith’s outbursts; it might also yield a more coherent understanding of the implications of the CCJ judgment for the region’s immigration system.
This issue should resonate with all Caricom leaders, including Guyana’s Donald Ramotar, whose citizens have complained for years about discriminatory profiling by immigration officers. The Bahamas’ Perry Christie who made the trip from Port of Spain also has his hands full with a similar challenge from Bahamians of Haitian descent in his country.
Shanique Myrie’s successful challenge before the Caribbean Court of Justice has opened a new door to justice and brought the CCJ alive in the imagination of Caricom people. Countries, like T&T, which have been resisting the progression away from the Privy Council towards a fully Caribbean justice system, might find themselves unprepared for the sweeping forces of history.
A few hours huddled on the Mandela might yield more consensus than a few regional summits. Especially, if it is lucky to be touched by the wisdom and spirit of Nelson Mandela in whose name they crossed the Atlantic.
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