Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mockery of Caricom’s DR stand?

FOR all the vehement outbursts by the Caribbean Community against the Dominican Republic’s highly controversial new immigration law that has effectively denationalised an estimated 200,000 DR citizens of Haitian descent, Caricom ambassadors to the Organisation of American States (OAS) last month quietly joined in electing the DR’s accredited envoy—Pedro Verges—as new chairman of the hemispheric body’s permanent council.

Why? The official explanation offered is that this election process has evolved as a tradition, the norm, based on a rotation system.

It may well be asked whether Caricom, which directly controls a bloc of 14 votes in the OAS, simply opted to abide by this rotation tradition without bothering about the evident contradiction with the principled position it has been articulating over recent months to cease doing “business as usual” in relation to the DR—unless willingness is shown to revoke the new controversial race-based immigration law.

While the future status of thousands of people of Haitian descent remains in limbo, affecting schooling, the right to work and travel, Caricom and the wider OAS seem to have resigned themselves to simply abiding by an election tradition that clearly mocks their own separate and collective condemnation of the DR’s repulsive new law.

On further inquiry as to whether there had been any prior consultation among the Caricom bloc of ambassadors which, incidentally, includes Haiti, before the election of the DR’s representative as new council chairman for a three-month period, I was unofficially advised that no such interest had been exhibited by the Haitian ambassador to the OAS.

This inaction, it should be noted, would perhaps come as a surprise only to those who have been publicly ignoring the lack of any meaningful initiatives by the administration of President Michel Martelly in Port-au-Prince.

Whatever the nature of his own leadership qualities, or the specific problems confronting his government, Mr Martelly seems quite content to let other Caricom leaders and governments do the talking and take relevant actions to expose the poisonous provisions of the new law that has been endorsed by the DR’s constitutional court.

The Martelly administration, while quietly going along with Caricom’s initiatives against the controversial law, appears to be suffering from a paralysis of spirit even when confronted with the opportunity to at least register a symbolic objection against the DR’s ambassador to the OAS being elected as new council chairman because it is a tradition.

Surely both the OAS secretary general (a former foreign minister of Chile) and assistant secretary general, Albert Ramdin (Suriname’s former assistant secretary general of Caricom) would be conscious of the critical concern already been expressed by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the European Union.

It is also pertinent to recall Caricom’s own early rejection of the DR’s court endorsement of the new law, its decision to cease engaging in “business as usual” with the government in Santo Domingo and, at a wider level, to also inform the EU of its suspension of contacts with the Cariforum mechanism by which it collaborates with the DR to do business with Europe.

It is amazing that after all of that, plus the recent letter from current community chairman, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves inviting the EU president, Jose Manuel Borroso, to initiate engagement with the DR with a view to influencing a critical review of the repugnant law, that Caricom’s experienced envoys—among them Haiti’s—should have automatically endorsed an old tradition in the election of the DR’s OAS ambassador as new council chairman.

OAS Secretary General Insulza has stated that the period of the new chairman, Pedro Verges, “will be key to the institution” because this year “we will make the necessary reforms in the OAS”—a reference, according to the organisation’s “strategic vision” currently being addressed.

It may well be asked whether the time has come to also review the rotation system in choosing the three-month chairmanship so that critical criteria consideration could be given to enactment of national domestic laws in the candidate’s country that make a mockery of fundamental concepts of human rights and human dignity.