SEEN UP NORTH: So much more to GA sessions
Diplomatic sages often underscore a simple equation: foreign policy is just an extension of domestic policy.
In essence, they argue, a country’s national concerns take precedence over foreign relations and usually dictate the stance it takes on the global stage.
Nowhere and at no time is that more evident than during the annual session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York.
It’s an opportunity for Heads of Government and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, in particular, from many of the world’s most powerful and smallest states to occupy the same podium for at least 30 minutes or less and focus international attention on the issues that concern them, especially the domestic concerns.
So when United States President Barack Obama addressed the world body ten days ago, he put a high premium on human trafficking, while Barbados’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, spoke among other things about the perils of international trafficking in guns, ammunition and drugs and how they were affecting Barbados.
“Citizen security remains a major concern for Barbados,” she said. “The CARICOM sub-region has become a major transit and destination point for trafficking of illicit drugs and firearms.”
On the other hand, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller zeroed in on the abuse of women and children, a national issue.
“It is disgraceful that at this juncture of world history, we should see the emergence of a form of modern-day slavery which renders women, girls and boys to be traded as chattel,” Simpson said.
But the General Assembly isn’t simply about making long-winded speeches, often before a sparsely populated hall. It enables leaders and foreign ministers to be seen back home via television addressing the UN, and to have bilateral talks with their foreign counterparts on issues that affect both countries or regions but wouldn’t hold the attention of the General Assembly.
In addition, Caribbean cabinet ministers use their presence in the city to meet with the diaspora, holding town hall meetings to talk about what’s happening back home and to answer questions posed by nationals.
Some also hold receptions for specially invited guests. There is considerable small talk, not to mention consumption of delicacies as well as wine and other spirits.
That was the case last weekend when St Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony came to the city, spoke at the UN but spent several hours at St Lucia House in Brooklyn addressing hundreds of nationals about the state of the economy back home, the 24 per cent unemployment rate, the incidence of violent crime and what he plans to do to get “the economy moving again”.
In Barbados’ case, it has become something of a tradition, dating back almost 20 years, for the visiting Prime Minister or Minister of Foreign Affairs to host a reception at the Barbados Government offices in Manhattan. Scores of Bajans attended and so did the ambassadors of Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana and St Kitts-Nevis.
In a short speech, McClean referred to the diaspora conference which was held in August and attracted hundreds of Bajans living in North America, Britain and elsewhere.
“It was an extremely successful event and we were able to do a number of things. Of particular importance, we were able to bring some of the families together of Barbadians living in London, New York, California, Miami, whatever,” said the minister.
“We had a very good delegation from Panama and also were able to bring some of the young people of Barbadian ancestry from Cuba. It really was an extremely touching event. We explored a number of things. We looked at investment opportunities. We were able to showcase a mix of our cultural offerings from the perspective of what there is we can do to commercialize our cultural industries.”
McClean spoke about the several diplomatic meetings with officials from different areas of the world.
“In our bilaterals we have been looking at potential investors. There are places in the world where money still flows from the wealth of those countries and we anticipate we will have in the next few months some tangible indicators of new investment,” she said.
She turned to the Barbadian domestic economic situation, asserting that the island was “fortunate not to have, without naming some of our [Caribbean] countries, unemployment levels of up to 25 to 30 per cent. That does not characterize Barbados”.
She was quick to refer to the “safety nets” for Barbadians who were facing challenges.