OUR CARIBBEAN: Caricom’s dilemma over DR stand
TODAY, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) ministers of foreign affairs are scheduled to be involved in a meeting at United Nations (UN) headquarters where specific challenges facing this region are to be addressed.
Their scheduled meeting, under the umbrella of COFCOR – Council of Foreign and Community Affairs – will take place on the margins of the current new session of the UN General Assembly.
The foreign ministers are expected to deal with outstanding “house-cleaning” matters that have become more than irritants. Among these would be resolving the impasse that has developed between the 15-member Community and the Dominican Republic (DR).
The latter has a structured working relationship with CARICOM in doing business with the European Union (EU) via the mechanism known as CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the DR).
In addressing that impasse in this column on September 10 under the question Flying In CARICOM’S Face? I had referenced the recent visit to the DR by Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy Asot Michael and his meeting with that country’s minister for regional integration.
I did so in the context of CARICOM’s officially stated position against “doing business as usual” with the DR, knowing that some CARICOM countries had significant levels of trade with it.
CARICOM’s caveat for resorting to its “no business as usual” stance resides in its position for the government in Santo Domingo to remove provisions in its new naturalisation laws that governments, organisations and social commentators within our Community view as racist-based discrimination against thousands of immigrants of Haitian origin whose original ancestry is traceable to slave labour on DR’s sugar plantations.
It does not appear that the member countries have been appropriately sensitised to CARICOM’s “no business as usual” dictum with the DR unless changes are made to the controversial naturalisation laws.
In a personal note forwarded in response to my column, new Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne who, incidentally, is current chairman of CARICOM, stressed: “My government and I are as troubled as you are by the naturalisation laws that adversely affect the status of persons of Hatian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic. Further, we are pledged to seek fair treatment for such persons in keeping with our commitment to various conventions of the United Nations to which we are a signatory.”
Prime Minister Browne said he had “a peculiar and special interest in this matter of naturalisation laws”, explaining that Antigua and Barbuda “is host to the largest number of people from the Dominican Republic, in volume and per capita terms, who live in CARICOM countries . . . .
“We accord every right,” he added, “to such persons who are resident in our country, or who have become citizens by descent, birth or naturalisation . . . . Given this reality, Antigua and Barbuda has particular, peculiar and special reasons for maintaining open lines of dialogue and cooperation with the government in the Dominican Republic.”
Well, perhaps Prime Minister Browne is well placed, particularly as current CARICOM chairman, to initiate discussions to determine what specific initiatives have actually been taken to give practical substance to the Community’s stand of “no business as usual” with the DR – relevant unless changes are made to its controversial naturalisation laws.
For instance, having first decided, earlier this year at the meeting in Port of Spain of the CARICOM Bureau – which functions as a management committee between heads of government meetings – to seek an opinion from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), considering that it was openly strongly critical of the naturalisation legislation, was the decision to obtain the requested opinion pursued by the Community Secretariat?
Secondly, did the heads of government initiate any new initiative to reaffirm CARICOM’s “no business as usual” stand that they had collectively adopted at last July’s summit in Antigua? Who are the ones – among officials and politicians – to share the blame for non-action in getting the particular opinion from the IACHR which, after all, is an autonomous institution of the Organisation of American States?
Surely this seems a desirable course in new initiatives to resolve a serious problem of discriminatory naturalisation laws in the DR that will not simply go away by either rhetoric of convenience or angry political posturings.
•Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.