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OUR CARIBBEAN: Little word from foreign ministers


Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: Little word from foreign ministers

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No official statement was released yesterday at the time of writing this column on last week’s special consultation of CARICOM Foreign Ministers at United Nations headquarters in New York.

They were scheduled to review various challenges and problems facing this region that require collective resolution during and beyond the current session of the UN General Assembly.

Their meeting was preceded by a two-day Climate Change Summit arranged by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon against the backdrop of the recent Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa.

Of course, there were selective reporting of statements by some leaders of governments which, not surprisingly, avoided referencing any outstanding matters of importance. For instance, the issue of widening tension between CARICOM and the Dominican Republic (DR) resulting from that country’s controversial new naturalisation laws that discriminate against thousands of immigrants of Haitian origin.

In addressing, at separate and collective meetings, this burden facing immigrants of Haitian origin, CARICOM foreign ministers and heads of governments had decided against “doing business as usual” with the DR until it remedies the problem of effecting relevant changes in its naturalisation laws deemed by opponents to be a racially-based affront to basic human rights.

The problem is that, for all the official rhetoric and militant posturings, there seems to be no relevant guidelines on precisely how to effectively implement CARICOM’s stand. True, the Community’s leaders declared, at their summit this past July in Antigua, the intention to also seek a legal opinion from the Inter-American Human Rights Court (not its commission, as wrongly stated in last week’s column).

The question is whether any official initiative has been taken by the CARICOM Secretariat or the CARICOM Bureau (the latter functions as a management committee between heads of government meetings) with a view to securing this legal opinion from the court. If not, why not?

After all, CARICOM governments and the Georgetown-based Community Secretariat would be aware that a number of Community partner states and the DR have been strengthening their trade links. They must now also contend with new initiatives by regional airline LIAT to improve business relations with the DR.

The cynics may be laughing. Except that this is no laughing matter. The detractors of CARICOM should also objectively consider that even before the criticisms from either the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) or the Robert Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights against the DR’s naturalisation laws were publicly made known, the 15-member Community had taken the initiative to directly engage the DR’s government on its serious reservations over the controversial provisions in the naturalisation laws.

Well, it so happens that the foreign ministers’ failure to address the “no-business-as-usual” controversy with the DR also affected other urgent matters requiring their collective decision. One involves the choice of a suitable candidate as new secretary general of the 54-member Commonwealth; the other for the candidature of new secretary general of the 79-member African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations.

When I last checked, there were three recommended candidates from within CARICOM for interview as new secretary general of the ACP. They are reported to be nationals of Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

For the post of Commonwealth secretary general, it appears that the government in Port of Spain may have overlooked the implications of seeking this office while a national of that country is currently serving as deputy secretary general. Among the contenders also for this post is a current member of the United Kingdom Parliament and former cabinet minister, Baroness Patricia Scotland. She was born in Dominica and grew up in the UK.

The baroness is now being actively supported by the government of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit who unsuccessfully sought to have her meet with CARICOM foreign ministers at what turned out to be a truncated scheduled one-day special consultation on pressing regional issues at UN headquarters last Thursday.

The third known contender for Commonwealth secretary general is a national of Antigua and Barbuda.

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.

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