Monday, March 10, 2014

Fred Mitchell's Saving CARICOM

Saving CARICOM pt.4

• This commentary is taken from a lecture given by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell on February 6 at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago. Mitchell’s address was on “Saving CARICOM”.

This is said against the backdrop of the much-publicized speech of the American Secretary of State John Kerry to the Organization of American States (OAS) on November 18, 2013: “... In the early days of our republic, the United States made a choice about its relationship with Latin America. President James Munroe, who was also a former secretary of state, declared that the United States would unilaterally, and as a matter of fact, act as the protector of the region. The doctrine that bears his name asserted our authority to step in and oppose the influence of European powers in Latin America. And throughout our nation’s history, successive presidents have reinforced that doctrine and made a similar choice.

“Today, however, we have made a different choice. The era of the Munroe Doctrine is over. The relationship – that’s worth applauding. That’s not a bad thing. The relationship we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It’s about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests we share.”

The proof of this declaration by Mr. Kerry will of course be in the pudding. The recent developments with CELAC where the sub-hemisphere has determined to meet without the United States and Canada is a most interesting development. It parallels the Organization of American States but is much more Latin focused. The United States remains in a state of antipathy with Cuba. Cuba, although now welcomed back to the OAS has said it will not take the seat at the OAS table. CELAC includes Cuba.

Mr. Kerry’s statements come against the bitter experience of CARICOM in its work with the democratic forces in Haiti during the presidency of Jean Bertrand Aristide. CARICOM was asked to help and then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica was in the chair. CARICOM was with U.S. and other developed country assistance helping with the dispute between Mr. Aristide and his opponents which was turning increasingly violent. Mr. Aristide had conceded all that the forces arrayed against him, including the developed countries, had asked. We went to the United Nations to ask for the protection of U.N. troops to save the elected government of Haiti. The U.N. equivocated and said no troops were available. Yet on February 29, 2006, Colin Powell called me at my home to say that Mr. Aristide had taken refuge behind a U.S. Security mission and had resigned and was on his way to a destination unknown. Following his departure from Haiti, troops were suddenly available to restore order. It has left a bitter pill in the mouths of many of our CARICOM leaders and the experience is less than 10 years old.

In The Bahamas we say: “You only know me when you need me.”

The other and more interesting public policy issue to watch in our relations with the United States is our policy both in the CELAC context and in the CARICOM context to marijuana. In the Mexican/CARICOM dialogue in Barbados last year, the then President of Mexico Filipe Calderon spoke to a new approach to anti-drug policy, one which takes a market approach rather than a law enforcement approach. It seeks the decriminalization or legalization of the use of marijuana with the appropriate regulation and taxes as opposed to the resources used to lock up young males and criminalizing them in the process without any hindrance to the use of drugs. The U.S. domestic market is also changing on this. CARICOM has the issue of medical marijuana on its next agenda for heads of government in St. Vincent. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. federal policy will change and what that will mean for the CARICOM region. I say this because the U.S. relationship and interest in this region seems almost entirely based on national security and in particular anti-drug interdiction.

The Latins are very much interested in the support of the Caribbean countries for their position on the islands they call the Malvinas, also known as the Falklands, against the backdrop of our being former British colonies in the main and the supposed automatic support for the British position. This new CELAC relationship will be very important going forward.

I would suggest also that it will be helpful to this region and hemisphere if Mr. Kerry is able to translate his declaration into a more normal relationship with Cuba, particularly given the moves toward market reforms which are now evidenced in that latter country.

It would seem to make sense given that the United States has no such diplomatic issues with China. At a recent meeting in Trinidad 2013, the American vice president made it clear that the United States had no objection to our relationships with China, and I believe the U.S. view is very important. China has been clear about its objectives in the region. For the Caribbean, a region which is starved for capital, and with the traditional friends the U.S., Canada and Europe either unable or unwilling to provide the capital locked into a cycle of low growth and high debt, China has been a savior.

The Chinese position was given in a paper policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean. They are interested in acquisition of raw materials and in political cooperation to support the one China policy. In exchange, they will support Latin America and the Caribbean in their national development goals and have set aside significant capital for access by the hemisphere to support that development.

Paragraph IV (5) of the paper reads as follows: “The Chinese government will continue to strengthen coordination and cooperation on international issues with Latin American and Caribbean countries, and maintain regular consultation with them on major international and regional issues. The two sides will continue to support each other on such important issues as sovereignty and territorial integrity. China stands ready to work with Latin American and Caribbean countries to strengthen the role of the United Nations, make the international political and economic order more fair and equitable, promote democracy in international relations and uphold the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, China supports a greater role of Latin American Countries in international affairs.”

Throughout the conduct of international relations there is this constant refrain which looks to this region with what is often called a bloc of votes. One after the next country comes calling. They crowd our Council for Community and Foreign Relations Agenda (COFCOR) with requests for support for that candidacy or the next. The question is always as far as The Bahamas is concerned whether or not we use the numbers that we have to our sufficient advantage. It is not a rhetorical question.

I think the answer is obvious that we do not.

It makes the case for reform more urgent lest the parade passes us by.

The distinguished foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago has made an urgent case for the expansion of CARICOM to include all the countries and territories in a paper in which he describes a Caribbean Sea Convergence. This convergence would encompass some 40 million people and ultimately will include in the short term the Dominican Republic, the French Territories including French Guyana and the Dutch ones, and in the longer term the American possessions and ultimately Cuba.

The idea is that unity is strength or as the Haitians would say: L’Union Fait La Force.

These matters are not simple or cheap. P.J. Patterson led the way in bringing Haiti into CARICOM. Suriname is also a member. These nations do not speak English as a first language and CARICOM has not been able thus far to ensure that documentation and conversations are available in the native languages of those countries. Imagine then including a Spanish-speaking country.

Further, there continue to be tensions in relationships because Haiti is a source country for illegal migration. The Bahamas does not confer citizenship on people born in The Bahamas whose parents are not Bahamian. One consequence is that there are thousands of Haitians in The Bahamas who are undocumented and who have to be regularized in some way or fashion. Immigration enforcement in The Bahamas is becoming stricter. Our country is committed to working on a solution to this.

All of this makes the enterprise of fixing our internal arrangements at CARICOM a priority.

Here is what Winston Dookeran, the foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said in his paper “A New Frontier For Caribbean Convergence”: “As noted earlier, CARICOM integration was narrowly defined in terms of trade and markets, which is not a very accurate measure. The new perception of convergence needs to be understood as ‘a new economic space’ where there is partnership not just across the Caribbean Sea space, but also between the public and private sectors. It is forging of ‘a right partnership toward productive efficiency. Convergence therefore implies a partnership (inclusiveness and cooperation) among public and private actors in the economies of the Caribbean sea emphasizing equality and equity as integral components.”

Minister Dookeran went on to list a number of arrangements and decisions which have to be taken, ought to be taken. I have mentioned already the inclusion of the new members. However, I want to parse some of his ideas and lead us into what I think is the inevitable conclusion.

He says in the chapter Policy Execution and Outcomes Institutional Drivers Caribbean Sea Convergence: “CARICOM Secretariat – is the principle administrative organ of CARICOM... recommend a fast-track decision to facilitate the entry...”

Anyone who knows CARICOM and its decision making will know that the expression “fast track ” and CARICOM in no way comport. Yet mandates are piled upon the secretariat which is the closest thing we have to an executive arm but which is resource starved and under-manned.

Prime Minister Kenny Anthony speaking at the Chamber of Commerce in Barbados in October 2012 said this: “We know that we have too often asked our secretariat to perform miracles without even the requisite loaves and fishes. Unable to deliver miracles, decisive action has been replaced by documentation – mountains of it – which most of us have neither the time nor the appetite to digest.”

So whatever reforms are contemplated for CARICOM and I agree the need for reform, amongst the issues: human resources and money.

Given the economic issues that face us, all treasuries and ministers of finance will be reluctant to agree to increases in subventions to CARICOM. Indeed many nations struggle to pay the existing duties. However, one suggestion is that there ought to be in each country a specific set aside, a revenue stream which goes straight to CARICOM and its agencies as a means of ensuring the funding at the appropriate levels. Further that the human resources issues can be helped by the foreign ministries and foreign trade ministries indeed the public service generally seconding officers to CARICOM as part of the public service careers for officers, which service would be part of the permanent and pensionable establishment in their countries as a means to ensure that the best talent ends up working there. Indeed, The Bahamas has led the way by already offering that possibility to at least two public servants per year on secondment to the secretariat.

In terms of the decision making, clearly nations will have to bite the bullet to give stronger powers to the secretariat to ensure that decisions are executed. Those who argue on sovereignty will do well to remember the saying of Dame Biller Miller of Barbados, that you cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time.

With regard to the convergence paper by Mr. Dookeran, I am also proud to say that we in The Bahamas recognize this need for convergence. Within our own country, the prime minister has embraced the three PPPs. In Bimini, the island in The Bahamas closest to the U.S. mainland there is an investment which will require a significant upgrade to the international airport. The private investor is doing the upgrade to the government’s specifications but the cost will be recaptured by credits given for taxes collected on the investment. It is this kind of creative financing that will invigorate economies around the region and is to be recommended for its efficiency and simplicity and speed, with minimum impact on the public purse but exponential benefits to the public good.

• Fred Mitchell is the member of Parliament for Fox Hill and minister of foreign affairs and immigration.

March 08, 2014

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 1

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 2

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 3

- Saving CARICOM, pt. 5