JG - EDITORIAL - The United States/Caribbean summit
EDITORIAL - The United States/Caribbean summit
published: Friday June 22, 2007
Caribbean leaders have emerged from this week's mini-summit in Washington, D.C. with United States President George W. Bush expressing optimism that their concerns about crime and security were well articulated and well received. There was a bit of serendipity in the timing of the summit - which had already been planned - coming so soon after reports emerged of the discovery of a plot by Caribbean nationals to blow up sections of the JFK airport in New York.
Any talk of terrorism is sure to catch Washington's attention in the post-9/11 world. This is like a red flag to a bull, and therefore the U.S. President was, perhaps, that much better prepared to give the regional leaders a hearing.
But as Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana has pointed out, while terrorism is a big concern for the United States, drug trafficking and other security related matters are of paramount concern for the Caribbean. Washington would, of course, have even more reason in recent times to pay attention to the region. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, one of the new thorns in its flesh, has emerged as a strong ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro and a leader of influence because of the extension of his economic and other relations with regional countries. Grenada's Prime Minister Keith Mitchell is reported to have said that when President Bush articulated his administration's concerns and perspectives on these growing ties, that there was a frank exchange of views in which the regional leaders and the president agreed to disagree. Indeed, this is how it should be. For U.S./Caribbean relationships should not be primarily about the interests and security of American citizens.
Caribbean leaders have demonstrated that they are sufficiently sophisticated to deal with leaders of differing perspectives without being beholden to any.
With Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's call for greater attention to be paid to the flow of guns from the U.S. mainland to the region, Washington would have heard again about an area of concern that cannot and should be treated lightly. And the concerns raised about the social impact of deporting persons accused of criminal conduct - persons who many times have lived most of their lives in the U.S. - is one that Washington ignores to its own detriment. If countries in the region are made unstable by an increase in crime and an undermining of their institutions, then the stage is set for criminals to gain greater influence and be enabled to carry out their nefarious acts.
The regional leaders would not be unmindful of the deep trade and cultural ties with the United States, of the significant amounts of financial and technical help provided by Washington over many years, and of the heavy dependence on tourism for the countries' survival. Many of our nationals live or are studying there. In that sense, the safety concerns of Americans are not divorced from the region's. Therefore, the kinds of exchanges that took place this week should encourage both sides - CARICOM and Washington - to look at issues from positions of mutual respect and understanding. The summit's success must be assessed not only in terms of any new financial aid packages signed or the lack thereof, but in a sincere commitment to upholding the region's democratic traditions and institutions.