JO - Caricom's second USA summit
Caricom's second USA summit
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Caribbean Community heads of government have broken bread with United States President George W Bush in Washington and have returned home quite "pleased" with their two-hour meeting with him.
Beyond stated commitment to secure an "extension" to the Caribbean Basin Trade Promotion Act" (or CBI), much of what could be viewed as "positive" results from last week's conference on the Caribbean: A 20/20 Vision, the meeting with Bush being the high point, will have to await more careful assessment by the Caricom leaders themselves, as well as other regional stakeholders.
It was the second occasion in 10 years that there has been such a summit of Caricom leaders and a US president, with two major differences: The first time was the history-making Bridgetown Summit of May 10, 1977 when Bill Clinton became the first-ever US president to have such a meeting with all Caricom leaders on Caribbean soil.
Hosted by Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados, who was chosen to speak on behalf of the 15-member Community at the opening plenary session of the three-day multi-faceted 20/20 Vision Mission to Washington, the summit with Clinton had been structured, on the basis of a series of technical and ministerial working group meetings on both sides, to produce a plan of action anchored in a declaration of principles.
The primary focus for achieving the overall laudable objective of a "partnership for prosperity and security in the Caribbean" were trade development, finance and the environment", and justice and security. To make that envisaged "partnership" a reality, defined mechanisms were outlined in a 48-page document that was made public.
The most significant of those proposed initiatives was the recommended annual meeting of Caricom foreign ministers and the US secretary of state, to review progress, and to be supported by meetings of joint sub-committees on justice and security and development, finance and environment.
Much that went wrong in making a reality the "partnership" promise of the Clinton-Caricom Summit, a reality, cannot be divorced from America's domestic politics, with changing emphases on Latin American-Caribbean relations and, more specifically and relevant, the change in administration that took Republican, George W Bush, into the White House.
Caribbean leaders and US President George W Bush at last week's Conference on the Caribbean in Washington, DC.
18-month period Time will be the ultimate judge of what progress is actually realised for the proposed new matured USA-Caricom relations in the remaining 18-month period of a Republican president increasingly unpopular at home and abroad. For all the work that went into preparatory arrangements by the Washington-based Caricom group of ambassadors and the Caricom secretariat in Georgetown for the conference on the Caribbean, the meeting with Bush being at the core, it remains unknown to what extent, if any, efforts were made to benefit from the experiences in planning the 1997 summit with Clinton and what went wrong for follow-up initiatives.
For this second summit with a US president, a two-and-a half-page joint statement on conference of the Caribbean was released, focussing on 17 points:
These ranged from "reaffirmations" on commitments to established democratic norms; ensuring a "secure and prosperous" Caribbean region for all its citizens; strengthening cooperation in a range of specific areas, including trade, investment, energy needs; expanding security arrangements to combat terrorism, trafficking in persons, drugs and small arms, as well as in the ongoing battle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The second major difference between the summits was its all-embracing features to craft, as we were told, a "a new and more matured relationship" with the United States.
Significant components, outside of the meeting with Bush, included separate meetings with leaders of the US Congress, the business sector, and international financial institutions, as well as representatives of the expanding Caribbean Diaspora to forge a more mutually beneficial relationship.
From the outset, the leaders had declared that the Washington conference was "not a begging bowl mission". Separately, a few of them were to engage in some candid talk, at various fora and comments to the media, positions consistent with the expressed desire for a dignified relationship with the USA.
Candid talk For instance, current Caricom chairman, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, was to declare: "We have come not in supplication but to forge a genuine partnership based on mutual respect..."
Prime Minister Arthur, in elaborating on the nature of the sought "new partnership", not just with the Bush administration but the US Congress, subsequently declared: "We have not come as peoples with empty pockets...We have come as the representatives of the people of a region who have lent much to the development of the human conditions through the products of our creative imagination..."
As if to remind not just the Bush administration but the leading financial institutions and business representatives of America, Arthur went on to make a telling observation with a broad smile; "I need to say in Washington that Cuba, Venezuela and China are carrying the burden" in helping the region to address its problems.The President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo later specified some specific examples of assistance from the trio of countries identified by Arthur, spelling out the tremendous advantages gained by the region from, for example, Cuba in the health sector.
Jagdeo was to later criticise the failure of the USA to help provide requested security assistance for Guyana to cope with the challenges of monitoring its very huge borders with neighbouring states to more effectively respond to narco-trafficking, trafficking in people and smuggling of arms and ammunition. Instead, his government gets "lectures" from US officials.
For her part, Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had a firm and timely reminder for those who wrongly associate her country just with serious crime and violence while ignoring the harsh social and economic factors.
"In many of our Caribbean societies," she said, "poverty is fuelling persistent crime and violence. The Caricom region does not manufacture guns. Yet we are flooded with guns and ammunition, which worsens our situation of crime and violence. This situation is made worse by criminal deportation (mostly from the USA)...."
Although, significantly, not part of the "joint statement" released after the meeting with President Bush, the Caricom secretariat noted in a separate press release:
"President Bush also emphasised trade relations, as well as matters of energy, particularly biofuels; the (US) immigration (reform) bill and also raised concerns regarding the region's relations with Cuba and Venezuela..."
Exactly what those "concerns" happen to be were not alluded to. But it is known that the Bush administration is quite unhappy with Caricom's warm and principled relationship with both Cuba and Venezuela.
Perhaps with an unintended touch of intrigue on his part, Prime Minister Gonsalves was quoted in the secretariat's release as telling a media briefing that followed, the meeting with the US president: "Commitments were given on certain matters; consideration was expressed in respect of other issues on which commitments were unable to be given then and there, because some matters obviously would have to be studied..."
Prime Minister Arthur who, along with the Guyana president shared the media briefing with Gonsalves, explained that one of the "commitments" to have emerged at the meeting with Bush, was "the consideration of renewing and updating trade arrangements that were currently in limbo, and modernising the Caribbean Basin Initiative into an arrangement that goes beyond trade..."
While Prime Minister Patrick Manning was telling the media that he was "pleased beyond expectations" with the outcome of the meeting with President Bush, President Jagdeo, as if summarising it all, noted: "We are very grateful for the expressions of support and understanding that came from President Bush and the Congress..."
Now we must wait for the short and longer-term benefits to flow to the Caribbean region from the Washington summit with President Bush that came 10 years after that with President Clinton in Barbados.