AS if by cosmic intervention, Vincentian government minister Camillo Gonsalves has had to recalibrate his conclusive pronouncement on what he declared weeks ago as the death of Caricom.
Mr Gonsalves is the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Information Technology in the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. He is a former diplomat, having served as his country’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York. There, he was part of the Caricom team, under the leadership of Trinidad and Tobago diplomats on the finalisation of what is called the Arms Trade Treaty. Mr Gonsalves could well be the future prime minister of his country. He is the son of the country’s long-standing Prime Minister, Dr Ralph “Comrade” Gonsalves, who has cried unashamedly on more than one occasion in the past three weeks, so overcome was he with the bursting support his country and its people received from every quarter across the region, following the eruption of the famed La Soufriere volcano on April 9.
In an opinion carried in this newspaper on March 24, the younger Mr Gonsalves announced the death of the regional integration movement, saying that this took place on December 16, with a eulogy coming two months later, on February 25. He was commenting on the divisions among Caricom member states, in the on-going issue concerning the decline of democracy and quality of life in Venezuela, and international responses to it.
Given the open divisions which became evident on this issue, the younger Mr Gonsalves, as compared to the Dr, said the “foundational principles of Caricom-integration, unity, solidarity and co-ordination,” were swept aside at the OAS over the Venezuela issue, that the “idea at the very centre of the experiment could not hold, and things fell irretrievably apart”.
The eruption of the volcano and the response from the peoples and governments across the region must have offered themselves as humane rebukes to these claims and charges, however.
Here then, is the nub of Mr Gonsalves’ philology. He says the idea behind the integration movement is that we are a family. “We could close ranks around each other in public, and settle our differences in private.” He said this did not happen in our various and varying responses on the Venezuela issue. Venezuela is not a Caricom member state, but a member of the Latin American community of nations that make up the OAS. Haiti, however, is a member of both, as are the other Caricom member states.
In her continuous reporting on the day-by-day degradation of civic, constitutional and political life in Haiti, the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles said on April 20, that 69 members of the US Congress were calling on their president to “take a tougher stance on Haiti,” and on its President Jovanel Moise, amid a growing rise in kidnappings, armed gangs and (further) economic turmoil. There is a growing sentiment among church leaders and human rights advocates, that the president lacks legitimacy, the atmosphere in the country is not conducive to credible, free and fair elections, and that a transitional government is necessary at this time.
In despatches carried on April 27, we have been told that “even from within his own party,” the Haitian president is opposed, and that countries such as the US, Germany, Brazil, Canada, Spain and France, along with special representatives from the UN and the OAS, have jointly voiced concerns about the security and political situation inside Haiti.
Compared with this, the latest we have from the Caricom Secretariat, is a statement dated February 11, in which the leaders are said to have “called on the political actors” in Haiti, to “engage in dialogue,” to reach consensus on the way forward, for the staging of elections “as quickly as possible.” Since then, it had been decided that veteran Trinidad and Tobago diplomat, Assistant Secretary General Colin Granderson, had been designated to be the Caricom listening post on Haiti, and report back to the Heads, via the Secretariat. None of his soundings has made it into the open just yet.
Those elections are scheduled for November 27, with rounds of constitutional reform discussions to come before that. We don’t know, therefore, to what extent Georgetown, on behalf of the regional integration movement, has been actively seeking to influence best possible outcomes in Port-au-Prince.
In the meantime, however, there is relief, for the moment, that an incendiary statement by the leader of the Opposition in Guyana, has not taken hold, in the coalition’s refusal to accept and abide by the second ruling of the country’s high court, on the result of the general elections held on March 2, 2020.
Joseph Harmon told his country, and the world, a week ago, his side “cannot and will not held be held responsible for the reaction of the victimised, disenfranchised and marginalised masses. We will continue to fight, and we wish to make it clear that all options remain open to us.”
Read this for what it is. Let us also ask to what extent the collective Caricom leadership sees in it an urgent need to answer the call from Camillo Gonsalves for expanding regional solidarity.
•Andy Johnson is a veteran journalist