President George W. Bushå‘s recent invitation to meet some Caribbean leaders for a working breakfast is being viewed as another of Washingtonå‘s attempts to divide and rule the region, as the administration seeks more bilateral agreements to counter opposition to its global policies.
At least six Caribbean leaders were not at the meeting, leading to suggestions in the region’s media that their exclusion follows from their refusal to sign bilateral agreements with Washington to exempt U.S. nationals from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Jamaica’s Prime Minister PJ Patterson, current chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), opted out of the talks, citing a prior engagement, while outspoken leaders like Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Lester Bird, Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur and Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning—whose administration is seeking a closer relationship with the Chavez government in Venezuela—did not make the trip to New York.
Those invited to talk included Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, who has lead responsibility for “governance and justice” within CARICOM, Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie and Grenada’s leader Keith Mitchell.
It has been obvious for “some time” that Community countries hold divergent views on various U.S. policies, Vaughan Lewis, a lecturer at the Institute of International Research of the University of the West Indies (UWI), told IPS.
He recalled that the region had appeared divided on issues of offshore banking raised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) when it was felt that Barbados had broken ranks, even though Bridgetown later denied the allegation.
Another divisive issue was the region’s position on the Iraq war, when some states, notably St. Vincent and the Grenadines, claimed that since some of their nationals might be fighting in Iraq, they would have to show a certain degree of sympathy, says Mr. Lewis.
“Next, keen observers would have wondered why Jamaica and St. Lucia, for example, did not ratify the International Criminal Court (ICC) and still have not, leaving its main promoter, Trinidad and Tobago, in a sense, isolated,” he added.
On July 1, Washington suspended military aid to a number of Caribbean states, including Trinidad and Tobago, for not entering into bilateral agreements to exempt U.S. nationals from the jurisdiction of the ICC, established to try alleged war crimes, but which the administration says could be used for “political” prosecutions against its soldiers and officials.
The region has much at stake. Washington has provided considerable financial assistance to the mostly island states, mainly through its Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) under which garment producers, for example, are able to export their products duty-free into the U.S. market.
In addition, Washington has anted up millions of dollars to help the region fight the illegal drugs trade. It recently signed an agreement with Jamaica that provides 50 million dollars (861,000 U.S. dollars) to help that country fight narcotics trafficking.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is among the regional leaders not meeting Mr. Bush, said he does not support the view that his exclusion and that of some of his colleagues is an attempt by Washington to further retaliate for their ICC position.
“You may say there probably has been some clumsy footwork by some people, but I don’t put the malignant spin on it that some people are putting on it,” he told reporters in St. Vincent.
“It appears to me that the persons who have been invited are those who are going to be in New York addressing the United Nations General Assembly,” he added.
But Mr. Lewis told IPS that it was significant that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, writing in the Sept. 22 edition of the Financial Times in the wake of the failed World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, said “the U.S. will continue its policy of bilateralism in negotiating free trade areas.”“The U.S. has already divided the Caribbean Basin Initiative sub-region by offering the Central American countries an FTA (Free Trade Agreement) separate from the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA),” Mr. Lewis said, noting that Central America backed Washington in its war against Iraq.“We have to closely examine the implications of this U.S.-Central American FTA for the CARICOM area, as the trade liberalization process goes on at various levels,” he warned.