Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 8th 2017 Contents BG22 | COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JUNE 8 • 2017
Caricom unified at the OAS
Contrary to all who dismissed
it as impossible, the 14 inde-
pendent member states of
the Caribbean Community
(Caricom) displayed strong
solidarity at the Organisation
of American States on Wednesday, May 31.
In doing so, the Caricom countries showed
the soft power that they can wield on the hem-
ispheric stage when they maintain solidarity
and unity of purpose. It was a moment for
unbridled Caricom pride.
The occasion was a Meeting of Consultation
of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the 34-mem-
ber group at its headquarters in Washington,
the US Capital. The convocation of the meeting
to discuss the situation in Venezuela was itself
highly controversial. When the vote was taken
in the OAS Permanent Council, those in favour
of the meeting barely won. The vote was 18
in favour, 1 against, 13 abstentions and 2 ab-
sent. The Caricom countries were themselves
divided with 5 voting in favour, 8 abstaining
and 1 absent.
Heads of Government intervened just five
days before the meeting, motivated by their
desire to maintain Caricom solidarity and to
meet the obligation, set out in the Caricom
Treaty, to "seek to ensure, as far as practica-
ble, the adoption of Community positions on
major hemispheric and international issues"
It was clear to them that with a block of 14
votes among 34 in the OAS, Caricom coun-
tries, acting collectively, have the capacity to
determine the outcomes of fundamental is-
sues, particularly as a vote of two-thirds of the
membership is required for substantial matters.
Equally clear was that, if Caricom countries
failed to act collectively they would weaken
themselves individually and collectively, serv-
ing the interests of others.
The leaders would also have been motivated
by the circumstances in Venezuela and what
the rules of the OAS, as set out in the Charters,
allowed the members of the Organisation to do.
Perusing the rules of the OAS, they would
have been reminded, in a compelling man-
ner, that Article 1 of the OAS Charter com-
mits all member states to non-interference
and non-intervention in the internal affairs
of states. There is a similar injunction in the
Charter of the United Nations.
Against this background, Caricom leaders
decided that while their governments would
participate in the Meeting of Consultation,
they had to do so in a non-interventionist
manner, and focus on calling for immediate
cessation of violence, concrete plans for the
restoration of peace and stability, absolute
respect for human rights, the rule of law and
constitutional processes, and commitment by
all parties in Venezuela to engage in a renewed
dialogue, and to offer any help that might be
requested by the government of Venezuela to
meet the serious challenges facing the country.
That was the position adopted by Caricom
countries collectively at the May 31 Meeting
of Consultation. In stating their position at
the meeting, Caricom countries spoke through
one voice, the Foreign Minister of the Baha-
mas Darren Henfield, who delivered an agreed
Caricom also submitted a single draft decla-
ration for the consideration of the OAS meet-
ing. To facilitate that single Caricom draft,
Antigua and Barbuda withdrew a draft it had
submitted to the OAS Secretariat on 23 May.
As the representative of Antigua and Barbuda,
I stated my government's "full and unqualified
support for the draft declaration prepared by
all Caricom countries"
In the end, the meeting was faced with two
draft declarations: the single Caricom draft,
and a draft sponsored by the United States,
Canada, Mexico, Peru and Panama. Had the
two draft declarations been put to a vote,
neither of them would have been adopted
neither could muster the required 22 votes.
The meeting would have ended in disarray
and without conclusion except to demonstrate
that the member countries were incapable of
reaching an agreement on how best to treat
the situation in Venezuela.
In truth, the group of bigger nations had
hoped that they would have been able to
break Caricom solidarity and secure the votes
of some Caricom countries to give them the
two-thirds majority required for the adoption
of their draft declaration.
Recognising that a vote on each of the two
declarations would manifest a weak and inef-
fective OAS, Caricom countries again moved
to save the day.
In a huddle of Caricom countries, represent-
atives decided to propose to the Chair of the
Meeting of Consultation, the Foreign Minister
of Guatemala Carlos Raul Morales, that the
meeting be adjourned to reconvene before June
19, and that, in the meantime, Ambassadors at
the OAS be instructed to reconcile the two draft
declarations with the intention of providing
Ministers with a single, agreed conclusion.
Mexico and Colombia gave immediate support.
By putting forward this proposition, which
was accepted by all member states by accla-
mation, Caricom saved the OAS from embar-
rassment; if not humiliation.
That task of reconciling the two drafts is
easily stated but it will not be easily achieved.
Over the next two weeks, crucial diplomatic
work will be required to agree a single text.
It will require tolerance, patience, respect for
the views of each member state and the skill to
reflect agreement in acceptable language. Amid
all this, it will be crucial for Caricom countries
to maintain trust and solidarity.
At the bottom line, what Caricom wants
is non-intervention in the internal affairs of
Venezuela; an immediate cessation of violence;
urgent efforts to promote a meaningful dia-
logue between the protagonists in Venezuela;
and an OAS commitment to be helpful to the
implementation of the concrete plans of the
Venezuelans for their political and economic
future and the well-being of their people.
As a footnote to all this, at the end of the
Meeting of Consultation, instead of joining
with the Chair of the meeting to explain to the
public of the OAS countries what transpired
at the meeting, the Secretary-General, Luis
Almagro, chose to greet a group of Venezuelan
protestors outside the OAS headquarters.
Little wonder that the Prime Minister of
T&T, Dr Keith Rowley, felt himself constrained
to say that the OAS Secretary-General must
be changed, having "removed the OAS from
any meaningful participation" because of his
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's
Ambassador to the Organisation of American
States. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute
of Commonwealth at the University of London
and Massey College in the University of
...a moment for unbridled pride
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