Tuesday, April 23, 2024

OUR CARIBBEAN: Flying in Caricom’s face?


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The Government of Antigua and Barbuda seems to have unintentionally committed an unpalatable wrong against the entire Caribbean Community. A wrong that should speedily be corrected with an appropriate explanation for the benefit of the citizens of our 15-member regional integration movement.

The error in judgement, if that’s what it is, was last week’s official visit to the Dominican Republic (DR) by Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy Asot Michael. Among matters he discussed with that country’s Minister for Regional Integration Miguel Mejia, in addition to bilateral relations, was the DR’s general interest in CARICOM that includes “different projects currently being developed”.

Improving bilateral and multilateral relations in an increasingly globalised world is clearly the way forward.

Such relations must, of course, be rooted in shared concepts of economic and social development and, most decidedly, respect for basic human rights and dignity. But therein lies the rub in current poor, shaky relations between CARICOM and the DR, which have been severely ruptured by a most undesirable naturalisation law that arrogantly discriminates against thousands of immigrants in that country of Haitian origin.

Even, that is, after amendments were subsequently made to what exists as “Naturalisation Law 169-14”. The governments in both Antigua and the DR would be fully aware of a so-called “red line”, collectively drawn by CARICOM, to cease “doing business as usual” with the government in Santo Domingo. Until, that is, perceived demeaning, controversial provisions which mock the basic rights and dignity of Haitians born in the Dominican Republic are removed.

At their regular annual summit last July in Antigua, CARICOM Heads of Government reaffirmed: “It would not be business as usual in the Community’s relationship with the Dominican Republic; and they would maintain their pressure in all fora in the continuing challenges to the human rights of the Dominicans of Haitian descent, including obtaining an advisory opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.”

Well, irony of ironies, host for that summit in St John’s was newly elected Prime Minister Gaston Browne. In establishing his first cabinet he gave Asot Michael the substantial portfolios he is known to have craved.

Now, since the wily Mr Michael, known to be politically crafty and ambitious, would have been aware of the collective position on the Community’s DR relations, why the sort of “fly-in-your-face” meeting last week in Santo Domingo with that country’s “Minister for Regional Integration”, which concluded with an invitation extended by Minister Mejia for Prime Minister Browne to pay an official visit to the Dominican Republic?

It is to be assumed that Mr Michael could not have travelled to the DR on official business without the prior knowledge of Prime Minister Browne. Therefore, was his prime minister – who has been busily engaged seeking financial aid for national development with jobs creation – fully aware of the nature of the purpose of Mr Michael’s mission to the DR?

If so, did someone feel constrained to remind either the prime minister or his ministerial colleague of the latest re-affirmation of CARICOM’s “no-business-as-usual” stand with the DR for now, as recorded at that summit in St John’s at which Prime Minister Browne was unanimously elected as the Community’s chairman until the next summit in 2015?

Since, when I checked yesterday, there could be no confirmation of any prior notification to the Community Secretariat about the official visit to the DR by Mr Michael, Prime Minister Browne seems to have a moral obligation to at least offer a public explanation on the visit.

For his part, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the previous Community chairman, feels it may be “appropriate” for Prime Minister Browne to offer an explanation to the CARICOM Bureau about the visit.

This would be necessary, he feels, in view of the collective decision adopted at their July summit until appropriate adjustments are made to the controversial naturalisation law. Mr Gonsalves was the CARICOM leader who, as chairman, had initially intervened with the DR for changes in the law that he identified as being “racist and discriminatory”.

Over then to Prime Minister Browne, whose call it is.

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.


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