The Rt Hon. the Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal QC
This week the usual suspects that constitute the leadership of the Caribbean Community & Common Market (CARICOM) will be gathered for a weekend of deliberations, musical chairs, fun, frolic and self aggrandizement compliments of the overburdened CARICOM tax payer at some chic locale that the proverbial ‘Island in the Sun’ (Barbados) has to offer.
In the meantime, close to 300,000 persons of Haitian heritage will be facing the gruesome reality of being kicked out of the Dominican Republic whilst The Commonwealth of the Bahamas continues relentlessly in forcibly repatriating hundreds of Haitians (born in The Bahamas) back to poverty stricken Haiti. Haiti can ill afford to absorb any more persons because it is still struggling to get on its feet following the disastrous earthquake that struck in 2010. In fact, it is an absolute disgrace and an insult to humanity that whilst Haiti is a full-fledged member of CARICOM – Haitians do not enjoy the full privileges of free movement under the Caribbean Single Market & Economy (CSME) and the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The following are some important issues that the leaders and decision makers of CARICOM need to be asking themselves:
(A) Cuba is about to get a boost with projected strong investments in the local tourism sector with even a report that a group of institutional investors from the United Arab Emirates are interested in building a new airport in Havana. The thawing of relations with the United States seem to be moving quickly apace under Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere – Roberta Jacobson and her team.
(B) Cuba has the ability to upgrade no less than 11 airports overnights per the Montreal based International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) standards. Please note that most of the airports are solid structures with amazing runaways built during the ‘Cold War’ era and played a pivotal role in the airlifting of Cuban soldiers to fight in Angola and Namibia in the 1970s and 1980s.
(C) Unlike the Russians at the end of the Cold War – the Cubans have a very strong and organised voice, presence and power in US politics just judging from the likes of Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Marco Rubio (R- FL) and they already claim Jeb Bush as he is from Miami and his former business partner and long time friend is none other than Cuban born real estate mogul Armando Codina. Jorge Perez of the Related Group – another mega developer in South Florida, Panama and Colombia is also of Cuban origin. The Russians at the end of the Cold War did not have a base in mainstream US politics or business (other than the small Jewish communities in New York and South Florida) versus the Cubans whom will now have access to credit, capital, technology and expertise to plough into Cuba’s future development
(D) There is a strong mystique globally it seems as it relates to Fidel, Raul and the late Argentine Ernesto Che Guevara, so sadly one must confess that the traditional sand, sun sex and rum tourism of the region is fast losing its appeal. The future of the region’s tourism will belong to Jamaica (a world class product with a strong cultural flair but they will need to improve in many areas to remain competitive), Guyana & Suriname (agri & eco-tourism) and Haiti (heritage tourism).
(E) There is no culture of innovation in the wider Caribbean Region as for the most part it is either tourism driven, cottage industries, no economy of scale to compete with China, Mexico, Brazil or India and the damnation of commodities such as sugar, rice, timber, mining and such in Guyana and Suriname and the curse of oil & gas in Trinidad & Tobago.
(F) Where are the venture capitalists, start-ups, tech-entrepreneurs and incubators to help the bright, and ambitious, young people of the region? The region has none that is credible – just a bunch of half-baked and poorly executed efforts with nothing tangible to show for it. Since there is no enabling or supportive environment as such – the young and talented just vote with their feet as in the case of Guyana where almost 35,000 people migrated in less than five years out of a total resident population of just 750,000.
(G) West Africa is expected to overtake the CARICOM Region by 2018 in quite of number of areas despite their recent problems. There is a strong desire and genuine political will to embrace the challenges confronting sub-Saharan Africa that I do not see anywhere in CARICOM.
In fact, Somalia is on the right track for a better, brighter future as the recent surprise visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry will illustrate. Kenya recently hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit last July with President Obama in full attendance.
(H) The region continues to lose its most precious asset – its people, either to migration (legal and illegal), suicide (Guyana is testimony) and a life of crime as they become pawns in the larger drug trade) and mules (read the daily newspapers in New York and the Caribbean). Even senior citizens are part and parcel of the nefarious drug trade judging the recent arrests in Guyana including a few grandparents. Their economies are now faltering and a large number have unsustainable public debt which will create greater socio-economic problems, unemployment, increased crime and undoubtedly a power vacuum which becomes the ideal incubator for drug lords and jihadists to reign supreme.
(I) Fragmented Foreign Policy Decision Making in CARICOM: – the regional integration body had an excellent if not historic opportunity in getting Sir Ronald Sanders (certainly someone that begs no introduction) to be the consensus candidate for the top job at the Commonwealth Secretariat as its next Secretary General. Instead, the region bungled it all up by not standing behind that one individual that would have gotten Asia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the South Africans onboard (the rest of Commonwealth Africa would have fallen into line), but choose to ‘polish their individual shoes’ by Dominica supporting one Baroness Scotland (a Jenny come lately) whose only link to the Caribbean is that she was born in Dominica and in the case of the misguided Trinis they put up Dr. Bhoe Tiwarie (a/k: Dr. Strangelove).
Seriously, Bhoe Tiwarie has not written anything that I know of as it relates to the Commonwealth or been to Africa. Sir Ron Sanders on the other hand served with distinction on the Board of the CBU, as Antigua & Barbuda’s High Commissioner to the UK and was a member of the Commonwealth appointed team tasked with reforms. He is a known name and a respected international brand. Ask anyone about Dr. Bhoe Tiwarie in the context of the Commonwealth and the response will likely be – Bhoe who? Besides, the number two spot at the Commonwealth Secretariat is held by a Trini national so one could not conceivably hand T&T the top job as well.
Sir Sonny Ramphal put the Caribbean Region on the world map whether we chose to believe or not together with the likes of the late Forbes Burnham (unarguably the greatest orator from the Caribbean Basin) and the late Michael Manley. In fact, he enjoyed a special friendship and camaraderie with the respected likes of the late lndira Gandhi, the late Julius Nyrere, the late Rajiv Gandhi, the late Pierre Trudeau, the late Nelson Mandela and also Kenneth Kaunda. Sadly, because of so called ‘sovereign right and misguided national interests’ – the top spot in the Commonwealth will more than likely go to the candidate from Botswana.
In short, the region is headed for a serious meltdown as we are seeing with the recent FIFA and drug scandals embroiling Jack Warner, T&T Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the wider political landscape in T&T and let us not forget the documented ill gotten gains and criminal enterprises of the former rulers of Guyana. The reality is that none of the leaders of the Caribbean Region have a moral compass. Will the Lee Kwan Yews of the region stand up please?
Rwanda fullfilled all of the UN MDGS whilst T&T did not, which drives home the point of failed leadership, lack of transparency, accountability and good governance. It is poor on execution and big on rhetoric… it needs transformation of mindset, attitudes and decision making ….failing which it will become a mere footnote to history.