February 7, 2014
Critical reflection needed by CARICOM in aftermath of CELAC

Fri Feb 7, 2014

by: Caribbean journalist Mark Lee of Abeng News Magazine

In the aftermath of the January 28 and 29 second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in Havana, Cuba, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a group and its member states individually, must undertake a critical reflection on how they stretch into more ambitious integration enterprises even as their own house is in seeming disarray.{{more}}

The issues of the Dominican Republic’s withdrawal of citizenship of descendants of Haitians and CARICOM’s embrace of pursuing an agenda of reparations for the African diaspora from the successors of European beneficiaries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade raised at the summit by CARICOM chair, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, got none of the respect the regional delegation thought they should.

If CELAC’s agenda of economic integration and cooperation is predicated on a model of planned and rational development—the type generally espoused by socialist oriented policies—then the invitation to Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, to the formal opening of a revamped port of Mariel as a regional transshipment hub, might have been insensitive since Jamaica is also contemplating making itself the regional logistics/transshipment hub.

The call, therefore, by Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Labour Party opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade, for Simpson Miller to report to the nation on the outcome of the CELAC summit, to which she led a delegation, may be at once tongue in cheek and incisively cutting. But more anon.

Gonsalves’ pleas for Dominican born people of Haitian ancestry and support for reparations didn’t fall on deaf ears. They fell on resistant ears.

“[We] call on our entire CELAC community to formally join its Caribbean brothers and sisters in demanding reparations as an agenda for us all to advance, concretize and execute,” declared Gonsalves. “The European nations that engaged in conquest, settlement, genocide and slavery in our Caribbean must provide the reparatory resources required to repair the contemporary legacy of their historic wrongs,” he added before launching into what he saw as the related issue of the depriving Dominican-born people of their nationality.

“Mr President, this brings me to a painful, but necessary discussion of an issue that goes to the heart of our dream to advance and further the integration and ennoblement of Latin America and the Caribbean through CELAC. That issue is the 23rd September 2013 decision of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic to deprive arbitrarily hundreds of thousands of Dominican-born persons of their nationality. Most of those so deprived, and faced with forced expulsion from the land of their birth, are of Haitian descent and are identified on the basis of their skin color and complexion.

“CARICOM has issued a joint statement, which correctly and unequivocally condemns the ruling as “abhorrent,” “discriminatory,” and “repugnant.”

“CARICOM has also suspended the Dominican Republic’s pending application for membership in our body, and called on other regional and international bodies and institutions to consider ways in which they can convey what must be unanimous international disgust at this attempt to institutionalize discrimination and the deprivation of basic human rights.

“I repeat that call here today. And I challenge CELAC to live up to the dreams of its forbears and the vision of its current leadership in reaffirming the fundamental human rights issue at stake and helping to correct this travesty pronounced by the Constitutional Court. This, Mr President, is an issue that will define or haunt the legitimacy and efficacy of the CELAC community.”

The only reference to the Dominican Republic in the final communique at the end of the summit was recognition that it had offered to host the next CELAC meeting in 2016.

At the closing of the CELAC summit, host Castro told the attendees, “We have reached important agreements on transcendental issues, such as the promotion of a “Zone of Peace” in the region and the rules and regulations required to ensure that the intraregional and extraregional cooperation brings about tangible benefits for this community.”

Bartlett’s question is as good for CARICOM as for Jamaica. What’s in it for us, this body founded in 2011 by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other Latin American and Caribbean leaders as an alternative to the US influenced Organization of American States (OAS) with the aim of increasing regional trade, economic development, and furthering economic cooperation among members in order to defend their growing economies? CELAC is composed of 33 hemispheric countries, including 14 from CARICOM but excluding the US and Canada.