R. Rose
October 7, 2005
Peter wait, Peter wait!

Remember Black Stalin’s classic “BUN DEM”, when he recalled the historical legacies of colonialism and slavery and committed the culprits to the judgement of the Almighty? In it, the venerable bard of progressive Caribbean Kaiso appealed to St. Peter, the keeper of the gates of Heaven, to look out for the perpetrators of genocide in case they attempted to slip past the Pearly Gates. {{more}}

Two and a half decades later, we are witnessing biblical history and mythology turned on its head. In the 21st century, a dramatic confrontation is occurring, between the sinners and those sinned against, between the rapacious and the ravaged, between the plunderers and the plundered. This time, in a perverse twist of reality and history, the market of the European Union is made out to be the modern-day substitution for Heaven, only that in this case the guardian has the same name, albeit a different purpose.

Yes, PETER is the continuing thread in this drama, only this time devoid of any saintly crown or credentials. Peter Mandelson, a confidant of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and currently European Trade Commissioner, is in charge of negotiations with the Caribbean and its sister African and Pacific nations over proposed Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), the so-called EPAs, and over decisions which affect the Caribbean’s vital commodity exports, bananas and sugar being in the forefront.

Ever since his accession to the post late last year, Mr. Mandelson appears to have been enjoying his portfolio. He is on record as delivering major speeches, the consistency in line of which can best be described as by an erratic over from an express fast bowler. Mandelson continues to insist that the European Union will stick by its commitments to Caribbean and other African and Pacific producers. Yet side by side with these grand pronouncements are his statements on EU trade policy, the essence of which can only help to further pour cold water on aspirations that the outcome of any negotiations will spur Caribbean development.

Last week, negotiators from the EU met with their CARIFORUM (Caribbean plus Dominican Republic) colleagues to launch the third phase of their negotiations on an EPA between both regions. Even before the launching, the European Union via its negotiating body, the European Commission, chose to demonstrate its bad faith by requesting that the dispute over new marketing arrangements for bananas should go to a second Arbitration panel, rather than engaging the Caribbean, African, Latin American and European producers in trying to arrive at a negotiated settlement. The Panel has a 30 day time limit to arrive at and impose a solution, enough time for the EU to put its house in order in preparation for the anticipated Hong Kong Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December.

Mandelson chose to preach like an old colonial Governor. We, the people who produce, are in a state of what he calls “vulnerable dependency” on one crop (bananas in the case of the Windwards). It is of no importance how this dependence was started, by whom and for what purposes. Instead we are urged to diversify away from this “vulnerable dependence”. He then proceeded to lay it on. “Decades of preferential access to EU markets have not improved market access” for Caribbean produce,” according to the EU trade boss, the region has “not built competitiveness in agriculture or any other sector”, and “has not promoted agricultural or economic diversification”.

Mr. Mandelson’s tirades do not square with the truth. They do not reflect the hypocrisy of EU practice in announcing billions of euros in EU assistance, only to be mired in beauracratic swamps of EU offices in Barbados, Brussels or even the local counterparts. Money promised is not necessarily money delivered.

Yet the same people who preach to us, are constantly sending their armies of consultants, many of them still wet behind the ears, paying them outrageous sums to come and “consult” with us about how to do this and that. A team was recently paid the princely sum of $190,000 euros for consulting with civil society in the Caribbean so as to advise the European Commission as to how to go about setting up a Non-State Actors Forum in the region!

Enough of this hypocrisy! Enough of the paternalistic crap! We have very clear legal commitments from the EU in the Cotonou Agreement. We have made it abundantly clear that we do not want to hang on to anybody’s coattails. But that cannot hide the fact that Europe’s economic development was based on the corresponding underdevelopment of the Caribbean, an historic fact that has never been addressed. They express their tangible remorse to the Jews but not to the Caribbean, Africa or the Pacific. We seek no more than justice, a realistic appraisal of history and appropriate actions to address our historic imbalances.

Tell Peter, WAIT, it is the oppressed who will go beyond the GATE.