by Orlando Marville
I had not intended to say anything about the current United States-Caribbean Community (CARICOM) impasse until I heard someone (whose views on things political I usually respect) saying a number of things way off base, appropriately to use a North American _expression.
I refer to Peter Wickham?s comment on the apology offered by the United States Consulate-General here after the United States Government had issued a warning to potential United States visitors to Barbados that crime levels here had risen considerably, when in fact they had not.
Wickham?s view was that it took a great man (in this case, The United States of America) to apologise for an error committed. Actually, he missed some very crucial points. First, when once the bulletin with a negative focus on Barbados has been issued, it becomes very difficult to take back what has been said.
People will believe what they first heard and often either not hear or ignore the apology. Secondly, an apology from the Consulate-General may satisfy those in Barbados who already know or believe that there is no serious escalation in crime here. But who in the United States, a prime tourism market, is aware of the retraction in the first place? The apology is part of what is very poor diplomacy.
It is very poor diplomacy when a large and powerful country has to stoop to levels like putting out dis- information about a small, and in the scheme of things, insignificant country like ours, simply because we cannot be bullied into doing things that are required of us, when such things are not in our best interest.
One such thing was a request to grant United States soldiers immunity from eventual crimes committed in our territory. Given the behaviour of the United States military police in Iraq ? and this was far more extensive and deliberate than the barmy right wing media like Fox News would have us believe ? we were absolutely right to refuse in any case.
On this issue, the United States is, in spite of its size, incredibly wrong. We cannot sign a world treaty requiring that offending soldiers be handed to the War Crimes Tribunal, and while holding our own population to such conditions, grant exemption to United States soldiers. It is also petty of the United States to use this difference, put undiplomatically, to tell lies about us, even to their own population. It goes against the spirit of world trade, to say the least.
The second issue still unresolved is the United States? refusal to talk to CARICOM about security issues because CARICOM has not included the interim government in Haiti in its list of members attending. This is absurd. How can the United States believe that as a non-member of CARICOM, it has the right to dictate what CARICOM in general does about its membership.
While I think that much of what CARICOM is about with respect to Haiti is nonsensical, I do know that CARICOM has a right to determine which member it can and will temporarily exclude.
The grounds for the exclusion of Haiti may very well be absurd, but that does not change the equation. The notion of going to the United Nations to have Aristide?s hasty and assisted departure from Haiti investigated is a waste of everyone?s time and money. The details are clear.
Aristide, under siege in Port-au-Prince, was given the option of resigning and leaving Haiti safely or staying and dying. Few people who have amassed vast fortunes from sheer poverty want to die. The problem arose when Aristide did not go directly to South Africa, where he wanted to live in comfortable exile, but ended up in the Central African Republic, where few of us would want to be.
Additionally, Aristide was democratically elected in 1990. His election in 2000 would not have been accepted as legitimate in any other CARICOM country, though it might have passed muster in a larger northern neighbour.
The one good sign seems to be that CARICOM is prepared to join the multilateral peace-keeping force that the United Nations is preparing to put together. Last time around, CARICOM soldiers and policemen did an excellent job.
There was a model of co-operation among our peacekeepers which regrettably seems not yet to be feasible among CARICOM governments. The United Nations wanted to see how this model could be developed in other groupings of small countries elsewhere in the world. What is important here is that we focus on Haiti. Aristide is not going back to Haiti, and whether one believes it or not, that is not such a bad thing.
However, Haiti does have some very serious problems of health, of poverty and of a lack of internal security, all of which must be addressed in a consistent manner over the next ten to 20 years if that great country is to take its rightful place among the nations of this hemisphere.
The United States, or at least the George W. Bush Administration, will go on with its follies in the Middle East in general until it is forced seriously to rethink the arrogance of that policy and to work with the rest of the world on issues that concern us all.
CARICOM will survive this one and hopefully learn that we must act together on all fronts. The world out there is not particularly interested in us or our well-being. That is our area of responsibility. We must look after ourselves.