BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Feb 25, – Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) open their 30th Intersessional meeting in St. Kitts today, against the background of political turmoil in Haiti, electoral uncertainty in Guyana, attempts by the US to coerce regime change in neighbouring Venezuela and continued attempts by Europe to blacklist some community member states.
The political situation in Haiti, has become a cause for CARICOM’s concern as president Jovenel Moise is under pressure from opposition parties to step down over his handling of domestic affairs as well as the use of funds under the PetroCaribe, an oil alliance of many Caribbean states with Venezuela to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment.
Street demonstrations which started earlier this month, have claimed a number of lives and demonstrators have vowed to continue until Moise steps down. In a statement of the matter, CARICOM said it “is deeply concerned about the continuing violent protests in Haiti, which have resulted in the loss of life, property, destruction of infrastructure and caused grave distress.
“The Community calls for calm and a cessation of the violence, appealing to all involved to engage in constructive dialogue and to respect the Constitution, the rule of law and democratic processes so that issues can be resolved in a peaceful atmosphere and allow for the return to a state of normalcy.”
President Moise says he does not intend to step down in favour of armed gangs and drug traffickers, acknowledging that the “the crisis we are going through is very serious.”
In Guyana, where the government of President David Granger enjoyed a one-seat majority, the APNU-AFC coalition government has collapsed after the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on December 21, 2018, successfully moved a motion of no confidence against the government in the National Assembly, while president Granger was in Cuba attending to a medical condition.
The Granger administration is awaiting a decision from the Appeal Court seeking to overturn a High Court ruling in January that the no-confidence motion was valid. In addition, the government wants the Appeal court to provide a conservatory order, thereby halting the 90 day period required by the Guyana Constitution for new elections to be held once a motion has been successfully passed against the government.
Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo is demanding that the polls be held no later than March 19, but the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) says it will not be able to hold elections until July.
In nearby Venezuela, National Assembly Leader, Juan Guaido, with the backing of the United States, declared himself interim president and is leading the effort to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office.
CARICOM has sought to play a leading role in trying to diffuse the situation in the South American country with which many CARICOM countries have an economic relationship under the Petro Caribe agreement.
CARICOM chairman, and host Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, led a CARICOM delegation to a meeting with Mexico in Uruguay, where the Montevideo mechanism was outlined in an attempt to assist in solving the empasse in Venezuela.
Harris is expected to bring all the leaders up-to-date on the Mechanism, in response to the call by the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to find a pathway to a peaceful resolution through dialogue and from a position of respect for International Law and Human Rights.
Earlier this month, Harris said that the Mechanism presents “the only objective mechanism” to address the complex political situation in Venezuela and that it is the only initiative available for international actors “who want to see peace in Venezuela.
“We expect that the Montevideo Mechanism will become a landmark document in terms of moving forward. Not only will it survive in the context of what is happening in the Republic of Venezuela, but I believe it provides a platform, if you will, a framework for engagement in other disputes that would impact upon us,” Harris said, adding that the next step now would be for the regional leaders to continue their dialogue on the situation “bearing in mind we were there (Uruguay) as a representative body.
“So we would want to report to the broader audience regarding the meetings that we had…and then to get further guidance and input from colleagues collectively on how we should move forward.
“We have to bear in mind that despite the initial differences among member states in the CARICOM community, we have been able to maintain solidarity in the context of clearly delineating and articulating the principles that would guide our foreign policy…of non-interference in member states, non-intervention, respect for rule of law, democracy and respect for constitutional order,” Harris said.
The important regional matters of enhancing regional air and maritime transportation and further advancing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services, across the region, will be among the agenda items for deliberation.
The meeting will seek to further advance “measurable steps” for action on the CSME which were identified at a special CARICOM summit held in Trinidad and Tobago last December.
These included new categories for free movement of persons, the leaders engagement with the private sector and labour, and operationalizing the protocol on Contingent Rights which was signed by 10 member states during and since the last summit in Jamaica in July last year.
The Secretariat said that the leaders will also examine recommendations from a Special Meeting of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on Transportation, held earlier this month in St. Vincent, which dealt with, among other things the Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA), proposals for a regional ferry service and easier security check-in for in-transit passengers. MASA, when implemented, will serve as a mechanism to maximize the economic and social benefits arising from aviation activities for CARICOM air carriers.
Security matters and blacklisting issues affecting member states are also before the leaders with Sears noting that just recently the Bahamas, and several other Caribbean countries, had been placed on a European Union blacklist, which requires additional scrutiny regarding financial transactions.
“For many years CARICOM has been advocating for a fair process and we will see now that that voice has resonated with developed countries.
“The entire CARICOM region is adversely impacted by these regulations,” Mr. Sears said, adding that, “The good thing about it is through the Financial Action Task Force countries agreed to recommendations to improve their financial sectors and by each country taking the necessary steps… we follow each other and adopt the best practices, Heads share their views, Central Banks Governors meet and they share views and they all work towards making these recommendations more relevant to address the financial concerns of the international financial community,” he added.
CARICOM’s public clash with the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, on Venezuela and Dominica, is also a matter the regional leaders will most likely discuss in a bid to maintain a united position going forward.
But Almargo, has shown no signs of backing down, indicating last weekend that “I stand by my statements and actions, which are completely consistent with the competencies of the Office of Secretary General and the democratic principles that this Organization promotes and defends”.
It has been suggested that CARICOM which 14 of the 34 active votes in the OAS, consider putting forward a candidate to replace the recalcitrant Uruguayan.