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Editorial: Jamaica should back Baroness Scotland

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2015 | 7:00 AM

When Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders hold their annual summit in Barbados later this week, there is an important issue on which Jamaica must exert its rightly vaunted political leadership: the matter of who should be this region's consensus candidate for secretary general of the Commonwealth. They should declare their support for Dominica's nominee, Baroness Patricia Scotland, and make the persuasive and unassailable case that is in her favour.

The outcome is important.

It used to be the case that the Commonwealth provided a bridge between both sides, but in recent decades, as the chasm between the interests of rich countries and the developing world has widened, the 53-member Commonwealth has, if not lost its way, struggled for relevance. No longer do their shared colonial experiences and/or political arrangements mean rich and influential Commonwealth members like Britain, Canada and Australia will understand or be sensitive to the concerns of the small, poor ones like those in the Caribbean.

The result has been the diminishing of the Commonwealth as a forum where divisive geopolitical issues - as was the case with apartheid in South Africa - are debated and distilled, with the expectation that the perspectives of the less-powerful will percolate, via its rich members, to the clubs of the powerful. The Commonwealth, then, represented a moral force and insulation for its weaker members.

While the Commonwealth has been institutionally slow to adapt to the post-Cold War world, part of its weakness is the absence of someone at the helm capable of defining and articulating a new, clear vision for the organisation, or with the political clout and influence to make others listen.

Baroness Scotland - born in Dominica, to a Dominican mother and Antiguan father - has the personal attributes and track record for the job. While she has operated in the top echelons of the British political Establishment, including serving in the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and having strong global relations, she has remained rooted in the Caribbean, where she maintains close family ties and serves with various groups. Critically, she is intellectually capable.

 

CARICOM at odds

 

Unfortunately, CARICOM is at odds over a candidate from this region. Antigua & Barbuda has proposed its Guyana-born former high commissioner to the UK, Sir Ronald Sanders, while Trinidad and Tobago currently backs a former academic and government minister, Bhoe Tewari.

Of the two, Sir Ronald, who commentates regularly on Caribbean Third World affairs, is Baroness Scotland's stronger challenger. Mr Tewarie lacks the international heft that the job requires at this time.

But Sir Ronald carries baggage that could, for some, make his candidacy untenable. Three and a half decades ago, for instance, while Michael Manley was backing Cuba sending troops to Angola to fight invading South African troops, Sir Ronald was part of the Antigua government's public-relations apparatus that was embroiled in a controversy and the denial of the illegal shipment of guns to South Africa by a company that operated in Antigua as Space Research Corporation (SRC). SRC morphed from High Altitude Research Project (HARP), which developed a supergun capable of sending projectiles long distances, which its developer and HARP's principal, Gerald Bull, sold to South Africa and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in breach of United Nations sanctions.

The more recent controversies do not necessarily disqualify Sir Ronald. They, however, make Baroness Scotland's case stronger.