Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Rosalea Hamilton | CARICOM’s lukewarm response to Haiti and Cuba

Published:Sunday | July 25, 2021 | 12:07 AM
Special forces police patrol the streets as they drive past a large Cuban flag hanging from the façade of a building, in Havana, Cuba.
Rosalea Hamilton
Police patrol the streets after a demonstration that turned violent in which protesters demanded justice for the assassinated President Jovenel Moïse, in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.
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Many of us in the Caribbean are deeply saddened by the recent developments in Haiti and in Cuba. We are also saddened and concerned by the lame, inconsequential response by CARICOM on the assassination of Haiti’s President Moïse, which was ignored by a “core group” of diplomats, and on the civil protests in Cuba.

In their July 7 statement on the assassination of the Haitian president, CARICOM stated “… its willingness to play a lead role in facilitating a process of national dialogue and negotiation to help the Haitian people and their institutions to craft an indigenous solution to the crisis”. What “lead role” can CARICOM really play given its recent spineless stance on Venezuela in the face of American dominance?

Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) Keith Rowley is correct in his response to a recent statement released by a “Core Group” of international diplomats representing countries such as Germany, Brazil, Spain, the US, France, the EU, and representatives from the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS) regarding the political situation in Haiti. Insulted by the absence of any reference to CARICOM, PM Rowley posted on his Facebook page (July 18, 2021): “By our own actions of kowtowing and genuflecting to those who see us as unworthy and irrelevant, we have continuously contributed to our own demise.”

I suspect PM Rowley’s statement is motivated (at least in part) by the recent divisive OAS vote that took place at its Permanent Council meeting on December 16, 2020, when the government of T&T was falsely blamed for the loss of lives of Venezuelans. Instead of defending T&T and preserving CARICOM unity, The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti voted against T&T. No doubt still stinging from what I described previously as a “CARICOM Fiasco,” PM Rowley further noted: “We are either a respectable CARICOM or we are fawning vassals deserving of such disrespect.”

So what will it take for us to be a “respectable CARICOM”?

BECOMING A ‘RESPECTABLE CARICOM’

First, CARICOM must address democratic governance. Both Haiti and Cuba have embraced undemocratic governance arrangements that have been contentious and have contributed to vacillating support from CARICOM. A credible democratic strategy is, therefore, essential. But what model of democracy should they embrace? The American- style democracy which enables and fosters systemic racism and institutionalised discriminatory housing, financing, and other forms of policies against its own citizens, with a democratic foreign policy that has provided continuous support for undemocratic nations like Saudi Arabia? Or should they embrace the Caribbean model of democracy, which has centralised power in the hands of prime ministers, including Rowley, wielded through Cabinet dictates and “parliamentary dictatorship,” while pretending to be following the British “Westminster” model?

In a region with evidence of declining support for democratic institutions for more than a decade, including in the US, it is not enough to insist on embracing democracy and settling differences “peacefully through dialogue and recourse to democratic institutions.” A “respectable CARICOM” must clarify the democratic arrangements appropriate for formerly enslaved societies with the dual objective of political as well as economic freedom even if its own practices fall short.

Democracy is indeed “messy”. It is not a static goal a nation achieved after “free and fair elections,” not even for countries like the US and Britain. Rather, it’s a non-linear pursuit of ideals through a continuous process of improvements in governance as well as social and economic relationships as individuals pursue competing (sometime contradictory) ideals and interests.

A “respectable CARICOM” should use this opportunity to re-examine its own democratic flaws and offer both Haiti and Cuba lessons from its own undemocratic path while highlighting some of its democratic strengths, like Jamaica’s global leadership of Press Freedom and Suriname’s embrace and respect for cultural diversity. In so doing, given our shared history, CARICOM can legitimately assist in crafting “an indigenous solution to the crisis” both in Haiti and Cuba and in creating new, democratic institutions that are responsive to the needs and will of the Haitian and Cuban people.

TRANSFORMATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Transformational development must be at the core of such an indigenous solution. Such development requires building the capacity to produce, employ, and export capital, especially in the form of education, healthcare, and the creative industries. Cuba is already well down that road, but Haiti and the rest of CARICOM must follow, with mutually beneficial international collaboration. Cuba has not only produced five vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has sent medical missions to about 40 countries in the Caribbean and on five continents during an unjust US embargo that would cripple any CARICOM country. A “respectable CARICOM” should acknowledge this tremendous achievement and forge health-related institutional collaboration with the Cubans to enhance CARICOM’s capacity to create vaccines and pursue other R&D initiatives to address the crippling, chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) facing CARICOM, with the highest prevalence of NCDs in the Americas.

An appropriate democratic model for economic and political reforms in Haiti, Cuba, and across CARICOM itself is now URGENTLY needed. A “respectable CARICOM” should create this model for guiding our engagement with the rest of the world, including the lifting of US sanctions against Cuba and US engagement with Haiti and CARICOM countries.

 

- Rosalea Hamilton, PhD, is the CEO, LASCO Chin Foundation; founding director, Institute of Law & Economics; and chair of Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rosaleahamilton@gmail.com.