Wednesday 4th October 2006

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Caricom’s crucial choice

Caricom countries have before them a challenge, one that could be perceived as taking a side in the contest between the religiously driven apostle, President George W Bush and the former army soldier bent on reversing the domination of western capitalism, Hugo Chavez.

Christian religious fundamentalism would define it as a choice between good and evil: an advocate of God and a disciple of the Devil.

Needless to say, it is far from being so simple and the Caribbean, in any case, may find it difficult to determine which way is up in the circumstances and given the characters.

The contest will be fought in a couple weeks for a non-permanent place on the United Nations Security Council. It is the environment from which decisions are taken to determine which countries and regions of the world are attacked with the now infamous weapons of mass destruction or supported in their quest to attain nuclear force.

And while, as the “non-permanency” of the position indicates, the country that emerges with the majority of votes will not have critical voting rights or veto power, the position means something by way of unconditional support or not for the present power structure and fostering discussion and debate in international fora over power relations in the world.

The two countries actually vying for the non-permanent Security Council seat are Venezuela and Guatemala, the latter being the preferred choice of the US, therefore the contest is seen as one between the US and Venezuela.

In the present circumstances of the sweetheart Petro-Caribe deal, Venezuela to Caricom, a deal enthusiastically welcomed by the vast majority of Caricom countries, that majority has a rather very obvious choice.

In addition to the oil flowing to Caricom on preferential terms and conditions, disposing them to support Venezuela, the region still remembers that Guatemala with its host of US banana companies was one of the major protagonists against Caribbean banana producers at the WTO. In this regard Caricom is not likely to forgive the Guatemalans, even if the major protagonists were the American fruit companies.

Caricom is also likely to consider negatively Guatemala’s continuing claims to a large chunk of Belize’s land mass and so be averse to lending support to a country which has designs on the territorial integrity of a member state.

This point is however balanced by Venezuela’s refusal to allow its own claims to Guyana to disappear, notwithstanding Chavez’s profile as non-colonial power in the region and his readiness to identify his country as part of the Caribbean and not an invading power.

Only recently in the run-up to the UN Security Council elections and with his sights firmly set on receiving the 14 Caricom votes, President Chavez vowed that if elected, Venezuela would not use its position on the Security Council to advance its claims on Guyana’s territory. While that may give some form of assurance, it does nothing to alleviate the continuing concerns of Guyana and Caricom.

The proximity of Venezuela to the Caribbean and its long historical ties with T&T and Jamaica, Bolivar having taken refuge in Jamaica two centuries ago, are also factors that would persuade Caricom states to support the candidacy of Caracas for the UN Security Council place.

But what of the intrinsic value of either Venezuela or Guatemala on the UN Security Council and what does it hold for international relations into the future?

Caricom countries must ask themselves whether support for the candidacy of Venezuela or Guate-mala will advance or retard international peace. Will their support for one or the other assist with a greater balancing of the power? Will their support go to exercising a measure of restraint on the world’s only super power?

Guatemala has been a client state of the US since the 1950s when the CIA removed the duly elected Arbenz, who was attempting to put a spoke in the wheel of the Latifunda system in which the giant American banana corporations owned the majority of the cultivable land while the peasants lived landless and dependent on the fruit companies for their hand-to-mouth existence.

A vote for Guatemala therefore means further support for the US to do as it pleases at the Security Council. Whereas a vote for Venezuela must certainly ensure that at least another voice is raised at this crucial international forum against further licence of the US to do with the Security Council as it well pleases.

Alternatively, there may be the concern that Venezuela’s presence at the Security Council could mean opening the door to countries such as Iran with desires for nuclear power to be able to get the green light to press ahead with its nuclear ambitions.

Such concerns however are not realistic: one, the non-permanent position does not carry with it voting power on anything, far less on which country should be allowed to develop nuclear power.

It also does not consider that apart from the US, Britain, France, Russia and China are not likely to stand by and allow the nuclear club to spread abroad, especially in the Muslim world. Such concerns therefore are completely without validity.

Similarly, concern that a position on the Security Council will allow for some reckless adventure by Chavez is without substance: one, the relative powerlessness of the position and two, nothing that the Venezuelan president has done has brought disaster on his country or those who support him.

His anti-Bush, anti-capitalist rhetoric might sting the sensibilities and pride of some but neither Chavez nor his tongue has the power to change the “price of cocoa.”

There is far more to fear though if Caricom countries were to offend Washington by supporting the candidacy of Venezuela. More so, according to Prime Minister Manning, that this is an era when the US has been “studiously ignoring” the economic and security needs of the Caribbean.

Nonetheless, a country’s stance in international relations has always been about self-interest. Even the US, while it carries on the rhetorical war with Caracas, remains a major trading and business partner of Venezuela, the South American country being the fourth largest supplier of crude oil to the US.

My understanding is that there was consensus at the St Kitts Heads of Government Summit to support the Venezuelan candidacy. If that continues to be the position, then Caricom should go ahead and do so on the basis of their interests being better served.

What the Caribbean cannot afford to do is to get entangled in the rhetorical gushes between Bush and Chavez.





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