Thursday, February 24, 2011

Have CARICOM governments surrendered foreign policy independence to the Secretariat?

By Ian Francis

The debates and concerns about regional independent sovereignty are very much alive in academic, communities and other concerned sectors in the Caribbean Commonwealth. Many questions are being asked by those debating the issue. Recently, I became involved in the debate through my participation in a meeting amongst many concerned Caribbean nationals now residing in Toronto but maintain a deep affinity to the state from where they originally immigrated.

-- Is the foreign policy management process of independent Caribbean sovereign states, republics and nations managed through agencies that are in receipt of multilateral grants and contributions?

-- Are Commonwealth Caribbean governments exerting their sovereign rights and responsibilities to ensure that foreign policy decisions evolve through the government-designated ministry of foreign affairs?

-- Have our governments surrendered these sovereign rights due to concentration on managing the local economy?

-- Are they perceived simply as aid recipients and beggars that it is either the surrender of independent sovereign rights or getting the necessary aid?

Looking at the historical development of independence in the Commonwealth Caribbean, the names of Eric Williams, Forbes Burnham, Michael Manley and Errol Barrow cannot be forgotten as they clearly demonstrated their strong anti-colonialist stance and at the same time to ensure that the independence and management of their foreign policy remained intact in the various sanctuaries of their ministry of foreign affairs.

We cannot ignore their joint collective decision to ignore Washington’s objection when they made the decision to establish full diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba. Burnham and Manley’s unflinching support for the liberation movement against apartheid in South Africa and membership in the Non-Aligned Movement were independent foreign policy decisions taken, which brought no smiles in the State Department. In spite of the applied pressure unleashed on both Burnham and Manley, they stood their ground and demonstrated to the colonial interests that they are capable of making their own independent foreign policy decision.

In 1974, the courage against colonial domination was once again demonstrated by former prime minister of Grenada, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, when he made the decision to lead Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique to independence. What was challenging about Grenada’s decision is that it became the first Associated State in the now renamed environment of the OECS Union to break its colonial shackles with Britain.

Grenada’s decision to become independent led to the formation of various local alliances that were vehemently opposed to independence, leading to strikes and other civil disobedience, which led to the emergence of the famous Committee of 22. This Committee was made up of a group of local colonialists consisting of merchants, lawyers, farmers and other opposition factions. While their opposition to independence had some mitigating effects on the local economy, on February 7, 1974, Grenada, under the leadership of Eric Gairy, became independent and recently celebrated its 37th birth date as an independent nation.

Many of the other Associated States have since followed Grenada’s decision and finally broken the yoke of colonialism with Britain. Many are known as independent Caribbean Commonwealth States.

With the More Developed Countries (MDC) maintaining the management of their independent foreign policy, Grenada followed suit and went on to manage its own foreign policy in a number of misguided ways by establishing diplomatic relations with many nations that had a disregard for individual human rights. This misguided approach resulted in diplomatic relations with some notorious nations.

On the other hand, Grenada was successful in establishing a young corps of dedicated foreign service officers; joining many international organizations and of course taking its illustrious seat at the United Nations General Assembly; establishing its own embassies and consulates across the global community. In essence, it is fair to conclude that Grenada built a foreign policy infrastructure between 1974-79, which the Bishop regime acquired following the 1979 people’s uprising, and which witnessed the overthrow of Gairy from office.

While some of Grenada’s foreign policy decisions have been severely criticized by many international relation experts, the period of government under the Bishop regime of 1979-83 also had some misguided moments like the Afghanistan vote, the unnecessary feud with former Barbados prime minister, Tom Adams, and the constant negative exchanges with Washington.

Based on a careful review of regional events, it would appear to the writer that the surrendering of Caribbean states’ foreign policy management to the CARICOM Secretariat could have started in the late 80s or early 90s. With the surrendering of such an important pinnacle of any government, there have been many dull outcomes for regional independent governments. Some of these dull outcomes have seen a steady decline in bilateral assistance to our governments and a sudden increase of multilateral assistance to the Secretariat and many other regional multilateral agencies.

In conclusion, it is not too late for regional independent states to reclaim their foreign policy management niche. As they ponder the structural changes to be made within the Secretariat in the coming months, CARICOM’s management of regional foreign policy and its relation to international multilateral agencies require closer scrutiny. It is hoped that under Thomas’s current chairmanship and vigour, he will be able to convince his Council of Ambassadors to take a second look at this situation. A ministry of foreign affairs in any independent nation means more that good protocol practices. Formation of good foreign policies is crucial.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto and writes frequently on Caribbean Commonwealth Affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada. He can be reached at

February 24, 2011