By Sir Ronald Sanders:
A row has broken out in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the possible candidature of that small Caribbean country for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2011-2012 in opposition to Colombia.
The St Vincent Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace, is claiming that, in seeking to be elected to the Security Council as a representative of the 33-member Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) group, the Ralph Gonsalves government is carrying out the wishes of Venezuela’s populist President, Hugo Chavez, simply to deprive Colombia of the seat.
Chavez and the Colombian government have been openly hostile to each other in an increasingly worsening situation (about which more later).
This row in St Vincent could be replicated throughout the LAC group, and may spread to the general assembly of all UN member countries if the group does not decide on a single candidate for the one seat allocated to it.
Historically, the LAC group has been able to reach consensus on one candidate. There have only been five contested elections over the years, and since 1966 when CARICOM countries began the process of becoming independent states, three Caribbean countries have been selected by the LAC group for the Security Council five times. Guyana was selected for the periods 1975-76 and 1982-83; Jamaica for the periods 1979-80 and 2000-2001; and Trinidad and Tobago for the period 1985-86.
Eustace claims that the St Vincent government is contesting selection in the LAC group because the country’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is tied to Chavez though membership of ALBA, a grouping of eight countries formed at Chavez’s initiative and in which, it is said, Chavez exercises influence over the others by virtue of the Venezuelan government’s financial contribution to their political survival.
It is widely felt that Chavez does not want Colombia on the Security Council because he regards that country’s government as a proxy for the United States administration. Chavez has criticised a US-Colombia military pact under which the US has access to military bases in Colombia. According to Chavez, the military bases would be used for espionage purposes and would allow US troops there to launch a military offensive against Venezuela.
For its part, the Colombia government has accused Chavez of collaboration with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a rebel military group that is seeking to topple the government.
The last time a bitter contest in the LAC group for a Security Council seat occurred was 2006 when Guatemala clashed with Venezuela and neither country could muster sufficient support to be endorsed as the undisputed candidate.
The battle then proceeded to the UN general assembly but not before Chávez had invested millions of dollars in a year-long campaign to get Venezuela elected to one of 10 non-permanent seats. After 48 ballots and two weeks of voting, neither country secured the two-thirds majority to clinch the contest and, eventually, the LAC group became actively involved in finding a compromise candidate in Panama but the process left much bad feeling all round.
In response to the Arnhim Eustace’s claims, Prime Minister Gonsalves released a document used to brief Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders during a meeting in Brazil in April regarding his government’s position on the non-permanent Security Council seat.
A Caribbean Media Corporation report says that the document “acknowledged that the island’s proposed candidacy ‘would likely necessitate a campaign against Columbia (sic)’, which is currently a declared candidate for the sole vacancy allocated to the Group of Latin American and Caribbean (GRULAC) in the October 2010 elections”.
However, the document is also reported as saying that St Vincent’s “proposed candidacy is less a challenge to Columbia (sic) than it is an advancement of a principled position on the representation of CARICOM, SIDS (Small Island Developing States) and small states at the upper echelons of multilateral diplomacy”.
No one can question the right of the St Vincent government to offer itself within the LAC group as a candidate for the Security Council seat. But the timing of the decision is curious because in 2009 the group had settled that Colombia would be the candidate for the 2011-2012 term. This tacit decision was made when Colombia wanted to be selected for the 2010-2011 term but conceded to Brazil.
It would have served both St Vincent and the LAC group better if the government had declared its decision to run for the 2011-12 term before Colombia had secured the nod of the group especially Brazil, and before relations deteriorated to its present sore point between Colombia and Venezuela.
The St Vincent document suggested that CARICOM countries should endorse the country’s candidature but that, if it did not prevail, another CARICOM country should step in as a “compromise candidate”. This suggests that the government is not confident of its capacity to knock Colombia out of the contest and that the issue would have to go to the full UN body where a two-thirds majority would be required for success.
If CARICOM member states vote as a bloc in the LAC group they would command 14 of the 33 votes, but the dispute would continue once Colombia held out. Nonetheless, CARICOM countries, acting together, could certainly block Colombia’s selection if it were their intention to ensure that one of their members should be the candidate.
There is a case for a CARICOM country to be the candidate for the 2011-2012 term. Since the Caribbean joined the LAC group, Colombia has served four terms and the larger countries – Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in particular – have dominated. But, being on the Security Council is not a cheap affair particularly if election is preceded by a contest with a richer country.
A small Caribbean country would have to invest heavily in the election campaign travelling around the world to drum up support. Then, it would have to strengthen its mission with qualified people, meeting the significantly increased costs for two-years. If it does not beef up its mission, it will do nothing more than warm the Council seat some of the time. That would do no good for the work of the Security Council and would convince the international community that small states have no place there. All of CARICOM would have to pitch in financially and with qualified people.
The situation would be worse if a non-CARICOM country paid the bill. The international community would see this as “he who pays the piper, calling the tune”, and CARICOM’s standing would be diminished to its detriment. This is not far-fetched; it happens now in the International Whaling Commission where Japan finances the participation of some small states and directs their votes.
If CARICOM countries decide to support St Vincent or another one of their small members against Colombia for as important an organ as the UN Security Council where all eyes will be focussed on them, they must be prepared to meet the costs, and they should ensure that the candidature is in their own interests and not to promote the policies of any other country.
May 7, 2010