The recent meeting of United States President Donald Trump with five Caribbean leaders has caused quite a stir. The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines described the visit as “troubling” and an “insult to the Caribbean”. Gonsalves claimed he would not have gone, if invited. He reminded reporters in Barbados of the existence of CARICOM, currently chaired by Timothy Harris, the prime minister of St. Kitts-Nevis. Members include Barbados’s Mia Mottley and Trinidad and Tobago’s Keith Rowley.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Gaston Browne went further, via Facebook, advising that CARICOM sustain its position on Venezuela by standing on principle, without inducements or fear of reprisals. He implied that some CARICOM leaders seemed determined to undermine CARICOM solidarity. “I feel embarrassed for those weak-minded leaders who allowed themselves to be used, by carrying out the agenda of others,” said Browne.
In Saint Lucia the former foreign minister Alva Baptiste observed this week that while there was nothing wrong with the United States holding bilateral meetings with a country, or a group of countries, he believes it was inappropriate in the case of CARICOM. As Prime Minister Allen Chastanet made his way to Tuesday’s sitting of parliament, he was asked by waiting reporters to react to criticism levelled by fellow CARICOM leaders. He appeared unperturbed: “At the end of the day, I was elected by Saint Lucians to represent Saint Lucians. The topics that were discussed are of national, as well as regional, importance.”
Importantly, he emphasized that the meeting in Washington was by special invitation to individual leaders, not to CARICOM. He reminded the reporters that the United States is Saint Lucia’s largest trading partner, has the biggest diaspora of Saint Lucians, and provides the greatest opportunity for growth. “So if I’m invited to put forward Saint Lucia’s agenda,” he said, “I will happily accept.” He said he remained ever mindful of CARICOM’s positions.
The prime minister described the meeting as a very good one, and said he was encouraged that the United States came into the meeting with listening ears. Many matters were discussed, including: providing support and strengthening security within the region; the issue of Saint Lucians having to travel to Barbados for visas; the setting up of pre-clearance facilities when individuals are travelling to the island.
“As you know,” the PM said, “Saint Lucia is currently constructing a brand new airport terminal. They have pre-clearance facilities in other countries and we have initiated dialogue with the US. There’s a team coming here to follow up with us.”
Chastanet said plans are afoot to revamp the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Established in 1971, OPIC is a United States government agency that helps American businesses invest in emerging markets with financing, political risk insurance and investment funds. “They’re putting $70 billion into that organisation,” the PM said. “They’ve indicated that the reorganisation should be completed within the next sixty days, and have promised that a team will be coming down to Saint Lucia within the next ninety days to look at some of the investment opportunities we currently have here.”
The prime minister said the matter of trade was also discussed, and the possibility of bringing back a new Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). The CBI was a programme established in the time of Ronald Reagan with the aim of facilitating the development of Caribbean economies by providing beneficiary countries with duty-free access to the US market. The US-sanctioned Leahy Law was not discussed with President Trump last Friday.