It would appear the HOGs at the most recent CARICOM Summit had been for the last several years out of touch with reality and needed urgently to be updated by the one Caribbean leader conceivably with his ears to the ground. How better to explain the announcement by Saint Lucia’s prime minister, the group’s out-going chairman, that “our relationship with Europe is becoming more and more one-sided, with Europe seemingly having its way at every turn, on every occasion?”
‘Seemingly?’ As if to reassure himself his audience had not underestimated the urgency of his message, the prime minister elaborated: “Europe had its way with bananas, sugar and the Economic Partnership Agreement and now is having its way with differentiation.” “This issue must be fought resolutely,” he said.
“The relationship between the EU and the CARIFORUM countries is not just economic but also profoundly political. Europe as well as CARICOM will have to determine not just the diplomatic but also the political value of the existing relationship.” The obviously loaded statement seemed to hark back to the Cold War era when the Caribbean was handsomely rewarded for its unwavering support of United States initiatives, especially with regard to its relations with Cuba. What might Saint Lucia’s prime minister have been thinking? We can only speculate. But first, a reality check. How did Europe get “its way with bananas?”
As I recall, so satisfied were our leaders with the benefits from our negotiated arrangements—which preceded the European Union—we took to referring to Windward Islands bananas as “green gold.” It is as true also to say we could not have profited as we did from exporting our bananas to the UK without the special conditions that allowed our farmers certain advantages over other exporters. Also undeniable is the fact that finally we had shafted ourselves from several angles. We had ignored the countless warnings from the World Trade Organization that the preferential treatment afforded our banana producers could not continue forever, that indeed it was in the scheme of things not only unfair but also illegal.
Persuaded by self-serving incumbent politicians not to take seriously the “prophets of doom,” that we could count on our friends in Britain not to let us down, plantation workers mindlessly engaged in no-cut strikes, aided and abetted by opposition politicians with their own selfish agendas. Our farmers paid dearly for their naiveté, and not only economically. On at least one unforgettable occasion involving the SSU some paid with their lives. Throughout the banana era’s “better days” there was much talk about what we might be doing for ourselves with the excess fruit we deposited by the truckload at the Choc dump—but never any related action.
Predictably, the inevitable caught up with us. If, as Saint Lucia’s prime minister claimed this week, Europe screwed our banana producers, so did their local enablers. Undeniably, we were willing victims of our own vice. As for the prime minister’s reference to “differentiation”—part of a proposal by the European Union to change the way it determines its aid, particularly to the ACP countries—what to say? The proposal seeks to target Least Developed Countries while cutting allocations to high-income and upper-middle-income nations such as Saint Lucia and several sister territories.
“The issue must be fought resolutely,” advised our prime minister, shortly before handing over leadership responsibilities to the new CARICOM chairman.
The applause that greeted the war declaration somehow brought to mind cockroaches united against voracious roosters. While the prime minister and his fellow HOGs may have enjoyed pulling the enemy’s teeth in its absence, experience should by now have taught them that he who rides a tiger cannot dismount. For too long has CARICOM been notorious for wasting time and scarce money on conferences that are little more than opportunities for passing the buck. What exactly did the prime minister mean when he said “Europe as well as CARICOM will have to determine not just the diplomatic but also the political value of the existing relationship?”
By all he said in Haiti, it seems he places little value on our country’s current relationship with the UK. Repeatedly he has suggested we should be seeking to set up new arrangements with such as China, Venezuela, Chile and so on—reminiscent of a fulminating 70s George Odlum after an increasingly suspicious Muammar Gaddafi had decided no longer to finance revolution in the Caribbean. Odlum had retaliated with a public denunciation of the Libyan leader, who he
claimed had expected the region’s radicals, in return for a few measly bucks, to render themselves “canon fodder for the Americans.” The time had come, he unforgettably wrote in his Crusader newspaper, to abandon Libya and embrace a less demanding, if not quite as generous Cuba. At this juncture I am reminded of an item featured in a recent issue of the Crusader (since Odlum’s passing generally regarded as, irony of ironies, the organ of the Saint Lucia Labour Party). Referencing the on-going contentious public service salary negotiations, the paper advised in bold print: “Kenny must put the Needy before the Greedy!” The pseudonymous columnist made it abundantly clear whom he-she considered the greedy. “If public servants who know they have mortgages perform as though they are untouchables in the public service, then I have no mercy for them if the axe or guillotine falls and their heads roll. I characterize the current wage demands by public servants as absolute madness.” Some might be tempted to say it is also absolute madness at this time to bite the hands that feed you, if only half of the time. Already we’ve seen how the U.S. treats “needy” uncooperative Caribbean territories altogether dependent on American tourism, not to mention U.S. visas, described in a 2011 article in The Economist as America’s “latest weapon for keeping the Caribbean in check.” When Caribbean leaders are in discussion with the U.S. attorney general about such matters as the deportation of criminals and its impact on regional crime, how foolhardy to be issuing threats, however subtle. The same considerations apply to the UK now seriously considering laws that could exacerbate our out-of-control crime situation, to say nothing of recently established British taxes already impacting negatively British travel to Saint Lucia. The Saint Lucian prime minister’s observations in Haiti are especially interesting at a time when we are celebrating our 34th year of freedom from Whitehall influence.
If Europe continues regardless to have its way with us, then whom to blame? Did our leaders not eagerly, and for the most part secretly, sign the negotiated agreements cited by CARICOM’s out-going leader? How much did our farmers know of our governments’ agreements with Geest and other importers of their bananas? What did we know about the ill-fated OECS Unity Initiative before it was dropped on us like a bomb out of nowhere? Were we ever informed in advance of a diplomatic relationship with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? How many of us know anything about the Ryder agreement? What did we know about Rochamel prior to the Ramsahoye inquiry? Do we know enough, even now, about Frenwell? What do we know about the Grynberg contracts secretly agreed to eleven or twelve years ago and scheduled soon to come before an ICSID tribunal? What do we know about the Petro-Caribe deal? Have the pros and possible cons been discussed in the people’s House?
As far back as her time as Dominica’s prime minister Eugenia Charles had complained vehemently about CARICOM agendas as unfamiliar to the HOGs themselves as to the people they represented. Quite obviously, not much has since changed. So are we now headed in new directions, cap in hand? Was the Saint Lucian prime minister’s speech in Haiti a small hint of what’s to come? There can be no harm in forming new and useful relationships with other countries. But not at unnecessary expense to our people and our long-established friends who, in better days, had been most generous to Saint Lucia.
As the prime minister himself has often pontificated, our diplomatic relations should never be based solely on monetary considerations, for that would make us a nation of whores!