Opinion June 10, 2016 | 10:19 am

A crowded space

When it comes to regional and hemispheric institutions, theCaribbean and Latin America have become a crowded space.

Over the last few years an extraordinary number of bodieshave appeared; expanding their agendas to promote regional integration,sustainable development, political cooperation, a single approach ininternational forums, and the promotion of dialogue with other states andinstitutions.

Three examples will suffice.

The first is the Caracas-based Community of Latin Americanand Caribbean States (CELAC) that met in Ecuador in late January, agreeing awide-ranging action plan. This politically significant grouping is now focusingon delivering an expanded economic and environmental agenda. Not only does CELAC bring together all of thecountries of the Americas other than the US, Canada and all non-independentoverseas territories, but it has also become a primary focus for the EuropeanUnion’s and China’s relations with the Americas, and is intent on developing asimilar interface with Russia, India, Korea and Turkey. Moreover, some countries like Cuba andVenezuela clearly regard it as the future authentic alternative to theOrganisation of American States (OAS).

Then there is the Trinidad based Association of CaribbeanStates which met in Havana on June 4. This grouping, which is beingreinvigorated under the pro-tempore presidency of Cuba, adopted at the end ofits meeting a 44-point declaration and an eleven-page two-year plan of action,requiring extensive work by its secretariat on many of the same issues thatwere addressed in Ecuador by CELAC. The institution includes all of thecountries of the Caribbean and Central America plus Venezuela and Mexico andunusually, the region’s overseas territories and the French DOM as associatemembers, but not Puerto Rico or the USVI. As with CELAC it has a wide range ofinternational observers and relationships.

And thirdly there is the Washington based General Assemblyof the Organisation of American States (OAS), which will meet in the DominicanRepublic from June 13-15. Unlike the other two bodies, the OAS is an orphan ofthe cold war. It includes the United States and almost all of the independentnations in the Americas. The exception is Cuba which, while a member, has saidthat it will never re-join as it regards the body, in the words of PresidentCastro, as “an instrument of imperialist domination.” The OAS too is developing a work programmethat goes far beyond the political, and has many international observers and extra-hemisphericrelationships.

There are also many sub-hemispheric and cross-cuttinggroupings. They include for the Caribbean and Central America, CARICOM, theOECS, and SICA; the overlapping mechanisms and memberships of nations that aremembers of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance; and now newer relationships such as,for example, Suriname and Guyana’s membership of the Organisation of IslamicCooperation.

Why this complexity has come about is partly a function ofhistory, a consequent desire to reinforce south-south relations, and to developan authentic voice that is demonstrably separate from the US andindependent. It responds to a wish foralternative hemispheric leadership. Itis also in part a reflection of the once high oil price and its ability to fuelthe rise of left-leaning social movements in the Americas while enabling newforms of hemispheric support. More generally, it is a response to changedthinking about the re-positioning of the Americas in a multi-polar world.

For CARICOM the welcome rise of CELAC in particular, raisesquestions about how best to engage to ensure the sub-region’s voice is heard onissues that are of particular concern to small states, and how to ensure thatthe unique identity of the region’s 5.5m English speakers is maintained in anorganisation representing 600m people.

More importantly, it is about the how the region intendstaking advantage of the economic opportunity closer relations offer for growththrough trade and investment. In this respect it is unclear if CARICOM has anyplans to take advantage of the more rapid economic progress of its Hispanicneighbours in both the Caribbean and Central America.

Nevertheless, the ACS summit, did offer some initialthoughts. The final declaration spoke about the importance of functionalco-operation in ‘uniting’ all ACS members by developing air and sea routes andmulti- destination tourism. It also noted the significance of the Panama Canalexpansion for regional economic development, and proposed establishing aworking group to consider how tariff preferences might be adapted to encourageintraregional trade.

However, there was no indication about who would deliverthis, how the private sector is to be engaged in the process, where suchinitiatives might fit with the work already being undertaken by bodies such asCaribbean Export, or any objective time scale in which practical outcomes areto be achieved.

Moreover, a tortuously worded paragraph in the ACSDeclaration on working towards the consolidation of CELAC made clear in part‘the importance of also fostering coordination and articulation with otherregional and sub regional mechanisms and organizations, in particular CARICOM,OECS and SICA,’ suggesting there is concern in the sub-region that itsinstitutions may be eclipsed.

What is apparent from the emergence and growing strength ofthe new platforms is that relationships in the Americas have changedprofoundly.

It suggests a high degree of hemispheric solidarity is hereto stay.

Moreover, the future scenarios for political change inWashington suggest that this process of consolidation in the Americas willcontinue and be reinforced. US policy will either be more of the same underHilary Clinton, or result in a dramatic reinforcing of solidarity in theAmericas if her Republican opponent were to emerge as the winner and seek toimplement his extraordinary and implicitly racist policy in relation to Mexico.

At present the ACS and CELAC mean little in relation to theCaribbean’s struggling economic integration process, but it is clear that somemembers of CARICOM are now looking for new ways to stimulate growth by linkingtheir development to Spanish speaking neighbours in the region.

The growth in the number of bodies in which the region isnow involved suggests that not only is new thinking about the path to economicintegration required, but thought needs to be given as to how CARICOM and thesingle market are to relate to the long term structural changes that are takingplace in the hemisphere.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council

He can be contacted at david.jessop@caribbean-council.org

Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org

June 10th, 2016

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