In 1962 as the nascent Federation of the West Indies struggled to find relevance, Dr. Eric Williams, then premier of Trinidad and Tobago, uttered five words that still reverberate around the Caribbean – one from 10 equals zero.
The issue was what the Trinis call the big bacchanal over where to put the capital of the new federation. The actual members of the federation unanimously voted for Chaguaramas in Trinidad.
As high ground, Chaguaramas commands the northwest peninsula of Trinidad. So strategic was the location that in 1940 the United States bargained with Britain to lease the entire area under the Destroyers for Bases Agreement, better known as Lend/Lease. Today it is the headquarters of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.
After the UK Parliament voted for the British Caribbean Federation Act in 1956, it was agreed that Grantley Adams of Barbados would be the prime minister. In 1962 it was further agreed that Chaguaramas would be the capital city.
But then the U.S. forcefully objected and, many feel, injected its tentacles into the plan to form one big English-speaking Caribbean neighbor out of many small island colonies.
With the two powerhouses of the federation, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago solidly backing Chaguaramas, it looked like a done deal until the U.S. pressured the UK, which in turn pressured Adams, who unilaterally acquiesced and, as prime minister, blocked the move.
So, incensed by this affront was Jamaica’s Premier Norman Manley that he put the issue of Jamaica’s continuation in the federation to a referendum. Fifty-four percent of Jamaicans voted to leave triggering Williams to proclaim a new math theorem: “one from 10 equals naught”. In other words, with Jamaica out, the dream of federation was dead.
The federation’s failure paved the way for CARICOM as we know it. It is an experiment that is largely successful. But today it is under threat as some of its members bend a knee to the U.S., just as surely as Adams did in 1962.
The issue this time is Venezuela, just six miles due west of Chaguaramas.
U.S. President Donald Trump has demonstrated no respect for the principles of multilateralism. He despises the United Nations, disparages NATO, has ripped up the Paris Agreement on climate and even the nuclear disarmament agreement the U.S. and other countries signed with Iran.
It is highly unlikely that he of s-hole country fame knows or even cares much about CARICOM’s core principles. So, it was no surprise when he used Venezuela to divide CARICOM. He peeled off four members – Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Haiti – and got them to support the far-right leader of the opposition who declared himself interim president of Venezuela.
The rest of CARICOM retreated to their founding principles which are non-involvement in the internal affairs of other countries and their desire for a peaceful resolution to the impasse in Venezuela. CARICOM’s official position is that both sides should negotiate a political resolution.
As thousands of refugees continue to turn up in Trinidad, CARICOM made their prime minister point man on the issue.
The four members who honored an invitation to meet with Trump have tried unsuccessfully to square the diplomatic circle by attempting to convince both the U.S. and CARICOM of their unqualified support. Fish and fowl at the same time.
The Americans are not content with just driving a scooter through CARICOM. They revved up an 18-wheeler and are slamming it into the heart of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, with The Bahamas, Haiti, Jamaica and St. Lucia happily onboard as if it were a carnival big truck blaring soca music.
The Americans have accepted the nominee of the leader of the opposition as Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.S. Then they stomped all over a planned meeting in China of the Inter-American Development Bank because the Chinese stood firm and refused to give a visa to the delegation of the opposition leader.
Recently it was the turn of the Organization of American States (71 years old this week) to roll over and play dead. The U.S. wanted the opposition leader’s candidate recognized as the permanent representative of Venezuela.
A resolution was put and passed over the strong objections of eight CARICOM members who joined Mexico to vote against it. Trump’s fav five (including Dominican Republic), did not vote with CARICOM and The Bahamas didn’t even have the diplomatic bearing to at least abstain.
So incensed was CARICOM that when the opposition leader’s candidate gave his maiden speech, the ambassadors of Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago got up and left the chamber.
If you hold your breath and squint out of both eyes it could almost make you long for Fred Mitchell, under whose watch at the Foreign Ministry we never would have been so pliable. The late Paul Adderley would probably still be mumbling “hell-to-the-no” for months after being asked to sign on to such a myopic foreign policy.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis made CARICOM a focus of his foreign policy but the deeds of his Foreign Ministry haven’t matched up to his sweet talk to CARICOM in Grenada in 2017.
You can almost hear Dr. Eric Williams reworking his math and ominously warning CARICOM that “four from 13 is also naught”.
– The Graduate