What Venezuelan President Maduro, at the Second Summit of ALBA and Petrocaribe, in December last year, described as a set of arrangements designed to “continue advancing the food security and sovereignty of our peoples,” has now been extended to all the smaller islands of the Caribbean. As announced by their prime ministers at the end of the recent meeting of CELAC in Havana, both Grenada and St Kitts & Nevis have decided to join these Venezuelan-hemispheric initiatives.
The two countries follow St Lucia which in July of last year, announced its decision to join the arrangements, and it is obvious that the severe economic pressures which their governments have been experiencing, are the precipitating events inducing them to join the majority of their Caricom colleagues. But the governments have been quickly faced with criticisms from their parliamentary oppositions which insist that what is referred to by former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas of Grenada as the ideological slant of the Venezuelan-promoted system is inappropriate for the states of this region.
Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada has put what can be taken as the position of these countries in asserting that “we have nothing to lose” in joining ALBA, and has placed the emphasis and rationale on the possibility of obtaining “available resources which we can use to facilitate our development.” And there can be little doubt that as both Grenada and St Kitts have recently come under the strictures of the IMF, they envisage access to ALBA as a vent for receipt of funds for which they do not have to provide elaborate justifications, as in the case of other international and major-country financial institutions.
The accession of Grenada in particular, under the leadership of Dr Mitchell, is a good indicator of how far the OECS islands have come from the years immediately after the overthrow of Maurice Bishop, the Prime Minister having been a member of the first elected government that succeeded the demise of the People’s Revolutionary Government. And indeed, Mitchell’s posture, along with that of others, suggests a certain disillusionment with resources now available from traditional donors as these donors now claim to be victims of the global recession themselves.
The adherence of these countries to ALBA therefore marks an end to a long period of the post-Grenada American intervention in that country, when many governments felt it necessary to lean towards American ideological positions in foreign policy decision-making, rewarded as they were with financial resources through the Alliance for Progress, in pursuit of the US’s desire to, as it was put, stabilize the region. For over the years, the smaller Caricom countries have been more concerned with the effects of the liberalization of international trade on their leading commodities, and more recently with the hardline position of the United Kingdom in imposing what is seen as a stringent Air Passenger Duty which, in effect, constitutes an additional cost on travel to the islands, now desperately trying to transform themselves into tourist destinations.
What is interesting, however, is that up to now, Barbados has so far desisted from adhering to Petrocaribe-ALBA, that country perhaps not having, until recently, felt the fiscal strain characteristic of most of the other countries of the region, and therefore the need for substantial external resources.
Both that country and Trinidad & Tobago have, over the years, desisted from joining regional or hemispheric organizations deemed to be based on commonalities of ideological conviction and commitment. But the case for non-adherence is clearer in the case of Trinidad, which is an oil and gas producer in addition to having long demonstrated a certain wariness of Venezuelan interests or intrusions into the Caribbean, seeing this as a threat to what is referred to as the autonomy and cohesion of the Caricom Region. In addition Trinidad has continually emphasized the extent to which it has been a financial donor towards the Caricom states, many of which have willingly accepted its loans and grants.
In recent times too, an initiative, at least on paper, has emanated from Trinidad, through the publication of an article by Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran, entitled ‘The Case for a New Caribbean Convergence,’ and on which we have previously commented editorially. Dookeran’s objective would seem to be to seek a way to position Caricom within the hemisphere and in relation to the Latin American part of it, without engaging in a manner that might seem to indicate subordination to the major countries of the continent. And in a sense too, this would also seem to carry on Dr Eric Williams’s long insistence on the need for sustaining the identity of a Caribbean arena, and resisting what he saw as possible subordination to any Latin American hegemonists.
Awareness, in other Caricom states, of these Trinidadian concerns have paled, as Trinidad is now visibly being seen by its Caricom partners as pointing its economic growth objectives, at least in part, towards Latin America through a strong connection with a reconstructed Panama Canal. For the small states of the region now hastening to adhere to PetroCaribe-ALBA, what Eric Williams in an allusion to Venezuela, used to refer to as the “threat to the Caribbean Community,” no longer has any salience.