The Summit of the Americas was worth attending
(The author is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and Massey College, University of Toronto. Opinions expressed are entirely his own)
As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, success or failure is measured by the recipient or the overlooked. The Summits of the Americas, since their launch by the US administration in 1994, have neglected the Caribbean.
Not so, Summit 2022 held in Los Angeles June 8-10. The 14 independent CARICOM countries, with the exception of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, approached this Summit with greater self-confidence and determination not to be forgotten or ignored. They reaped the reward.
In a private meeting on the eve of the summit, which was attended by all but four, CARICOM heads of government decided they would not settle for a meeting scheduled only with US Vice President Kamala Harris. They wanted President Biden to be there. They made it clear that while no disrespect was intended for the Vice President, the critical issues facing their countries required the presence of the President himself to make the necessary decisions.
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Not only did the President introduce himself, but he fully engaged with CARICOM leaders and the President of the Dominican Republic. His commitment was so intense that the start of the first plenary session of the Summit, at which he was the first scheduled speaker, had to be delayed while he concluded the discussion in a satisfactory manner. Word spread through the halls of the Los Angeles conference center that the president was meeting with leaders from the Caribbean, intrigued delegates from major Latin American countries and created envy – the latter being spoken in low tones.
What prompted this unscheduled meeting was a demonstration of CARICOM unity which has only recently been revived within the Group. It was driven by the consensus on the way forward for CARICOM countries, forged two weeks earlier in Guyana at an agricultural investment forum, led by Guyana’s President, Irfaan Ali, with the strong support Mia Mottley from Barbados, Keith Rowley from Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Gaston Browne from Barbuda, Juan Briceño from Belize and Roosevelt Skerrit from Dominica.
At this forum, the representative group of leaders agreed on an achievable and time-bound plan for food and energy security, the transport of foodstuffs in the region and the removal of tariff barriers between the countries of CARICOM. They also agreed that after initial hesitation by several of them, they would attend the Summit of the Americas not only to express their dissatisfaction with the American decision not to invite the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela in particular, but to lobby for US support for the CARICOM action plan.
In Los Angeles, they forged ahead with that spirit of unity, meeting President Biden not with a begging bowl, but with proposals showing what CARICOM countries could and would do, and how states States could help them access international funding, including from the United States itself. . The exchange with Biden and Harris was courteous but frank, harsh truths were exposed but with honesty and respect. The US officials in the room might have been concerned about President Biden’s willingness to act, but whatever bureaucratic delays might still ensue, no one could doubt that action had been triggered. .
Skeptics, including people like me, who have attended many intergovernmental meetings where statements are made and ultimately dismissed, are tempted to see evidence before accepting sincerity. But there was an electricity to the Biden encounter that felt more believable; it generated the feeling that something might come out of it.
The US President agreed with CARICOM leaders and the President of the Dominican Republic that they would establish three joint committees, which would be “focused and time-bound to urgently address challenges related to energy security, food security and development/debt financing”. In the region”.
Less than five days had passed when, on June 14, the U.S. government wrote to the heads of CARICOM and the president of the Dominican Republic, announcing its co-chairs of the committees and its willingness to convene a meeting on June 20 “to discuss next steps toward achieving concrete near-term progress on the designated topics.” This response has to be ranked among the fastest the Caribbean has received from the United States regarding any issues initiated by countries in the region. As I remarked in an interview published in the Miami Herald on June 10, “This meeting was a breakthrough for us. Biden showed he was ready to move.”
The movement, however, should not be confused with progress that will only be achieved if the CARICOM countries and the Dominican Republic participate in these committees with a common objective and with solid arguments backed by rigorous research. The persons designated by the Caribbean party must also be experienced and lucid negotiators.
The Caribbean urgently needs a radical change in the rules applied to access to concessional financing by international financial institutions on whose policies the United States, as one of the largest and most wealthy, wield influence. The region also needs a change in lending policies to match lending to needs. One of the greatest needs of the region now is transportation to move food production in the region by sea and air, reduce dependence on foreign foods, strengthen agricultural sectors and reduce the cost of food products.
Each CARICOM country is also carrying a huge debt incurred to deal with external events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, high oil prices and rising shipping costs, and natural disasters – hurricanes , floods and droughts. Debt reduction, debt cancellation and debt rescheduling are urgently needed. The countries of the region cannot repay their debt, on current terms, and yet implement the plans that will make the difference to their survival and progress.
No Summit of the Americas in the past could reasonably have been considered a success by the Caribbean, but at this ninth Summit, the Caribbean, through the harmony and determination of its leaders, achieved momentum. Progress depends on maintaining both resolve and unity.
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