By Sir Ronald Sanders
WASHINGTON, United States, Monday May 6, 2019 – It’s no secret that the countries of the
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are divided over the response to the situation in
Detractors of the CARICOM project and
Caribbean integration have seized upon the obvious cleavage in the grouping to
advance their view that not only is Caribbean integration not possible, it
isn’t even desirable.
It might surprise these detractors to
know that CARICOM is not the only group of nations in the Organization of
American States (OAS) in which division over the response to the situation in
Venezuela exists. There is similar division among the members of the Central
American Integration System (SICA), comprising eight countries of Central
America and the Dominican Republic, as well as among the members of the Latin
American Integration Association (ALADI), consisting of 11 independent
countries in South America (except Guyana and Suriname) and Mexico.
For completeness, we should note that
Belize is uniquely a full member of both the 14-nation CARICOM group and SICA.
The fact of a different national
position on elements of the Venezuela situation is no indication that
integration in CARICOM or any other group of countries is fragmenting, or on
the verge of collapse.
Each of these groups is made-up of
sovereign states. They have the right to act as their governments at the time
deem to be in their national interest. While it is wholly desirable – and to
their benefit – for all countries in these groups to seek the greatest
coherence and unity of action in conducting their external affairs, nothing
legally binds them to do so.
In CARICOM’s case, the Revised Treaty
of Chaguaramas (CARICOM Treaty) states among its objectives: “enhanced
co-ordination of Member States’ foreign and [foreign] economic policies”. The
obligation is not for harmonization; it is for “enhanced coordination” which
does place an obligation on governments to organize different elements of
activity so as to enable them to work together effectively. But, in the end, it
does not require them to act in exactly the same way.
The Treaty also provides for the
actions of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR). The relevant clauses of the Treaty require
Foreign Ministers to: “seek to ensure, as far as practicable, the adoption of
Community positions on major hemispheric and international issues; and to
co-ordinate the positions of the Member States in inter-governmental organizations
in whose activities such States participate”.
In the final analysis, each CARICOM
government of the day -like every other government in multilateral and
international organizations – acts in accordance with what it considers the
national interest as it deems fit. The factors that influence what action a
government takes in inter-governmental organizations are many. Among them would be: standing up for
principle; adhering to international law and norms; respecting the rules and
procedures of organizations; and responding to pressure or forms of
encouragement from other countries that are capable of punishing or rewarding
Those are the facts of life. Undoubtedly,
each, or all, of these factors were evaluated by individual CARICOM governments
when they adopted positions in the OAS in the debates and votes related to
Venezuela. For some governments, being punished or rewarded by powerful
countries may have weighed more heavily than other considerations.
In the event, in each of the ballots
that have taken place over the last three years in the OAS at the levels of the
General Assembly, the Meetings of Consultation of Foreign Ministers and the
Permanent Council, CARICOM countries voted differently.
The differences continue now. However,
what is at stake in the current OAS situation is no longer Venezuela by or of
itself. The issue now directly relates to a movement away from consensus, which
has traditionally guided decision-making, to one of imposition of the will of a
simple majority. In this circumstance, any 18 of the 34 countries in the OAS
can discard rules, procedures, norms and even international law, to achieve
their own objectives, and that, regrettably, is what has been happening.
The most blatant manifestation of this
troubling development is that the Permanent Council of the OAS, which has no
such authority under the Charter of the Organization or by its own rules, was
made by a group of 18 countries to unseat the representative of a government,
still in effective control of a country, and to seat the representative of
another group proclaimed to be the legitimate government.
It takes two-thirds of the OAS member
states to adopt the Organization’s budget. But a simple majority imposed a
decision on what faction in Venezuela is the legitimate government and who the
representative to the OAS should be. That, of itself, is alarming.
This development was sharply
criticised by 15 member states on procedural and jurisdictional grounds. Among
the objections to the vote were that: the Permanent Council acted beyond its
authority; the decision should have been handled by either an existing Meeting
of Foreign Ministers or the General Assembly; and it violates the OAS Charter
and its instruments.
México, and 9 CARICOM countries have
formally written to the President of the Permanent Council, pointing out
glaring inconsistences in the appointment of Mr Juan Guaido’s agent as
Venezuela’s Permanent Representative and to non-conformity with international
law and the normative framework of the OAS.
In the case of the 9 CARICOM countries, they have requested that the
existing Meeting of OAS Foreign Ministers review this development.
In taking the action, the nine CARICOM
countries are standing-up for adherence to international law and norms, and for
the Charter and rules of the OAS, for, without them, the rule of the jungle
prevails. And that affects every CARICOM country, because they are each too
powerless to defend their rights on their own.
That is why, whatever factors determine the position of CARICOM governments, they should all be very cognizant that, in international politics, today’s allies could be tomorrow’s adversaries, but standing-up for principles and the law are permanent and constant values. Those are the shields and swords of small states; they are the factors over which they should cohere in their own interest.
Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto.