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Latin America-Caricom Relations Deserving Economic Benefits
by Odeen Ishmael PhD
Guyana Journal July 2006

President Michelle Bachilet’s visit to Jamaica on June 9 shows a further indication of Chile’s interest in promoting closer political and economic relations with Caricom countries. During her meeting with the new Jamaican Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, the two leaders examined a range of regional and hemispheric issues. They also underlined the importance of promoting greater regional integration, through fostering increased cooperation between Chile and Caricom member states, as well as the South American and Caribbean sub-regions generally.

During these discussions, Prime Minister Simpson Miller informed President Bachilet of the progress being made towards the full implementation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), explaining that Jamaica was one of six countries that had already introduced the Single Market aspect of the CSME. She emphasised the significance of the CSME as a key developmental strategy in the region’s efforts to integrate into the global economy, and thanked the Chilean Government for the valuable technical assistance that it has provided to Caricom in institutional capacity building.

She also highlighted the tremendous benefits which the CSME would have for the expansion of intra-regional trade and the creation of new opportunities for “pan-Caricom” investments and regional economic integration. She noted that Chilean firms could be encouraged to take advantage of the enlarged market and improved framework for doing business within Caricom.

Chile has long been providing Caricom countries with political, technical and administrative support. For example, a number of diplomats from the sub-region received their training at the Chilean diplomatic school through scholarships. And from time to time, Chile has provided technical assistance to various Caricom bodies.

On the other hand, the close political friendships between Chile and Caricom have won valuable support for the former in international organisations. More recently, Caricom played a vital role to elect former Chilean Foreign Minister José Miguel Insulza as Secretary General of the Organisation of American States. This political support can surely be expanded into economic support which can see more Chilean trade and investment finding footholds in Caricom countries.

This is also prime season for other Latin American countries reaching out to Caricom. Earlier this year the Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolina Barco, visited some Caricom countries, including Guyana, and discussed issues of bilateral and regional political and economic cooperation.

Currently, there is some hemispheric heat building up around the campaign by Venezuela and Guatemala for one non-permanent seat (set aside for the Latin America and the Caribbean group) on the UN Security Council. And since the group has not decided on any single candidate, it is expected that between now and September both Venezuela and Guatemala will lobby intensely throughout Caricom and in other sub-regions for support.

Since it is more or less a general practice at the UN for choices made within a particular regional group to be supported by other regional groups, all eyes and ears will be trained towards the Latin American and Caribbean group to determine where its majority support lies. Will most countries of this group lean towards Venezuela? Or will they go for Guatemala which is heavily backed by the United States?

For countries wooing support for candidates to multilateral institutions, Caricom is regarded as a gift basket of 14 votes. In these days when quid pro quo in diplomatic relations is openly normal, it is not unusual for lobbied countries to ask for exchange of support for their own candidates in multilateral bodies in current or future elections; or they may even request support for political or developmental issues they are championing in the international arena. Therefore, for Caricom countries, it will not be untoward if they ask a lobbying country what tangible benefits – political and economic – they can procure by offering their votes.

On the issue of the Security Council seat, already one leading opposition politician in Jamaica has spoken out against support for Venezuela whose “socialism” he regards as dangerous and whose PetroCaribe initiative is viewed as a scheme to pick up votes from regional countries. And in Guyana an editorial in a leading independent newspaper has urged that government’s support for Guatemala which has never yet held a seat in the Council.

Obviously, Venezuela is holding a strong hand in Latin America and the Caribbean with its PetroCaribe initiative, but it must be borne in mind that not all the signatories are currently benefiting from it. But in the lobbying process, Caricom countries will have a good opportunity to urge Venezuela to invest more of its petro-dollars in trade and other areas of their economies to expand job opportunities, economic growth and poverty alleviation.

While Guatemala may not be economically endowed, it also stands a chance of winning political support from Caricom through inter-regional (Central American and Caricom) cooperation, and if powerful countries backing its candidature can deliver greater economic support and provide improved trade benefits to the sub-region.

More or less, such investment support in Caricom’s economies is what the Jamaican Prime Minister asked the Chilean President to help promote. In Chile’s case, Caricom delivered the goods by rendering political support when it was needed. Certainly, the time is opportune also for Caricom governments and private sector groups to reach out more consistently to their Latin counterparts, particularly in Mercosur and the Andean Community, to encourage more trade and investment. By doing so, the sub-region may yet win a significant economic payback.

The writer is Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.
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