The Caricom communiqué

It is a good thing that we had no great expectations going into last weekend’s meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of Caricom, at Frigate Bay, St Kitts, as we cannot really complain of any great disappointment that no decisions of any consequence appear to have been taken there.

To be fair, however, the resulting summit communiqué was not written in the usual opaque, generally uninformative language to which we have become accustomed in recent times. If anything, there seems to have been a conscious decision on the part of the drafters of the communiqué to cut down on the diplomatic waffle, at least in the early paragraphs, as they threatened to produce a more tightly written document. Perhaps this was all the better to give the impression of there having been more focused, results-oriented discussions among the heads. That may or may not be the truth of what actually transpired at Frigate Bay, especially in light of reports of a five-hour opening ceremony.

But, on closer inspection, it is difficult even for those versed in the arcane ways of diplomacy – and well-nigh impossible for the uninitiated – to read between the lines of the communiqué to discern exactly how the discussions in St Kitts advanced the stuttering cause of regional integration.

Certainly, our leaders seem to be patting themselves on the back with regard to the establishment of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, which is indeed a significant step forward in efforts to achieve better coordination of public health strategies and functions, in order to “improve the health and well-being of the people and to contribute to economic development of the Region.” But the emphasis here is unsurprising, given that the chairman of the conference, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis, is a medical doctor and the lead head for health-related issues in Caricom’s quasi cabinet.

On the other hand, the effusiveness of the language here is not matched by the early paragraphs dealing with matters of governance, in which pretty much all we learn is that the Inter-Governmental Task Force revising the Treaty of Chaguaramas has been mandated “to consider and develop amendments to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement provisions of the Treaty and include sanctions and other measures to secure compliance” and that the selection of a new secretary general has once again been postponed, this time to allow the heads to interview “the short-listed candidates within two weeks” to allow them to make a decision “shortly thereafter.”

This is, to put it mildly, disappointing, as it seems to confirm that our leaders are not yet ready to bite the bullet on a new governance architecture for implementation of their mandates. Moreover, the heads have had the best part of the year so far to assess the candidates for secretary general and to determine whether they were well suited to the challenges of restructuring the Secretariat and providing quality advice on re-energising Caricom. If they were not happy with the short-list, they should have re-opened the selection process. Now, if they are in the process of reaching some sort of political compromise on such a critical appointment, then there is a real risk that they may be short-changing themselves and the community.

Perhaps that is why the language of these early paragraphs is so relatively terse. Maybe nothing was really decided. Unfortunately, it would be too much to expect the whole communiqué to be written as succinctly, for although the honesty would be welcome, that could lead to an implicit admission of a total failure to agree on key objectives.

The late Lloyd Searwar, one of the pre-eminent thinkers on international relations in the Guyanese Foreign Service of old and a former Caricom director of foreign affairs, was once supposed to have passed judgment on a respected colleague, not without a little waspishness, to the effect that said colleague was a master of language rather than the master of diplomacy he was widely held to be. It is a thought-provoking comment and useful to bear in mind when reading official diplomatic releases, especially the better crafted Caricom communiqués.

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