Caricom and Libya

On Wednesday we reported Caricom Chairman Dr Denzil Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis as saying that Col Gaddafi of Libya should recognize that “the end is apparently very near and in order to prevent further loss of lives that there is now need for him to now relinquish and speak and talk and even discuss how this conflict can come to an end without further bloodshed.” According to CMC he then went on to say (among other things), “We have seen in countries where democracy has been absent, where people have been yearning for full freedom of expression… and eventually this has led to bloodshed as we have seen over the last six months in various Arab countries… We believed that democracy must be pursued vigorously and must be sustained by whatever it takes at all times.”

Well this is very daring. Caricom’s previous statements on the subject have been notable either for their brevity or their lack of common sense, while the subject of ‘democracy’ did not loom very large in any of them. Before events in Libya had got seriously underway, the Caricom Heads of Government at the end of their Grenada summit had called for an end to the violence in the Middle East and North Africa and a resolution of the situation through peaceful dialogue. The theme of dialogue was to be repeated in later communiqués, in particular echoing the African Union’s call for a “peaceful resolution” of what was bizarrely called the “dispute.”

Of course, once Nato entered the story, everything became a little more complicated.  The hostility to Nato’s entry into the Libyan fray in various parts of the world was partly – although probably not entirely – a by-product of the illegal and unjustified invasion of Iraq by American, British and other forces in 2003. En passant it might be observed that had they not gone in then, the Iraqis themselves might have been part of the Arab Spring all on their own account today. Be that as it may, each case has to be judged on its merits, and Nato in Libya in support of a popular uprising is a different kettle of fish entirely from the Americans and their allies on the ground in Iraq in altogether different and infinitely more dubious circumstances.

Nevertheless it was Nato’s activities which allowed Caricom to do a bit of dissembling. In early May, the Council for Foreign and Community Relations of Caricom, in its communiqué said it respected the “intent” of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized Nato to protect civilians, but expressed distress at the continued loss of life, and called “for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate actions that result in injury and death to civilians and the destruction of infrastructure.” It endorsed the proposals of the African Union in finding a speedy resolution of the crisis “that would reflect the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Libyan people.” In brief, they did not want to appear to divorce themselves from the UN Resolution, but they did not want either to support Nato’s more expansive interpretation of 1973 and the organization’s actions on behalf of the Libyan rebels.

By July, when the heads met for their summit, they rejected the violation by Nato of Resolution 1973, called for a ceasefire, and again expressed support for the African Union initiative in the search for a peaceful resolution.

Exactly how the heads came to the conclusion that a despot like Gaddafi, who was never too rational in the first place, and whose link to reality was made even more tenuous by 42 years of absolute rule, would quietly agree to negotiate himself out of power can only be wondered at. They were obviously not paying too much attention to his threats and behaviour after the rising began in Benghazi, and even if they didn’t take those too seriously, they should have drawn the obvious conclusions from what he did and said subsequent to that, if not to what he had been saying and doing for nearly 42 years. Even if they really didn’t know enough about history to come up with comparable examples, they might have adverted their attention to Syria, where there has been no armed uprising, and where President Assad’s military forces have been shooting down peaceful demonstrators on the streets for months now, despite calls – even from Saudi Arabia – for negotiations with the protestors and for the leadership to listen to the people. The truth of the matter is, autocrats are not very good at listening to the people unless they are forced into it. And this is Assad, who was previously not considered to be quite in Gaddafi’s league for tyranny, although his father certainly was.

And as for Nato extending the mandate of Resolution 1973, it was in any case an impractical resolution. It was passed because of the imminent threat of a massacre by Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi, but after that, how could civilians be protected unless a political aim was injected into the mandate and Col Gaddafi was defeated? If he wasn’t, and he won, then the civilian population, particularly in the east would have been in danger ever after, and an impossible situation would have been created which would have kept Nato there indefinitely, and might eventually have ended in the splitting of the country into two. This is not to say that the outcome now might not conceivably be chaos; there are huge impediments in the way of setting up new machinery of government and creating a democratic framework. However, there were really no viable alternatives to what Nato did once the rising started and if substantial civilian deaths were to be avoided at the time. It is now for the international community to do whatever it is possible for outsiders to accomplish to assist in the transition to rational democratic government.

The Guyana government has subsumed its position under that of Caricom, but the PPP has been a bit more voluble on the subject, saying after its Central Committee meeting earlier this month, that it condemned the outside interference in the “civil war” in Libya – not, it might be noted, the uprising. In classic contradictory fashion, it extended its solidarity to the forces fighting for peace and democracy. Its contortions and contradictions appear to have increased considerably now that the Gaddafi era is over, as any reader of this weekend’s Mirror would have discovered.

The critics of Nato have pointed to the self-interested motives of its members. While these cannot be denied, the same critics would have been the first to condemn the West had it stood by and watched Col Gaddafi kill his opponents en masse. In any case, neither the African Union nor Caricom are without their self-interested motives. In the case of the first, their unhelpful position both before, and now that the Gaddafi regime has gone, is simply related to the fact that the Colonel created and funded the organization, and poured money into several of its member states.

And certain Caricom nations too are beholden to the former ruler of Libya. The international airport in St Vincent, for example, has benefited from Libyan money, and the Housing and Land Corporation there was receiving funds from Tripoli even after the uprising started. Antigua and Barbuda has a banking and financial arrangement with Libya, while it had previously been announced that the latter country would open an embassy in St Lucia. There is something else too. Several Caricom states are also members of Alba, President Chávez’s regional grouping, which has rejected the intervention by Nato, and which a statement from the Political Council of the organization called “a war of conquest on energy and water resources… [that] cannot be used to satisfy the greed of the capitalist system.”

Venezuela, of course, to which most of Caricom is beholden as a consequence of the PetroCaribe agreements, has been one of the lone supporters of Col Gaddafi throughout, and may have acted as the intermediary for certain Alba nations to receive money from Tripoli. There have been rumours for some time that either Venezuela or Cuba could offer Gaddafi sanctuary, although some sources in Venezuela doubt that this would happen. As recently as August 13, according to El Universal, President Chávez wrote a letter to the Colonel which expressed the feeling of brotherhood with him, and ended “long life to you my combatant brother. Libya shall live and win!”

Whatever the official positions of their various governments, the citizens of Caricom should no doubt be grateful that Dr Douglas has now remembered the importance of the vigorous pursuit of democracy.

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