Caribbean Foreign Relations and Super-Power Politics of Putin’s Ukraine War

Viewpoint by P.I. Gomes

Dr P.I. Gomes is retired Ambassador of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union and former Secretary-General of ACP Group of State, now the Organisation of African, the Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (IDN) — Recent events of the Russia-Ukraine war bring in their wake untold upheavals across Europe.

But consequences are being felt both within and beyond Europe. Millions of refugees are in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries and their social, economic and cultural impact are beginning to take a toll on food, shelter, schooling and health care.

Globally, shortages of wheat and disruption of supply chains from Russia and Ukraine, the world’s major exporters of grains, are adversely affecting large areas of mainly poor and developing societies. World Trade Organisation (WTO), Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, expressed fears that the war in Ukraine could halve 2022 global trade and stir food riots in vulnerable economies of Africa, Asia, Latin America & the Caribbean. This kind of crisis can lead to political and financial upheavals and possibly, removal of governments from office.

While Ukraine is the immediate locale of Russia’s criminal aggression, there is no doubt that “Europe” is at war. The scene and spread of the “special military operation”, as Russia chooses to describe the violation of the national sovereignty of Ukraine, has encompassed and intensified super-power rivalries in peripheral societies of world politics.

Indeed, the Caribbean’s arena of multilateral diplomacy is a hot venue in which the USA, Russia, China and, to a lesser extent, Europe, are all engaged in jostling for allegiance and influence.

Raising the stakes for influence was evident by the pre-emptive move of a visit to the Caribbean by the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Ivanovich Borisov, when Russian troops had already amassed on Ukraine’s borders. The countries visited were Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, with assurance given to Cuba of the availability of “resources”, if needed.

The event would hardly have gone unnoticed by the USA, interpreting the move by Russia to deepen relations with Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries, in what is regarded as the USA’s “sphere of influence”.

There was little surprise two weeks later, on 2 March 2022, when both Cuba and Nicaragua were among 35 countries that abstained in the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) that “deplored”, but did not condemn, the Russian invasion. Venezuela did not vote as its voting rights had been suspended due to unpaid UN membership dues.

The Resolution was overwhelmingly adopted by 141 member states and called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces with only five countries voting against the Resolution in support of Russia. Among 35 abstentions was China along with 16 African countries. All 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries supported the Resolution.

[The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) comprises Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St Kitts & Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago.

Along with Cuba and Dominican Republic, the 15 countries comprise CARIFORUM, the Caribbean Forum of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States. In this discussion, Caribbean countries refers to CARICOM/CARIFORUM.]

They displayed a cohesive position as has been the norm in the UN diplomacy arena, thereby able to leverage a bloc of votes. A position that has reaped benefits over the years.

However, cohesion in CARICOM’s bloc voting was lost at the 7 April 2022 UN Resolution advocating suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council (HRC). The Resolution to suspend Russia arose from accusations of atrocities by Russian troops in the Ukrainian town of Bucha. This incident was contested as “fake” by Russian sources.

While voting resulted in 93 votes in favour, to enable a two-thirds majority for adoption of the Resolution, there were 58 abstentions. The latter, in Russia’s view demonstrated “support”, when taken with 24 countries, mainly from Africa, Asia and LAC region, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela that opposed the Resolution.

The sizeable abstentions proved controversial within the Caribbean, having included eight of the normally cohesive, 15 “bloc-voting” CARICOM. The resulting discord, widely debated in the region, amounted to a further sign of geopolitical pressures competing for leverage in Caribbean foreign policy relations.

That the divided voting was seriously disturbing traditional CARICOM unity must be seen when reference is made to provisions of CARICOM’s Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTOC) that stipulate obligations to ensure “enhanced coordination” of their foreign policy (Art. 6).

Evidently, the Caribbean is an arena enduring geopolitical manoeuvrings by major powers aiming to cement influence and allegiance; and these are now more protracted and frequent.

[Visits were undertaken to Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for LAC countries before the divided voting by CARICOM countries at the UN Resolution on Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council.]

Caribbean foreign policy disputes on Leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat

While cracks in Caricom’s voting pattern surfaced at the United Nations, another episode of discord has arisen.

It consists of Jamaican candidacy opposing a second term of the incumbent Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Baroness Patricia Scotland, a Dominican by birth and UK citizen, having previously served as Attorney-General in Gordon Brown’s Labour government.  Information surfaced that a former UK Secretary of State engaged SG Scotland on questionable expenditures of Commonwealth funds with which the Tory Government was not pleased. In the circumstances, funding was withheld by the UK, Australia and Canada, the three major financiers of the Secretariat, who harboured reservations about Baroness Scotland continuing in office.

CARICOM Heads of Government conscious of these external undercurrents at their meeting on 1 March 2022 gave “overwhelming support” for the incumbent to complete her remaining two years and so complete a second four-year term of office. But, three weeks later, the Government of Jamaica announced their Foreign Minister as a candidate to contest the post of Secretary-General.

Ironically, the fact is that SG Scotland has already completed her first four-year term since April 2016, and now has a two-year extension, since no Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) had been held in 2020 or 2021 due to the Corona pandemic.

Many questions have arisen on what reasons or external factors explain Jamaica’s nomination of their Foreign Minister to contest the post. Even more disconcerting is whether the decision at the forthcoming June 2022 CHOGM in Rwanda will be a two-year extension for Scotland or a new four-year term if Jamaica is successful.

A special Summit of CARICOM leaders met with a view to resolving the division but was no consensus achieved, a Committee of the CARICOM Leaders will interview the two candidates and hopefully arrive at a decision on who will be the Caribbean candidate.

Meanwhile in Caribbean capitals questions are being asked whose interest—personal, national, regional or external—is being served by contesting the remaining two-year tenure of the incumbent Secretary-General. Does a further fracture of CARICOM foreign relations serve the larger purpose of the needed coherence and unity in face of turbulent geo-political tensions that squeeze small states of the Global South and even in Europe? [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 April 2022]

Image: Map of the Caribbean from CIA’s The World Factbook

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