May 13, 2021

How the Caribbean lost out

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Fred_Mitchell_-_Fox_HillEDITOR, The Tribune From Tribune 242

The bastardisation of a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet most aptly sums up the response of our flyboy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fred “Supersonic” Mitchell: “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.”

The Minister got up to debriefing his dear friends who form the editorial board of a weekly internet blog once known as Was it before he even had a chance to debrief his cabinet colleagues on what happened in Malta, one wonders?

The Minister implied that the candidate who had the support of the majority of Caribbean Prime Ministers, including Perry Christie, Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua and Barbuda, was flawed and therefore deserved to lose. The Baroness Patricia Scotland of the UK did the Caribbean a favour by standing and agreeing to serve as Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

But the Minister knows better and ought to be scolded for his clumsy attempt to spin the situation to his liking. If one follows the Minister’s logic that Sir Ronald was flawed then he ought to have advised Perry Christie to throw our support behind the African candidate in the race, not the British one. After all, she too is a woman. And her credentials are beyond reproach.

The waters of Caribbean unity are so muddied by the bungling of this election that even the Baroness Scotland had to take to radio in Antigua to “ham up” her Caribbean credentials. She went further and said, essentially, that because she is a black woman she is simultaneously Africa’s candidate for the job of Secretary General.

“Can I just say to Antigua that they have indeed won because I too am an Antiguan through my father so Antigua and Dominica are conjoined,” she said in near perfect London public school English accent. “And as for Africa, I am a daughter of Africa too, so maybe what I might be able to give is the combination of all of the Commonwealth.”

One can just about hear the true-true African candidate, former deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of Botswana fall off her chair laughing.

Despite Fred’s admonitions to all and sundry to just get over it and move on, some Prime Ministers are refusing to let it go. The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, dug in his heals, insisting to his House of Assembly that the Caribbean was run-over by Britain and its sympathizers in the region. With their superior and more experienced diplomatic muscle Britain didn’t want to entrust the future of their Commonwealth to just about anybody.

Prime Minister Brown told his Parliament that by convention, Britain by virtue of the fact that it is home to the Commonwealth Secretariat and because Queen Elizabeth II (her heirs and successors, etc., etc.) is head of the Commonwealth, then Britain would never field a candidate for the job. Ahh! The subtleties of Imperialism.

So Britain conveniently reached down the lineage and at first called up another member of their House of Lords who was born in the Caribbean. The ball was given to Valerie Amos, who since 1997 was the Baroness Amos of Brondesbury (a suburb of London). She was born in Guyana in 1954 and migrated with her family to England.

The President of Guyana at the time, Donald Ramotar, demurred saying she had no ties to the Caribbean and was not “Caribbean enough” to get Guyana’s backing. (Are you beginning to appreciate why the Caricom Secretariat is in Georgetown, Guyana?)

The ball then passed to The Baroness Patricia Scotland who was nominated by the Prime Minister of Dominica so proud was he of his diaspora. Baroness Scotland was born in Dominica to a Dominican mother and an Antiguan father and because of that accident of birth, as we say, Delia wrote the note.

The Caribbean didn’t help its own cause with multiple candidates in the race. Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, a minister under the former People’s Partnership government in Trinidad and Tobago; Sir Ronald Sanders and, of course, Baroness Scotland. Smartly, the new Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Keith Rowley, withdrew Dr. Tewarie in the interest of Caribbean unity and backed Sir Ronald. Many lobbied the Dominicans to withdraw the Baroness. It is doubtful that Fred was one of them.

Winning any race is about counting the votes. There are 53 “voters” in the Commonwealth. The Caribbean, if voting in unison brings a hefty 12 votes to the table. Africa is the most vote rich region with 18 followed by the Pacific with 11. Europe has only three – the UK, Cyprus and Malta.

The Commonwealth is a club so the ladies and gentlemen there vote the so-called “civilized” way. They seek consensus. The more Prime Ministers likely to give their consent, the greater chance a candidate has of prevailing.

Prime Minister Browne spilled the tea on the goings-on in Malta when he said that Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa might have been inclined to support the Caribbean at this time (for diplomatic and strategic reasons, no doubt) but with two candidates in the race he didn’t want to risk offending anyone. South Africa could have pulled a number of votes from the African caucus. Beginning to see the consequences of disunity, Mr. Mitchell?

We have heard precious little from the Chairman of Caricom, Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who seems content to sit on the sidelines. As the popular

Bajan saying goes “coward dog keep the whole bone”. Translation: avoid confrontation and you stay out of trouble.

Fred Mitchell knows fully well that disunity in the Caribbean spells trouble for us all. The ill-fated West Indies Federation splintered when Jamaica decided not to play ball back in 1962. Seventeen years ago Sir Lynden Pindling pulled the rug from underneath our own Dr. Davidson Hepburn and threw his support behind Dame Nita Barrow of Barbados for the post of President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1988. The Caribbean lost then too.

It was mischievous then when Pindling did it and even more calculating and sinister now when Minister Mitchell does it. He hop-scotches around the Caribbean extolling the virtues of unity while doing the opposite when it matters most.
#Hot on the heels of what one assumes to have been frenzied meetings at the Climate Conference in Paris, he was on his way to Grenada and to St. Vincent and the Grenadines for yet another wedding, or christening, or mass (both the church kind and the fete kind), or perhaps to attend a political party rally.

We wonder if in the spirit of diplomacy Minister Mitchell will call on Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell to begin to repair the damage he may have had a hand in causing. From Grenada there is a short LIAT flight over to Antigua where it would do a world of good to sit down with Gaston Browne and begin to mend fences.

A big person would do that. But our esteemed Minister knows well that Perry Christie will never call him to account or to explain his grandstanding and his divisive behaviour.

THE GRADUATE Nassau, December 10, 2015.

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IMAGE: Fred Mitchell

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