By Michael L. Jarvis London UK
Caribbean-US relations were put to a severe test this week over an invitation list for a meeting in Jamaica with the American Secretary of State Mr Mike Pompeo.
The US State Department over which Mr Pompeo presides said the trip to Jamaica, part of a Latin America and Caribbean diplomatic tour, was intended to firm up ties between Washington and the region.
Mr Pompeo was quoted as saying: “I'll gather at an important meeting with many Caribbean leaders to discuss how we can all work together to promote our common democratic values and prosperity for all of our people. I'm looking forward to a fantastic set of meetings.”
The objective as stated by the US State Department is to strengthen ties with the region.
However, that goal has been met with scepticism by many Caribbean leaders with Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, the present chair of the regional Caricom group, leading the charge.
Only six of the 15 regional leaders were been invited to Jamaica to meet the US Secretary of State(foreign minister). They were Bahamas, Belize, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia, along with host country Jamaica.
No reason was given for the omissions although Mr Pompeo was also due to meet with Caricom foreign ministers, his more direct administrative equals, but whose leaders were not invited.
The reaction to what is seen as a snub by the US government towards many of its regional partners has been swift and direct.
Prime Minister Mottley did not mince words:
“As chairman of CARICOM, it is impossible for me to agree that my foreign minister should attend a meeting with anyone to which members of CARICOM are not invited.”
Speaking in Barbados, she charged: “It is an attempt to divide this region.”
Prime Minister Mottley received firm backing from several other regional leaders in her stance to boycott the meeting by not sending a representative.
In a statement, Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago said: “PM Mottley has the full support of the Government and the people of Trinidad and Tobago in outlining our principles and vision of Caribbean unity. In the expectation of Caribbean unity, the Prime Minister of Barbados speaks for Trinidad and Tobago.”
Speaking for Antigua and Barbuda, Foreign Affairs Minister E.P ‘Chet’ Greene said: “We are very much in support of, and identify with the sentiments expressed by the CARICOM Chair, PM Motley of Barbados. As a government, we stand in support of this position.”
Guyana’s Foreign Secretary Carl Greenidge confirmed that his country also was not on the list of invitees.
On the assertion by the Barbados prime minister that this was a divide and rule tactic by the US, Mr Greenidge was reported by the Guyana Times as saying: “Once you have groups of States which attempt to operate jointly, there will be such attempts (at division). I don’t think that’s peculiar to this region.”
For Grenada, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell cited his country’s stance on Venezuela, a key foreign policy point of dispute between the US and several Caribbean governments, as a probable reason for their exclusion.
The St Kitts-Nevis Foreign Affairs Minister Mark Brantley told local station WINN FM that unlike their dissenting Caricom partners, his country did not regard the move by the US to leave some leaders off the list as dividing the region.
“Well, the secretary of state for the United States has extended an invitation to St Kitts-Nevis at the foreign minister level and we are carefully looking at that because we have some very important bilateral issues with the United States,” he said.
Secretary of State Pompeo who called Jamaica as a “good friend of America” was scheduled to have bilateral talks with the Jamaican leader, Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Last year, Mr Holness along with the leaders of St Lucia, The Bahamas, and Haiti were flown to Miami for a meeting with President Donald Trump, for discussions mainly about the situation in Venezuela.
Policy alignment is at the core of the diplomatic tiff between the US and the Caricom countries which have boycotted the Pompeo meetings in Jamaica.
There are several festering foreign-policy divergences.
Those include relations with China, differences over the candidate to lead the Organisation of American States(OAS), and the Trump administration’s reinstatement of sanctions against Cuba which were relaxed by the Obama administration.
There are also deep disagreements on climate change.
Is this spat over an invitation list just a storm in a teacup which is likely to blow over?
Or, does it signal a diplomatic hurricane on the horizon with the potential to blow a cold front over the long-standing warm relations between the US and those of its Caribbean allies who now feel they are being deliberately divided by their powerful neighbour to the north?