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COMMENTARY: New 81-Year Old Leader Will Turn Caribbean Foreign Policy

Posted by kinchendavid on December 16, 2006

By Sir Ronald Sanders

The majority of the electorate of St Lucia, a small Caribbean island with a population 0f 160,000 people, has brought back as their head of government Sir John Compton, an 81-year old who led the country to independence from Britain in 1979.

Sir John had retired from office in 1996, but came out of retirement in March last year to be elected leader once again of the United Workers Party (UWP) that he founded in 1964. Over the last year, despite his age, he mounted a robust campaign against the government of the St Lucia Labor Party (SLP), led by 56-year old Dr Kenny Anthony.

Without a shred of doubt, Sir John’s leadership of St Lucia will have implications for the foreign policy positions of the 15-member Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) both politically and economically.

Sir John is no wilting flower. When he disagrees, he digs his heels in hard and can be immovable if he feels that decisions are not in the interest of St Lucia or indeed of the principles he believes in personally.

In 1979, when the New Jewel Movement (NJM) of Maurice Bishop overthrew the government of Eric Gary and seized power in Grenada, Sir John ardently and vociferously opposed its recognition. He personally canvassed the British government of Margaret Thatcher not to recognize the regime and encouraged intervention to overturn the revolution, and he was sorely disappointed when the British government decided that it recognized “states not governments”.

At the time, Sir John was keeping a close eye on leftist political parties and left-wing activists in the Windward and Leeward Islands – some of whom had openly suggested unconstitutional overthrows of governments as a means of accomplishing regime change.

For him, the seizure of power by the NJM in Grenada marked the erosion of the rule of law and constitutionality in the Eastern Caribbean. It was a thought he could not abide.

Not surprisingly, when the Grenada revolution spectacularly imploded in 1983 with the killing of Maurice Bishop and the establishment of a military government, Sir John was in the forefront of those leaders who saw intervention as essential to demonstrate clearly that revolutions would not be tolerated in the region.

He was among those who strongly encouraged and supported the October 1983 US-led intervention in Grenada, not because he wanted US troops on Caribbean soil, but because he wanted Grenada and the Caribbean returned to normality.

In 1983 also, he joined his party to the formation of the Caribbean Democratic Union (CDU) which was aligned to the International Democratic Union created by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan as a counterweight to the Socialist International. Other founding members of the CDU were Edward Seaga of Jamaica, JMG Tom Adams of Barbados, and Dominica’s Eugenia Charles who famously appeared on the steps of the White House with Reagan to help justify the Grenada intervention.

Sir John’s return to office, therefore, will witness a shift to the right in St Lucia’s foreign policy. It is a shift that will affect CARICOM consensus on issues dealing with the United States.

It will also have an impact on how the countries of the smaller 7-nation sub-group in the Caribbean, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), treat with matters such as the socialist vision of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.

Sir John is likely to take a close look at Chavez’s Petro Caribe arrangements for members of the OECS to ensure that its terms bring tangible benefits to St Lucia and not just long term debt. He will be extremely cautious, if not opposed, to any embrace of President Chavez’s wider socialist policies.

With regard to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that is now being negotiated between Caribbean countries and the European Union (EU), St Lucia will take a hard line in relation to bananas.

Already, there is discontent being expressed by some Caribbean countries about the region’s negotiating strategy and even the structure under which the Caribbean is conducting its negotiations with the EU.

Having campaigned on getting a better deal for banana growers in St Lucia, Sir John’s government will undoubtedly join those who feel that political representatives should replace technical officers in the forefront of negotiations. He will want to show the banana farmers, who believed that he would do better for them, that he can at least try harder to deliver the goods.

And, on the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) whose framework was brought into being earlier this year, while the idea and the process will enjoy Sir John’s support, it will not be unconditional.

He will be in the forefront of arguments for compensatory arrangements for the OECS countries, and he will hold out for terms that he regards as not disadvantageous to St Lucia. That was his position when CARIFTA was formed in 1968 and it was his position when CARICOM replaced it in 1972.

He goes into a CARICOM Heads of Government conference early next year with a bone to pick with some of his colleague Prime Ministers.

Two of them turned up in St Lucia to campaign for Dr Kenny Anthony. Sir John saw this as interference in the local politics of St Lucia, and he has said that he will raise the issue at the forthcoming meeting.

It is, of course, an important foreign policy issue for each CARICOM government: should a government leader in one country actively seek to influence the election of a leader in another? The people of St Lucia obviously thought not.

* * *

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who publishes widely on Small States in the global community. He is a regular contributor to Huntington News Network. Responses to: ronaldsanders29@hotmail.com

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