'No free lunch' for islands
by TONY BEST
"CARICOM COUNTRIES should know that there is a price they may have to pay."
This statement from a former diplomat as he reminded Barbados and its neighbours there "is no free lunch" in international diplomacy.
For in much the same way that Jamaica and Barbados, for instance, were said to have paid a price for their opposition to the United States policy on the International Criminal Court and Iraq, the region as a whole, according to the retired official can expect to be hit if they go down the line and support Venezuela in its quest to become a non-permanent memberof the Security Council.
His comment about Barbados and Jamaica centred on reports in Washington that the United States may have used its considerable clout to block loans to the two states from an international financial institution because of their opposition to the United States policy in the International Criminal Court and in Iraq.
When Caricom leaders met recently in St Kitts-Nevis they seemingly agreed in principle to back Venezuela for a two-year term on the United Nation's most important organ.
"It's fair to say that most Caricom states plan to vote for Venezuela," said a Caribbean UN diplomat.
Ordinarily, such a stand wouldn't be considered important. That's because the seat in question is usually a matter for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean nations, GRULAC, to decide, unless two countries force a General Assembly vote, as is the case this year.
But these are not ordinary times.
Venezuela's leader, President Hugo Chavez, and United States President, George Bush, are locked in a highly charged international political struggle for the hearts and minds of people in the Caribbean and Latin America; and the United States would view a Venezuelan victory as a slap in the face a referendum on its policies.
Hence, the Bush Administration's vigorous lobbying in the Caribbean to get governments either to support Guatemala, or abstain when the issue comes up.
"The lobbying is taking place in Caricom capitals, not so much at the United Nations," a source explained.
Several factors are complicating the situation for Barbadosand its neighbours.
At the top of the list is the widely held view that Guatemala is serving as a front for Washington. As some diplomats and experts see it, a vote for Guatemala would be asking to back Washington.
An American foreign policy expert put it differently.
"Guatemala is a tiny country; it is a weak country; it' is a very poor country and it is not known as having an international stature outside of the American purview."
Julia Sweig, director of the Latin American Programme of the Council on Foreign Relations told a major United States paper the other day: "It would be hard for it to operate independently from the United States."
Secondly, Guatemala is pursuing its claim to Belize, which shares a border with its Spanish-speaking neighbour. That's why Caricom wouldn't support a country that wants to swallow one of its own.
Indeed, Barbados' leader, Owen Arthur, was quoted as saying that his nation wouldn't back Guatemala.
But Venezuela isn't exactly home free. It has opposed some applications for policy loans from the Inter-American Development Bank. That's an issue, which Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo said in New York he wants Venezuela to explain before he makes up his mind on the Security Council seat.
According to IDB sources, the oil rich South American country voted against
a Guyanese loan application "on grounds of principle."
Its representative explained at the time that Caracas vigorously opposed policy loans for any IDB member, not simply for Guyana. It contends such loans can bankrupt a country.
So, while it wouldn't oppose a loan for Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas or Trinidad and Tobago to build a hospital or a school, Caracas would vote against a policy loan, which simply requires a government to amend a law.
It is believed that Barbados is also seeking an explanation from Venezuela on this issue as well.
But that's not all. Caracas has claims on some of Guyana's territory and on an island between Antigua and Dominica, and Chavez has made it clear he wasn't dropping that issue, simply to get a Security Council seat.
However, Guyana seems inclined to put aside its concerns about the territorial dispute at this time.
There is more. Caribbean states, with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago
and Barbados, owe Venezuela a debt for the PetroCaribe initiative.
Although Venezuela's offer isn't as generous as some originally thought, it would be inconceivable that the beneficiaries in the region would accept Venezuelan oil but later fail to support it at the UN.
Another option, of course, is for some of them to abstain, which a few Caricom nations might end up doing.
The trouble is because the seat is to be decided by a secret ballot, neither Washington nor Caracas should know how countries voted.
"The secret ballot is not fool-proof," said an expert.
"You can make certain deductions atthe UN about a vote."
And that's where the price may be paid later.
Let's hope that such talk about United States revenge against those who oppose it turns out to be just that: talk.