Fun & Games with the Heads – not any way to REBUILD THE CARIBBEAN BETTER!
It was more conflict and confusion when the CARICOM Heads met in Grenada last week. Just two weeks before there was the the very public collapse of Caribbean unity over Venezuela at the OAS summit in Mexico, Now, the bloc's disharmony was further exposed at the Heads of Government meeting that took place in Grenada. Fortunately, it was all done on a "friendly" basis so that there was not quite the rancor that existed in the 1980's when the Heads could not even meet in conference for several years!
But back to last week's Conference. According to published reports, appeals for "collective action" by the newly elected Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Dr. Hubert Minnis, and "closer unity" urged by the outgoing chairman, President David Granger of Guyana, fell on deaf ears. The fun started with incoming CARICOM chairman, Dr Keith Mitchell, prime minister of Grenada, and host of the meeting.
He openly tackled the "political influence" on the operations of regional airline LIAT, which is owned by the governments of Antigua, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent. Mitchell was presumably referring to Antigua's government which is notorious for unilateral threats to the LIAT Board and especially its management whenever it perceives a coming cut in Antiguan jobs. Mitchell expressed a "long held" view that the "political presence on the board of airlines such as LIAT is not helpful to its proper management and efficiency". Of course, he is mostly (and selfishly) concerned with his Grenada, asking "how could LIAT thrive when, for example, a few months ago, literally overnight, LIAT cancelled one of its most lucrative routes to and from Grenada, without any consultation with the citizens or leadership of Grenada?" And why, pray, should LIAT have to do any such thing in making a BUSINESS decision? It must also be said that the attempt to "privatise" LIAT in the 1990's failed mostly because of, again, the intransigence of Antigua.
The following day it was the turn of Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves to publicly disagree with Mitchell on the problems facing LIAT (…truth be told, it is difficult to decide which of LIAT's hundred and one deficiencies is the BIGGEST problem…) and appealed to regional governments to invest in the airline. Also on Wednesday, Antigua's Prime Minister, Gaston Browne (yes, the unofficial "head honcho" of LIAT) took issue with Mitchell over remarks in relation to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).which is also based in Antigua. Bluntly talking, and though not naming Mitchell, Browne referred to "a particular Head who is of the flawed opinion that with my support and other Heads that he could achieve his "compulsive-obsessive" desire to dissolve the WICB board." (Two years ago a self-appointed "CARICOM Sub-Committee on Cricket Governance" recommended that the WICB be "disbanded" and an interim committee installed to run the affairs of cricket in the region. So …our cricket would be ruled by politicians? Can anyone think of a worse idea? Browne and Dominica's PM, Roosevelt Skerrit, have disagreed publicly (and correctly so – FIFA and the Olympics Org strictly prohibit governments meddling in international sports…) with that ridiculous CARICOM recommendation.
Perhaps feeling he would be targeted further, Brown abruptly left Grenada the same night. His communications director claimed he had "to address matters of state" and that the rest of the Antigua delegation was quite capable of continuing. That generally ended CARICOM's opening night of fun & games.
On the positive news front, our own Prime Minister spoke publicly to the media in Grenada on his proposal (slightly different to his NO INTERFERENCE position…) that a CARICOM delegation be appointed to visit Venezuela to talk with BOTH sides of the battling political protagonists. It would be an overdue start…