The Caribbean has lost a friend

Stabroek News Sunday - - LETTERS -

For just un­der forty years Caribbean Cen­tral Amer­i­can Ac­tion (CCAA) has worked with the re­gion in Wash­ing­ton to pro­mote pri­vate sec­tor led growth, suc­cess­fully find­ing ways to help Caribbean gov­ern­ments and busi­ness lead­ers en­gage with and in­flu­ence the think­ing of US ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Now ac­cord­ing to an an­nounce­ment made on Oc­to­ber 5th, its Board has con­firmed an ear­lier de­ci­sion of its Trus­tees that the or­gan­i­sa­tion, a not-for-profit, is no longer sus­tain­able.

CCAA’s clo­sure comes at a time when cor­po­rate fund­ing from both the US and the Caribbean Basin has been in­creas­ingly hard to gen­er­ate, in part, its lead­er­ship be­lieves, be­cause for the last decade there has been a mis­taken sense “that the job has been done.” It also re­flects the fact that many of the heav­i­est cor­po­rate hit­ters in the re­gion and the US have, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, al­tered their strate­gies and pri­or­i­ties, re­align­ing with or­gan­i­sa­tions more closely tar­geted to their spe­cific needs.

The de­ci­sion in­di­cates, too, how the re­gion and the world be­yond has changed since the in­flu­en­tial body was first es­tab­lished. The busi­ness com­mu­nity now largely thinks dif­fer­ently, Caribbean and Cen­tral Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments are busy en­sur­ing their in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships are mul­ti­lat­eral, the re­gion’s economies are di­ver­si­fy­ing into higher value ser­vices, bring­ing greater cit­i­zen ben­e­fit and, Venezuela apart, an un­pre­dictable Wash­ing­ton seems no longer able to have a co­her­ent po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­sponse.

The hemi­sphere is to a sig­nif­i­cant ex­tent at a very dif­fer­ent place from when CCAA was first con­ceived. Then the cold war was at its height and the body en­abled the pri­vate sec­tor in the re­gion, with sup­port from their coun­ter­parts in the US and be­yond, to make clear that if the Caribbean and Cen­tral Amer­ica did not ex­pe­ri­ence eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, an­tipa­thetic po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tions would be­come com­mon­place.

Speak­ing about the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s achieve­ments, Peter John­son, CCAA’s well known and widely re­spected first Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, ar­gues that the real ques­tion is whether the or­gan­i­sa­tion man­aged to ful­fil the de­mands of its founders 40 years ago.

He says that as one of that group, he, to­gether with many of the most im­por­tant busi­ness lead­ers in the Caribbean Basin and the United States, saw a cer­tain po­lit­i­cal in­co­her­ence in the re­gion, as parts of it were clearly mov­ing away from in­te­gra­tion and saw a di­min­ish­ing value in strong re­la­tions with the United States. Pres­i­dent Carter, he says, shared this con­cern in 1979, as did Pres­i­dent Rea­gan when he was elected the fol­low­ing year.

The chal­lenge at that time, he ob­serves, was for the pri­vate sec­tor to help the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship across the re­gion ap­pre­ci­ate the ben­e­fits of bet­ter eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions with the United States. It was about find­ing new ways to ben­e­fit from work­ing to­gether to ad­vo­cate pol­icy so­lu­tions that would in­crease in­vest­ment and em­ploy­ment.

“This was not just pol­icy rhetoric, but be­came a com­bi­na­tion of mea­sures, im­por­tantly ad­vo­cated be­fore the US bu­reau­cracy and the US Congress, that to­gether, many be­lieve made im­por­tant changes in at­ti­tudes and pol­i­tics in the re­gion,” he says.

What set CCAA apart from other or­gan­i­sa­tions in Wash­ing­ton at that time was that it brought heavy­weight pri­vate sec­tor lead­ers from the re­gion, such as its founders Sid­ney Knox, John God­dard Tommy Gat­cliffe, Phillip Nassief, An­dre Apaid, and Carl­ton Alexan­der to Wash­ing­ton and Mi­ami. They, to­gether with the lead­er­ship of ma­jor US cor­po­ra­tions and key mem­bers of Congress, made the case for how prac­ti­cally the US could help spur eco­nomic growth to re­solve the prob­lems fac­ing the re­gion.

This led most no­tably to the leg­is­lat­ing of the Caribbean Eco­nomic Re­cov­ery Act (CBERA) by the US Congress un­der Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and then, in more re­cent years, tar­geted ini­tia­tives on is­sues from Haiti, to re­new­able en­ergy and the un­fin­ished busi­ness of ad­dress­ing the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with the de-risk­ing of fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

For many, CCAA will be re­mem­bered for the Mi­ami Con­fer­ence on the Caribbean, which at its peak was at­tended by the heads of govern­ment from vir­tu­ally ev­ery coun­try in the re­gion and thou­sands of par­tic­i­pants. So im­por­tant a fo­rum did it be­come that large, of­ten min­is­ter-led del­e­ga­tions at­tended from the UK, Canada, the EU and Ja­pan to em­pha­sise to their own gov­ern­ments and Wash­ing­ton the need for com­pli­men­tary ac­tion.

What if any­thing will emerge to re­place CCAA is far from clear. The rel­a­tively few think tanks and other bod­ies in Wash­ing­ton that re­tain an in­ter­est in the Caribbean and Cen­tral Amer­ica tend to be coun­try fo­cussed and driven by the cur­rent hot top­ics in US pol­icy—an ap­proach which to­day seems to re­quire a Venezuela-cen­tric in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ac­tions of coun­tries in the re­gion.

While many be­lieve a new body will be needed, the sense is that this will re­quire re­gional will, have to be funded by the pri­vate sec­tor in the re­gion and the US, and most likely would now have to be led by a com­mit­ted di­as­pora.

Peter John­son notes that while he sees lit­tle like­li­hood of lead­er­ship on the re­gion com­ing from to­day’s US ad­min­is­tra­tion, the US Con­gres­sional Cau­cus on the Caribbean, which CCAA helped found, con­tin­ues and has a strong di­as­pora pres­ence. He sug­gests this may be the best place to start any new ini­tia­tive, but stresses the im­pulse must come from the Caribbean and Cen­tral Amer­ica.

“Maybe the body could be repli­cated by to­day’s gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers, but it will take vi­sion and courage. We should not de­lude our­selves, the Caribbean will al­ways need ded­i­cated and con­sci­en­tious sup­port from the pri­vate sec­tor,” he says.

Speak­ing about the de­ci­sion to close, Sally Year­wood, CCAA’s present Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor said the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s mis­sion re­mains, ar­guably, as rel­e­vant as it has ever been. “CCAA’s time may have come to an end,” she said, “but our hope is that the ad­vo­cacy CCAA has led over the past few years will be taken up by other en­ti­ties and given the crit­i­cal sup­port that en­sures the nu­anced eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges the re­gion faces are un­der­stood.”

While it might be ar­gued that CCAA could not be ex­pected to last for­ever as the needs of the 1970’s were press­ing, com­plex and re­quired high en­ergy re­sponses, the tim­ing of its demise is at the very least in­op­por­tune.

It comes at just the mo­ment when the Caribbean needs to bal­ance its rapidly de­vel­op­ing re­la­tions with China, Rus­sia and oth­ers through strong well-sup­ported nongovern­men­tal voices in Wash­ing­ton and Europe that share the re­gion’s long-term val­ues.

David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil and can be con­tacted at david.jes­sop@caribbean-coun­cil.org

Pre­vi­ous columns can be found https://www.caribbean-coun­cil.org/re­search-anal­y­sis/

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