Com­plex in­ter­na­tional out­look re­in­forces the need for re­gional in­te­gra­tion

Stabroek News Sunday - - LETTERS -

On New Year’s Day, Jair Bol­sonaro, Brazil’s new neo­con­ser­va­tive Pres­i­dent took of­fice. Pop­ulist, avowedly anti-Com­mu­nist, strongly pro-busi­ness, and not en­am­oured with Mer­co­sur, his ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy shows ev­ery sign of po­lar­is­ing an al­ready di­vided hemi­sphere.

He has ex­pressed strongly held views on Venezuela and Cuba, wants to weaken the cli­mate change ac­cord, has said that he will seek a re­duc­tion in Chi­nese in­flu­ence though in­vest­ment, and makes clear that he sees Brazil as Wash­ing­ton’s prin­ci­pal strate­gic part­ner in the Amer­i­cas.

His re­cent talks with the US Sec­re­tary of State, Mike Pom­peo and John Bolton, the US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser, pave the way for an early in­vi­ta­tion to a meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump at the White House.

In an in­di­ca­tion of where this may lead, a US State De­part­ment me­dia brief­ing just be­fore Mr Pom­peo and Pres­i­dent Bol­sonaro met on Jan­uary 2 in Brasilia said that they would dis­cuss “ef­forts to de­fend and pro­mote democ­racy and hu­man rights in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba”.

At that time the se­nior State De­part­ment of­fi­cial who spoke on the ba­sis of anonymity said that “the United States in­tends to work with Brazil to sup­port the peo­ple in these coun­tries who are strug­gling to live in free­dom against these re­pres­sive regimes” and noted that the ex­changes would fo­cus on “China and China’s preda­tory trade and lend­ing prac­tices”.

The im­pli­ca­tion is that new north-south ide­o­log­i­cal al­liances are about to be en­cour­aged by Wash­ing­ton, re­quir­ing the Caribbean and all other states in the Amer­i­cas to in­di­cate where they stand.

Al­though yet to be spelt out, it is likely that the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion will seek to cre­ate coali­tions of the will­ing un­der an ‘Amer­ica First’ um­brella.

This may seek to iso­late Venezuela and dis­cour­age in­vest­ment in Cuba; level the play­ing field for trade for US goods and ser­vices; es­tab­lish a big­ger role for sanc­tions; cur­tail sup­port for coun­tries that re­peat­edly vote against or take ac­tions counter to US in­ter­ests; and see poli­cies de­vel­oped that try to off­set China’s now sub­stan­tial en­gage­ment in the Amer­i­cas.

These are de­vel­op­ments that beg the ques­tion as to how a far from uni­fied Caribbean should re­spond, not least be­cause an equally rapid change is com­ing in the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment in Europe.

In March 2019 the UK Gov­ern­ment will if its Par­lia­ment agrees be­gin a two-year process of de­tach­ing Bri­tain from the Euro­pean Union (EU). If it does so the UK and CARIFORUM will agree trade ac­cess equiv­a­lent to that granted un­der the EU-CARIFORUM Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment. How­ever, the re­gion will lose its sup­port­ive voice in EU de­ci­sion mak­ing just as the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre grav­ity in the EU 27 is chang­ing.

In most Euro­pean states, far right and pop­ulist groups have been mak­ing sub­stan­tial head­way.

Marginalised vot­ers, an­gry with es­tab­lish­ment pol­i­tics and elites and con­cerned about mi­gra­tion, have elected in­creas­ing num­bers of pop­ulists and na­tion­al­ists. This has re­sulted in the rise of par­ties and gov­ern­ments pre­pared to chal­lenge EU val­ues, en­cour­age xeno­pho­bia, and al­low racism to re-en­ter the main stream of Euro­pean pol­i­tics. This is hap­pen­ing as the in­flu­ence of the lead­ers of France and Ger­many, Europe’s prin­ci­pal lib­eral in­te­gra­tionists, is wan­ing, and Euroscep­tic Prime Min­is­ters in Italy, Aus­tria and the post-com­mu­nist states have be­gun to chal­lenge EU or­tho­doxy on is­sues that range from ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and mi­gra­tion to Eu­ro­zone bud­getary con­straints.

This im­pli­ca­tions of this will be­come clear in late May when vot­ers in the EU27 elect 705 mem­bers to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. Most polls sug­gest that a large loosely aligned co-op­er­a­tive of rad­i­cal right-wing par­ties could emerge to chal­lenge the cur­rent lib­eral sta­tus quo that has ex­isted for more than twenty years be­tween the cen­tre left and cen­tre right when it comes to Europe’s di­rec­tion and val­ues.

Whether na­tion­al­ists and pop­ulists have enough in com­mon to sus­tain any long-term po­lit­i­cal al­liance for long is un­clear, but their ex­pected num­bers in the Par­lia­ment will likely ad­vance EU re­form and cer­tainly in­flu­ence fu­ture think­ing about the bud­get, in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, and de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion.

More im­me­di­ately, the new Par­lia­ment will play a cen­tral role in the ap­point­ment of a new Col­lege of Com­mis­sion­ers, the se­nior po­lit­i­cal fig­ures who di­rect the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the bu­reau­cracy, which de­liv­ers EU pol­icy and reg­u­la­tions. They will also in­flu­ence the ap­point­ment of the Pres­i­dency of the Coun­cil, the choice of the next EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive (For­eign Min­is­ter), and other po­si­tions due to change this year .

Whether the Caribbean can main­tain a sem­blance of for­eign pol­icy co­her­ence in the face of change in the Hemi­sphere and in Europe is far from cer­tain. The re­gion is di­vided over Venezuela and sanc­tions, with­out ex­cep­tion de­sires the full nor­mal­i­sa­tion of re­la­tions with Cuba and is un­likely to achieve a con­sen­sus on the sig­nif­i­cance of China’s fu­ture role for as long as some na­tions con­tinue to recog­nise Tai­wan.

The im­pli­ca­tion is that ex­ter­nal pres­sures may cause fur­ther in­ter-re­gional frag­men­ta­tion and that na­tions will be faced with the un­wel­come dilemma of choos­ing be­tween friends. It sug­gests also that over time the re­gion may have to con­sider new forms of non-align­ment, per­haps within the ACP or some other group­ing, or al­ter­na­tively may sim­ply gam­ble that by do­ing very lit­tle it can wait it out un­til Jan­uary 2021 in the hope there will be a new in­cum­bent in the White House.

In the ab­sence of a uni­fied for­eign pol­icy re­sponse this com­plex out­look re­in­forces the ur­gency of un­der­tak­ing and im­ple­ment­ing rapidly the steps Heads of Gov­ern­ment agreed to in De­cem­ber: that is, to de­liver many of the miss­ing com­po­nents of the Caribbean Sin­gle Mar­ket and Econ­omy in or­der to cre­ate greater re­gional eco­nomic co­her­ence and unity.

2019 has the mak­ings of a year in which in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions will re­quire skill and lead­er­ship if the Caribbean is to re­tain its in­tegrity. If progress is not made in con­sol­i­dat­ing re­gional in­te­gra­tion, in­di­vid­ual na­tions could well find them­selves sub­orned by the rapidly chang­ing poli­cies and pri­or­i­ties of oth­ers

David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil and can be con­tacted at david.jes­[email protected]­cil.org Pre­vi­ous col­umns can be found at https://www.caribbean-coun­cil.org/re­search-anal­y­sis/

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