Absence of BVI at Caricom-Obama Summit debated

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By Mellica McPherson

Following the acclaimed Summit between the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama that took place on Thursday 9 April in Kingston, Jamaica, talks arose here in the Territory about the BVI’s absence from such an event.

The discussion which started in some sections of the media was carried over to the airwaves by Opposition Party (VIP) Chairman, and Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser during the Party’s April 15 radio broadcast.

During the Program, Hon. Fraser announced: “Regionally in particular last week the President of the United States visited Jamaica, and my understanding was that it was a visit to the CARICOM nations. Visibly absent from that meeting in Jamaica were the Overseas Territories, particularly the Virgin Islands. I am of the view that something is awry as far as that is concerned.”

The BVI is an Associate Member of CARICOM, and in explaining the basis for his contention, Hon. Fraser explained if the Virgin Islands is indeed a part of the organization it should have been represented at the meeting. He announced: “Now people might want to say, and snap it off by saying that we are not a full member of CARICOM, they might want to say that we are not independent but there are ways in which participation can be met.”

“I still believe that there is such a thing as observer status, and the leaders of the CARICOM Nations must know that the Virgin Islands do exist; and we are not going to be taken for granted,” Hon. Fraser declared before calling on Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith to consider the matter.

In his suggestion that the Premier follows up on the non-invite, Hon. Fraser said: “I would urge our Premier to not do it alone, but to get together with the other Overseas countries to understand exactly what took place. It cannot continue this way; we are a significant player in this region if you don’t believe me just look around you; the demographics in the Virgin Islands speaks to that.”

To illustrate his point the VIP Chair noted: “We have people from every island in the Caribbean living in the Virgin Islands here happily, in peace and in harmony; and this is something that we cherish. We cannot allow ourselves to be taken for granted, and not let the Caribbean; and the international community know that this is not acceptable.”

He added: “A lot of things happen at these summits, a lot of things that you do not see, a lot of things that you do not hear about. In the run up these summits a lot of negotiations take place where meetings are established, and it does not mean that you would have a meeting at the highest level. I don’t for one moment suggest that the Premier was going to meet with the President of the United States, but there are so many other agencies in the United States and so many other offices that you never know. That is where agreements are met, negotiations take place and contacts are established.”

“I would not expect in the history of these islands that such a momentous occasion occurred and we are a member of an organization, you can call us what you want, call us associate members or whatever and we are not represented at all,” Hon. Fraser stated.

However, BVI Leader, Hon. Smith did not share the views of Hon. Fraser. When the matter of the BVI’s absence from the meeting was put the Premier by the media on 21 April the Premier explained that the BVI was not snubbed.

In fact, Hon. Smith explained that all of the other Overseas Member Territories were excluded from the meeting because of their status. He told reporters: “If you were to review the list of all the countries that attended you will see that there were no Associate Members there, they were all just members of CARICOM. Additionally, one of the topics that were under discussion was the whole question of the SAR (Suspicious Activity Reporting) and this is something that we have been proactive about since last year. We have engaged the (US) State Department on this matter.”

In terms of the invitation, the Premier said that it is something that the USA President and CARICOM agreed on; and he pointed out that this happens sometimes. The Premier further said that he did not feel any form of disappointment about the Territory not being invited.

Dr. Smith told reporters “I have no difficulties…This happens sometimes.” Nonetheless, Hon. Smith said that he would assume that his views were well represented by the CARICOM leaders

Overseas Territory With Full Membership Not at Meeting

The associate members of CARICOM are: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Montserrat is the only Overseas Territory that has full CARICOM membership, and it was announced that even that Territory was not in attendance at the historic meeting.

An article published on 13 April in The Montserrat Reporter stated that the Premier of that Overseas Territory, Hon. Donaldson Romeo did not attend the well-publicized meeting that was held in Jamaica. The article said that the Montserrat Premier was on his way to Jamaica to join other CARICOM heads of Government when he was informed before boarding a flight out of Antigua that the diplomatic arrangements were not in place. It was not clear what the arrangements were, but it was stated that the issue stemmed from the Territory’s absence from Twenty-Sixth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference that was held in The Bahamas in February this year.

Nonetheless that article mentioned that CARICOM made arrangements to ensure that Montserrat was apprised of the discussions at the meeting.

About CARICOM-Obama Meeting

The summit between President Obama and Caricom centred around the topics of competitiveness, energy and security.

The meeting was co-chaired by Chairman of CARICOM the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister of The Bahamas, and President Obama, and  followed on the heels of another high level engagement between Caribbean leaders and US Vice President Joe Biden, that took place in late January in Washington DC at the Caribbean Energy Security Summit.

The Jamaica meeting was the third time that CARICOM leaders met with President Obama. Previous meetings had taken place in the margins of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009 and Colombia in 2012.

The themes of the April Summit reflected the major concerns of the Community as many of the Member States seek to emerge from the lingering effects of the global economic and financial crisis. With economic growth as a main goal of the Community, discussions related to competitiveness with the Region’s main trading partner was a significant element of the meeting.
The CARICOM-US summit was part of a two-day official visit by President Obama to Jamaica preceding the involvement of both parties in the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama on 10-11 April, 2015.

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