Jamaica's Prime Minister, Andrew Holness.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness.
Government of Jamaica

On Nov. 15, hundreds of foreign and trade ministers, diplomats and technical officials had assembled in Apia, the capital of the Pacific nation of Samoa, to participate in the signing ceremony of a new economic partnership agreement that would govern trade and aid arrangements between Europe and its former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP).

The agreement replaces the one that was signed in Cotonou, Benin back in 2000 but as human rights issues become of greater importance around the globe with each passing day, some civil society and academic groups in the region say they are uncomfortable with some of the clauses in the deal and have urged their governments to back away and not sign.

The Samoa edition covers mainly human rights, democracy, peace and security as well as human and social inclusive development, sustainable economic growth and development, environmental sustainability and climate change migration and mobility issues.

Well aware that Europe, Canada and the US have been pushing the region to be more tolerant of same sex marriages and LGBTQ-Plus issues, civil society and academic groups have read in to the human rights texts and have determined that these will eventually impose pressures on governments to amend laws and ordinances accommodate same sex marriages and LGBTQ-Plus issues on society. They argue that failure to do so would mean that refusing countries will be unable to draw down on any concession aid from the EU. For them, this is a sacrifice worth taking.

EU and ACP officials who had worked on the documents during months of negotiations leading up to the signing in Samoa last week, say there are no such references in the agreement and activists are reading way too much into the various clauses without justification.

Still, Jamaica and Trinidad, Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, The Bahamas, Grenada and Dominica have delayed signing the deal, with authorities in Jamaica and Trinidad in particular coming under rough criticisms from civil society groups not to pen signatures because such will open the door to the Europeans imposing LGBTQ-plus demands like same sex marriages on local societies. Guyana has also not signed because authorities have made a rather strange request for a reservation relating to economic migrants and refugees.

Flabbergasted EU and ACP officials say they have nothing to work with from the CARICOM head office nation and it is up to Guyana to come on board when ready as they are not even sure what the reservation means and intends. Cuba has also delayed signing but its reason is unknown.

Those who have not signed have until mid-next year to do so or they would not be regarded as participating.

Of those in the Caribbean which have not signed on, Jamaica was among the first to air its objections in public, with at least 15 civil society groups piling on the pressure for Jamaica to refuse to do so. The Andrew Holness government has come under severe pressure from these groups in a country which is globally known to abhor same sex relations especially when it involves men with men.

Announcing the signing delay last week, Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamina Johnson Smith said this will delay further consultations with domestic groups to ensure no local laws are breached. “Throughout the negotiations which concluded in 2021, the government had taken on board the views of the various stakeholders including members of civil society. After what was in fact three years of challenging negotiations, the government was satisfied that the language of the text in the final agreement would not supersede Jamaica’s domestic legislation. Notwithstanding, the government has taken note of concerns which continue to be raised by stakeholders in the domestic space, so we will continue consultations with the aim of providing assurances regarding the government’s unfailing intent to always protect the interest of Jamaica and Jamaicans with the laws of Jamaica as our guide,” Johnson Smith said.

As Jamaica backed away for now, Trinidadian Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon has also criticized the Samoa agreement saying its human rights clauses will cause social trouble in the region. “They will have to impose abortion legislation, transgender, LBGTQ, comprehensive sex education, a whole range of values will be imposed because of the signing of that document. The EU is imposing upon us an ideology that is not ours and a value system that is not ours. And if we don’t understand and wake up and smell the coffee quickly we will find ourselves with values, with laws, with expectations and with things being touted as right that has nothing to do with us Caribbean people. Wake up and smell the coffee. It ain’t far away, it is right here. “Thank God for that. Our government got wind of it, have seen and understood and they are saying they don’t have enough information to be able to sign. Thank God for that. Jamaica came out clearly and said we are not for sale, “CMC News Agency quoted him as saying this week.