Pompeo arrives to simmering controversy

Pompeo arrives to simmering controversy|Pompeo arrives to simmering controversy
Colombia’s President Ivan Duque (right) talks with Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido (center) as US State Secretary Mike Pompeo follows, far left, after attending a ceremony marking one year since a car bomb attack at the police academy in Bogota, Colombia, during the inauguration of a regional anti-terrorism summit, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. The Colombian government blamed rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, for the bombing that killed at least 21 people on Jan. 17, 2019.|Antigua Foreign Minister, E. P. Chet Greene.
Associated Press / Ivan Valencia|

Mike Pompeo arrived in Jamaica late Tuesday for his two-day summit meeting with a select group of Caribbean leaders and high officials but even as he touched down on Jamaican soil, a number of Caribbean Community governments wasted little time in condemning Washington for again trying to divide the integration movement by cherry picking only so-called friendly nations.

Down to attend the meeting with the American Secretary of State, are Jamaica, The Bahamas, Belize, St. Kitts, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Dutch St. Maarten. Boycotting because they are upset representatives from the wider grouping were not invited are Trinidad and Barbados, both of whom have banned their foreign ministers from even thinking of heading to the airport to attend the meeting. Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, one of the longest serving regional head of government, also announced that no one from his administration will attend as he made his position on CARICOM solidarity known.

Governments say they are upset that Washington sent invites only to certain governments it thinks will support its withering efforts to oust the administration of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and to control the 35-nation Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS has largely been lining up behind the US stance on Venezuela.

US President Donald Trump did the same thing last year, as the leaders of Jamaica, The Bahamas, St. Lucia, Haiti and The Dominican Republic were flown to Trump’s Mar-O-Largo Florida estate for a meeting with the US president with Venezuela again being on the agenda. Caricom leaders had described the invites to that select group as deeply polarizing. Unprepared to put up with such moves this time around, they argue that the time has come to take a stance.

On Wednesday, Antigua through Foreign Minister E. P. Chet Greene said “we are very much in support of and identify with the sentiments expressed by the CARICOM Chair, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados. As a government, we stand in support of this position.”

Not pulling any punches, Mottley at the weekend had described the entire scenario as an undisguised attempt by the US to divide Caricom, noting that “as chairman of CARICOM, it is impossible for me to agree that my foreign minister should attend a meeting with anyone to which members of CARICOM are not invited. If some are invited and not all, then it is an attempt to divide this region.”

Apparently unaware that Washington is putting Jamaica on the spot and opening it to criticism as a US lackey nation, Pompeo said he will travel to Jamaica,” a good friend of the US. I’ll gather at an important meeting with many Caribbean leaders to discuss how we can all work together to promote our common democratic values and prosperity for all of our people. I’m looking forward to a fantastic set of meetings.” Former secretaries of state Rex Tillerson and Hilary Clinton had also snuggled up in Kingston for meetings with CARICOM in recent years.

Apart from looking for support for the Washington-Caracas row, regional diplomats and governments believe that Pompeo is trying to help current OAS Secretary General, Luis Leonardo Almargo Lemes win reelection in May. If it votes as a bloc, CARICOM nations would hold 14 of the 18 votes needed as a majority of 35 to win reelection. Almargo was a former foreign minister of Uruguay up to 2015 and largely seen as an executive who is controlled by Washington. Several CARICOM countries have nominated other diplomats for the top positions. Some have not made the cut to Kingston.

The Jamaica Gleaner this week quoted former senior Jamaican diplomat, Curtis Ward as saying no one respects Jamaica as an independent thinker any more.

“Nobody in CARICOM pays any respect to what Jamaica does anymore, so Jamaica has to be extremely careful of how it deals with the Trump administration. Pompeo spoke in the OAS at a special session he requested last Friday and he singled out Jamaica and refers to the country as a good friend of the United States. In my opinion, he is pushing Mr. Holness as the de facto leader of CARICOM, which he’s not. Sadly, at the moment, it seems Caricom is void of a strong leader. Jamaica used to be the leader on foreign policy, but not anymore,” Ward said.

Antigua Foreign Minister, E. P. Chet Greene.