I first met Derek Walcott, who died on March 20, in the late 1960s when we both worked as reporters at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Evening News in my native Trinidad.
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T&T stands apart from Caricom allies
Trinidad and Tobago may find itself standing apart from its Caribbean Community (Caricom) allies at tomorrow’s ministerial meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) to address the diplomatic row between Ecuador and the United Kingdom over the fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
T&T ambassador to the United States, Dr Neil Parsan, is expected to represent this country at the meeting which puts the United States against members of two hemispheric groupings in which several Caricom countries are actively engaged. However, in the end, according to international relations expert Dr Anthony Gonsalves, the “consequences of being a small state and eating at several tables” will prevail. He believes Caricom nations are recognising they can experience “negative consequences” whichever way they vote tomorrow.
He says solutions to the dilemma include abstaining—a position taken by Barbados, the Bahamas and Jamaica during last Friday’s vote on a resolution to discuss the issue—or simply being absent for the vote. Last week, St Lucia and St Kitts and Nevis were not around the table when the vote was taken.
The unravelling of any cohesive Caricom stance on the issue is also being viewed, by some observers, as likely collateral damage. A “Caricom” position was reportedly referred to at last Friday’s meeting but has apparently not undergone usual scrutiny, given the haste of the proceedings.
When the T&T Guardian reached acting Caricom secretary general Colin Granderson at his Georgetown, Guyana, office yesterday, he said the Caricom Secretariat had not yet been fully briefed by the OAS-based Caricom caucus—just two days before the contentious meeting. The formal mechanism for such an exchange is the Bureau of the Caricom Council for Foreign and Community Relations which has not been activated in this instance.
Last Friday, T&T joined with the United States and Canada in opposing a bid by Ecuador to move a resolution before the OAS Permanent Council to discuss “the situation between Ecuador and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland regarding the inviolability of the diplomatic premises of Ecuador in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in accordance with international law.”
The move came following the granting of “diplomatic immunity” to Assange who has resisted legal attempts to have him questioned in Sweden about rape and molestation allegations. He is holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London enjoying such immunity but without a right of “free passage” out of the country.
It is feared that shipping him out to Sweden will eventually lead to his extradition to the United States to face serious national defence charges linked to the publication of leaked diplomatic cables on his Wikileaks Web site. American soldier, Bradley Manning, faces a variety of charges for passing classified information to the site.
The T&T Trinidad Guardian understands there are moves by Caribbean members of the Venezuela-led Bolivarian Alliance for Our America including Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines to forge a united position. St Lucia, which has expressed an interest in joining the hemispheric integration movement, is likely to join with its OECS neighbours.
Guyana and Suriname are also members of the Union of South American Nations which last weekend condemned any attempt by the UK authorities appeared poised to storm Ecuador’s London mission. A majority of Caricom countries are also members of the PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela for the supply of preferential oil prices. Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago have not signed on to the agreement.
OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza has urged member states to focus on any possible threat to the Ecuadorian embassy which is protected under the Vienna Convention. This will, however, have no impact on any attempt to extradite him once he leaves the embassy compound.
Among the several protections Assange sympathisers have proposed are use of an embassy vehicle to transport him out of the embassy, his status as an official courier of a diplomatic parcel or as an item contained in a diplomatic bag—all propositions summarily dismissed by experts.