The agenda of the Mar-a-Lago meeting was not disclosed, but the summoning of the hand-picked quintet mimics a similar division of Caribbean leaders ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in 1983.
The White House suddenly announced, only two days before, that US President Donald Trump had invited five Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday, March 22.
The leaders invited to Washington are from the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, and according to the official statement they and their host will discuss “trade, energy and security issues.”
But it’s widely speculated that much of the discussions will be centered on Venezuela, at the moment Trump’s primary political, economic and security foreign policy agenda item.
Four of the five invited Caribbean states are among the Latin American and Caribbean nations that voted, in January, in favor of a U.S.-backed resolution at the Organization of American States (OAS) to not recognize the elected Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro.
CARICOM has, since last year, been promoting a common foreign policy approach to Venezuela and leading efforts to foster dialogue and a peaceful settlement to Venezuela's current climate; more than once engaging with the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General in that regard.
CARICOM Chairman, Saint Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, has been leading the regional group’s charge to have external actors respect the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace.
However, the CARICOM chairman – whose country abstained from the January vote – was not invited to Trump’s Florida parley.
The agenda of the Mar-a-Lago meeting was not disclosed in advance, but the sudden summoning of the hand-picked quintet recalls to memory a similar division of the Caribbean’s leadership ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in 1983.
Back then, with some CARICOM member-states clearly supporting Maurice Bishop’s revolutionary government in Grenada, Washington opted to canvas the support of the smaller, conservative-led six-member Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
As a result, then -chairman of the OECS, Dominica’s Dame Eugenia ‘Iron Lady’ Charles, and OECS Director General Dr. Vaughan Lewis stood beside President Ronald Reagan when he announced to the world, on October 25, 1983, that U.S. troops were invading Grenada.
With the fig leaf endorsed by the OECS, the U.S. invasion of Grenada boosted Reagan’s popularity ahead of the 1984 U.S. presidential election.
Fast-forward 35 years, and the same scenario repeats itself: Less than two years ahead of a second-term presidential bid, Trump is also in dire need to pay a political dividend to increase his electoral stock ahead of the 2020 run.
But, since not all CARICOM members-states will, today, 'dance with Washington,' the Mar-a-Lago invitation list has been limited only to those willing to sing along.
Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday he would use Friday’s meeting “to thank the leaders for their support for peace and democracy in Venezuela.”
But, there’s obviously more in the mortar than just the pestle, since the five invited Caribbean nations share several commonalities in their positions on Venezuela:
The Bahamas has refused to accept the Maduro administration’s nominee as Venezuela’s Ambassador in Nassau;
Haiti’s president and ruling party are facing mounting pressure over a financial scandal involving the alleged disappearance of millions of dollars donated by Venezuela through the PetroCaribe fuel initiative;
On the same day the White House disclosed the Caribbean leaders’ meeting with Trump (Wednesday), Jamaica announced the “temporary closure” of Venezuela’s embassy in Kingston;
Saint Lucia supported the U.S.-backed anti-Venezuela resolution in January, but did not break diplomatic ties with Caracas. However, Castries later joined the U.S.-led call for fresh elections in Venezuela;
The Dominican Republic played a mediating role and facilitated crucial meetings in Santo Domingo ahead of the last Venezuela presidential vote; the Florida meeting is expected to press for a change of heart on Venezuela.
For some three-and-a-half decades since the Grenada invasion, CARICOM’s balancing collective vote held the sway at the OAS and preserved regional peace, as the governments maintained a unified position on foreign policy issues of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states – until last January, when the Washington lobby succeeded in cracking the shield.
As things stand now, CARICOM is still calling for dialogue and a peaceful resolution in Venezuela. But individual member-states (The Bahamas, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia among them) have for some time adopted their own stances on the Maduro administration.
CARICOM member-states Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad & Tobago all abstained during the January OAS vote, leaving only Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname voting against the U.S.-backed resolution.
So, will the Mar-a-Lago meeting conclude with a clear pathway created to advance U.S. interventionism (this time in Venezuela), again with Caribbean backing?
Was the Florida meeting summoned to sway Caribbean leaders to provide another fig leaf for yet another U.S. intervention in the region?
Will the invited Caribbean leaders mirror their OECS predecessors circa 1983 and, in 2019, erase all efforts pursued and promoted by the Caribbean, since 1978, to keep the region as a Zone of Peace?
The clock is ticking and all eyes will be watching like hawks after the Caribbean leaders return from their Mar-a-Lago meeting.