Old folks have a saying that goes like this: “Fren in a court better than money inna pocket.”
The essence of the thought seems to be that sometimes not even money can buy one’s way out of a problem and that a friend in need is a friend indeed.
When Antigua & Barbuda signed on to ALBA, the Venezuela-led Bolivarian Alliance in 2009, it was at a time when the country was just beginning to feel the throes of the global recession.
Previous to joining the auspicious company of Latin American and Caribbean countries, with the likes of Cuba, Dominica and St Vincent & the Grenadines, we had already signed on to the Petro Caribe initiative and this government was beholden to Hugo Chavez for loans of generators and cold hard cash.
So it could not have been difficult to decide we liked what the Venezuelan government was offering and that closer ties would be beneficial to us.
This country broke ranks somewhat when it took that route despite its obligations to Caricom Treaty and its attendant responsibilities.
But then history has shown that when the chips are down, it is every man for himself and God for us all.
Back in the early 1990s, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago each acted unilaterally in attempting to qualify for ‘NAFTA parity’ treatment by the United States by signing certain bilateral economic treaties with that country.
Later in the 1990s, several countries also broke ranks with their regional counterparts by negotiating separately with the US on the infamous ‘Shiprider agreements’ and still later in 2002, the equally infamous agreements to grant immunity for US personnel from prosecution under the International Criminal Court were penned.
There is also the adage that warns of being careful of the company one keeps and to be wary of Greeks bearing gifts.
The rationale for the alliance started altruistically enough – us against them. The NAFTA trade arrangements were one-sided at best. We, in this part of the world, stood to gain very little. So if we could come up with a deal that would be win-win, then more power to us.
It mattered not that the United States would not be pleased we were charting our course using our own resources.
But then in 2010, at the height of the Iran imbroglio, where that country was racing towards enriching uranium used in nuclear weaponry, the head of ALBA signed a communiqué siding with Iran’s right to do so.
The United Nations, and Washington have imposed sanctions against Iran for its uranium enrichment programme.
“We ratify the support of our governments to the sovereign right of the Islamic Republic of Iran to generate atomic energy and use it with peaceful aims, the right of all the nations laid down in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty),” the statement said.
Antigua & Barbuda got dragged into the fray just by being a member of the alliance. It was left to our government to wiggle out by declaring that we had failed to sign the missive condemning the US for attempting to force that country to give up its quest. Two other Caribbean countries that are members of ALBA – Dominica and St Vincent & the Grenadines – also failed to sign.
Last week, at the conclusion of another summit, ALBA joined with Argentina against Great Britain by declaring the bloc would bar any Falkland Island-flagged boats from docking in their ports.
We recall that Britain went to war with Argentina in 1982 over the Falklands.
The ramifications of this country doing any such thing is so far reaching as to be scary. We could not possibly have thought through what this means for this country, which has historic ties with that country and which is a member of the Commonwealth and whose head is the queen of England.
And so after it hit the fan, government’s public relations machinery was forced, yesterday, to announce that this country falls back on its initial position that the dispute must be settled amicably without us taking sides.
Perhaps not as significant, we also were party to the communiqué which supported the Syrian government against ”interference” of foreign powers.
China and Russia, last Saturday, vetoed a UN Security Council resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up power and start a political transition.
Coming out of last week’s conference, too, was the proposal for creating “a single economic space,” ECOALBA, a new economic integration system for the bloc. ECOALBA, is being pitched as an alternative to trade and economic links dominated by the United States and the US dollar and emphasises bartering and payments among ALBA members through the Sucre – a virtual currency.
So far-reaching are these arrangements that even St Vincent’s Ralph Gonsalves was forced to take a step back and issued words of caution. A single economic space, he noted, was a possible way forward but not the only way forward. Of course, he was careful to say he was only speaking for his country and that the idea required “significant juridical framework that needed to take into account other regional economic and monetary arrangements.”
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread? We wonder.