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Caribbean leaders like Colin Powell

John Collins

At Bahamas meeting with regional foreign ministers U.S. official listens to their concerns; pledges greater attention

NASSAU, Bahamas – U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a whirlwind visit to this capital of the Bahamas for bilateral discussions with the government of the Bahamas as well as a meeting with the foreign ministers of the entire Caribbean.

“We discussed a broad spectrum of topics faced by the Caribbean with the Secretary,” said Guyana Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally, co-chair with Powell of the encounter. “We covered the challenges of development and we pointed out that trade and investment have central roles in the new relationship between the Caribbean and the U.S. in the post-9-11 strategy,” referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Praising Powell “for his sympathy with our problems,” Insanally said major areas of concern to the region listed by the Guyanese official included “the blocking of multilateral funding to Haiti; the blacklisting of certain countries for alleged money laundering practices; deportations of Caribbean born convicted felons in the U.S.; human, narcotics and arms trafficking in the region and the U.S. third border initiative. We must also find ways to stimulate investment from the U.S. and provide for greater market access for products from the region.”

“We’re all equals and respect each other,” said Powell. “I return to Washington with a greater appreciation for the problems and threats faced by the Caribbean.”

An area over which there was not a meeting of the minds was Haiti, a problem to which the Bahamas is very close and with which the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are concerned about. The region has closed ranks around Haiti and insists that U.S. pressure on lending agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank not to resume funding for Haiti that are blocked should be lifted.

But Powell pointed out that even though the U.S. “has sent $55 million to Haiti in the last year and hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, there is still a political crisis in Haiti that must be dealt with. It is also a human crisis that we must deal with. We support the Organization of American States (OAS) and stand ready to assist.” Listening as the Secretary spoke was the Haitian Foreign Minister.

Indicating that the Bahamas “is experiencing a terrible problem because of the Haitian exodus and the U.S. is also threatened because a significant percentage of them are on their way to the US,” said Bahamas Foreign Minister Janet Bostwick.

Puerto Rico not present but still discussed

During a press conference prior to his return to Washington Secretary Powell was asked about the opposition of the U.S. State Department (USSD) to the quest for associate membership of Puerto Rico in the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). This goal was a blank in the platform of Gov. Sila Calderon in her gubernatorial campaign and Secretary of State Fernando Mercado was present at the recent ACS summit in Venezuela hosted by President Hugo Chavez.

“I don’t know anything about it, but I’ll take your question back to Washington and we’ll get an answer for you,” said Powell. Later, an aide accompanying the Secretary said  “we’re waiting for Puerto Rico to get back to us and haven’t received an answer.” The official said that in the meantime “another problem has arisen because the government of Puerto Rico wanted to sign an agreement with a foreign country and the USSD objected.”

The official declined to identify the country but informed sources point to the Dominican Republic with which the government of Puerto Rico recently concluded an agreement on the areas of trade and agriculture. “These types of accords have to be developed and concluded within certain perimeters,” said the official. “Changes were requested in the proposed pact in order for the objections to be lifted.”

Indicating that a number of states, and mentioned were California, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Washington State, have concluded various agreements with foreign countries in the past, the official said “there is an established procedure to be followed and that has been explained to San Juan.”

It could not be learned if Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), as U.S. flag territories in the Caribbean, were invited to the Bahamas encounter with Powell. It was recalled that both then Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello and USVI Gov. Roy Schneider were invited to the summit which then President Bill Clinton had with Caribbean leaders in Barbados in 1997.  Rossello didn’t attend that one but Schneider did. Earlier in 1994 Rossello attended the first Summit of the Americas in Miami hosted by President Clinton.

Puerto Rico enjoys observer status in CARICOM since 1990 and sometimes attends the periodic summits of the organization but was not present at the recent intercessional summit held in Belize imme3diately before this Bahamas Powell encounter.

Powell was in the Bahamas for less than 24 hours, arriving at 4:30 PM and leaving immediately following the meeting. Security at the conference hotel was described as “very tight” by attendees but his coming and going went hardly noticed by Bahamians although the presence of four U.S. Navy warships and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter in the harbor told them “someone important was in town.”

It was explained that the Secretary’s brief visit was dictated by a 5:30 PM meeting in Washington of President George W. Bush with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the same afternoon.

February 11, 2001

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