Caribbean Matters: Recapping Summit of the Americas—and a great speech from Barbados PM Mia Mottley

Caribbean Matters: Recapping Summit of the Americas—and a great speech from Barbados PM Mia Mottley

The 9th Summit of the Americas, hosted by the United States in Los Angeles from June 6 to June 10, sparked controversy before it even got started. Some nations decided to boycott because the U.S. failed to invite the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. This dominated headlines here, and the summit was pronounced a failure by various news outlets before it even began.

Though mainstream media coverage focused its attention on Mexican President Obrador’s choice to give it a pass, and to other Latin-American perspectives, today I’ll examine the participation from Caribbean island nations and those from the mainland Caribbean basin, and the varied responses of those who attended. Most importantly, once again I implore you to listen to Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, whose speech offered a blueprint for where we need to go together.

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

After reading news reports about boycotting nations, I went to see which of those nations were Caribbean. The first one I identified was Antigua and Barbuda, whose prime minister, Gaston Browne, announced he would not be attending, which was reported in the Antigua Observer on May 13. 

Things clearly changed, and West Indies and Caribbean News (WIC) made note of that on June 8:

Prime Minister Browne stated that Caribbean leaders would take advantage of the chance to defend the region’s position, recalling that the US showed interest in the Caribbean during the COVID outbreak by supplying vaccines and personal protective equipment. He also called on the USA to help the Caribbean in a COVID-19 recovery plan.

As per reports, during the visit, PM Browne aims to seek and persuade President Biden to rethink his approach against Cuba and Venezuela in particular.

As it turned out, of the CARICOM membership, only St. Vincent and the Grenadines, headed by Premier Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, did not attend.

At the summit, Vice President Kamala Harris followed up her virtual meeting with Caribbean leaders on April 29, with a face-to-face meeting. Key in the meeting was her announcement of PACC 2030.

Today, our main focus will be the climate crisis, which, of course, is an existential crisis for our entire planet, and the Caribbean is on the front line of this crisis. […] I indicated that the United States would look into these issues and work with you as we seek to resolve the challenges that each of our nations are presented with.  And I committed that we would develop a plan.
Today, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the United States-Caribbean Partnership to Address the Climate Crisis, also known as PACC — P-A-C-C — 2030. PACC 2030 is the United States government’s primary mechanism for addressing energy security and the climate crisis in this region.
Through this partnership, we will support energy infrastructure and climate resilience projects at every stage of development, from beginning to end, in four particular ways.

Her remarks:

After the meeting, they assembled for a photo shoot.

CARICOM heads and representatives gather for a photo following a meeting with Kamala Harris on Thursday at the IX Summit of the Americas. They’ll have their turn to address the plenary

— Kawsachun News (@KawsachunNews) June 10, 2022

As I told Caribbean leaders at the Summit of the Americas: strengthening the U.S.-Caribbean partnership is a priority for me and our entire Administration.

— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) June 9, 2022

Though the media tended to report only the segments of speeches condemning the U.S. for not inviting Cuba and Venezuela—like this clip from CARICOM Chair and President of Belize John Antonio Briceño, below, I watched the full speeches.

Prime Minister of Belize condemns the blockade of Cuba and recognizes the medical solidarity provided by Cuba to the world, Belize included. “Similarly, Venezuela has done so much for energy security, through its innovative financing programs.”

— Kawsachun News (@KawsachunNews) June 9, 2022

Here are his full remarks:

He opened with this imagery:

We have gathered in the City of Angels. The American city that most reflects the best and worst of the Americas. A city that is home to millions of citizens from every country in the western hemisphere. A melting pot. A melange.

Un crisol de culturas

A city in which too many have too much, and too many have too little. A mirror of the Americas in 2022.

Los Angeles—a beautiful city endowed with abundant riches, where ambition coupled with hard work makes real the promise of the American dream—that a decent living is possible for the majority.

My friends, we have come to this blessed place to refresh our collective will to do good, and to once again recommit ourselves to building a socially just Americas. From Barrow, Alaska, in the north, to Tierra del Fuego in the south, the peoples of the Americas await the outcome of this 9th Summit of the Americas. Their needs are many. Their hopes expectant. While our philosophies and approaches are divergent, our vision is the same: to build an Americas that works for all of us.

But, we are at a tipping point. The Americas and the world face existential threats. As leaders, we are called to make consequential choices which will irreversibly shape our collective future.

(Read the rest here.)

From my point of view, the highlight of the summit was the chance to again hear the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honorable Mia Amor Mottley speak. I’ve covered her speeches here before, here and here. Allow me to rant a little. She again made one of the most powerful and cogent speeches I’ve heard in my lifetime. Yet, if I wasn’t following Caribbean news outlets, and the summit, I wouldn’t have heard about it. In the U.S. media, those who mentioned her at all (and I can count them on one hand), only mentioned that she criticized the U.S. for not inviting Cuba.

Has anyone watched @miaamormottley ‘s speech at the Summit of the Americas?! This woman is phenomenal! She addressed EVERY issue that is plaguing the Caribbean. She wasn’t specific to Barbados, she was specific to the Caribbean and I appreciate her for that

— Toni-Ann (@ToniiRomae) June 11, 2022

I agree with this tweet, and when you can, take the time to listen to the whole thing, which is about 15 minutes in length. I’ve posted the entire transcript below. Madam Mottley, thank you for quoting Bob Marley: “There is so much trouble in the world.”

“Bless my eyes this morning. Jah sun is on the rise again. The way earthly things are going, anything can happen.”

Mr. Secretary, there is so much trouble in the world. Excellencies, there is so much trouble in the world. Heads of Government, there is so much trouble in the world. Heads of State, there is so much trouble in the world.

I’ve chosen the language of Bob Marley this morning not because I’m an apostle of Bob, as you probably have realized by now, but also because he reminds us of the day-to-day reality of our people and of our citizens.

And we have come to Los Angeles hopeful that we’re not just going to engage in speeches or we’re not just going to engage in platitudes, but we go home to make a difference to people at perhaps the most difficult time this world has seen in 100 years.

We have three global crises and any one is sufficient to bring us down. The climate crisis hurts from you here in California in fires, to us in the Caribbean through the heart attack of hurricanes, and the chronic NCDs of water crises and droughts or floods, depending on where you go. We fight the pandemic.

And even as we talk about the pandemic, we need to start to qualify it because we fight the COVID pandemic without realizing that the slow onset pandemic of antimicrobial resistance is already upon us, being fueled further by how we farm, how we treat each other with the abuse of antibiotics, and how we literally allow those things to flow into our environment and contaminated water system.

And as if that was not enough, we now fight the prices of food and fuel and fertilizer, knowing full well that the only destination thereafter is going to be a debt crisis and an economic crisis if we do not intervene to break the slide.

My friends, how much more evidence do we need?

“You see men sailing on their ego trip. Blast off on their space ship, million miles from reality. No care for you. No care for me.”

If I could have sung it, you would have joined me.

But I don’t need you to join me in the words of this song. I need you to join us in the chorus of action that our people need, not want. Our people need immediate intervention. Six-week crops and 12-week crops is what is going to feed our people.

We need to be able to shield them from the price of fertilizer that is making their efforts almost impossible. We need equally to recognize, as you heard Prime Minister Browne and Prime Minister Davis say already this morning, that the debt crisis is already among many developing countries. We simply do not have the fiscal space to respond to crises not spawned by ourselves, but spawned by others.

And we are facing a double jeopardy.

Our countries were those from whom wealth was extracted in order to build the developed world. Our countries were left at independence with no compact, no money to finance basic rates of housing and health care and education.

And when we fought to do it, now we find ourselves having those efforts crowded out literally by our inability to be able to face and find the money, because we are using it to recover from climate crises, not of our own making.

Where does the double jeopardy come that it is the very industrial revolution that the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors financed, that is now causing us not to be able to respond to the needs of our people in the most basic of ways that humanity requires.

My friends, there is so much trouble in the world and we think we found a solution, but we want to tell people only about financing after the climate crisis. We need to be able to prepare before the crisis so we can reduce what we have to spend, by seven times. We need to recognize that adaptation has no private-sector-follower because there is no return on investment in adapting to the climate realities. That is the function of the State and therefore the international community is required in the justice of the moment to help us prevent loss of life and property for a crisis we didn’t create.

We need to reform the international financial institutions architecture. How can we have an international bank for reconstruction and development that does not reconstruct and develop in today’s world? Where is the reconstruction from the climate crisis being financed? Where is the reconstruction from the pandemic being financed – the post-pandemic recovery. Where is the platform for middle income countries that house 75% of the world’s poor? But because they are middle income, we don’t remember that. Where is the climate finance being targeted to, justifiably and fairly so, when the numbers show that only 15% of climate finance is going to the climate vulnerable countries?

I have not come here just to use words. Let us be practical. We have a duty to solve a few problems. And I think that the format of this meeting needs to change if we are to be able to see real progress and not simply to be part of the problem. We need to talk with each other and not talk at each other as we are doing in set-piece speeches.

We need to engage and see how we can make a difference in a real way. We have migrants coming, not because they choose to come, but because it is their last option. They don’t choose to leave who they love and where they love, willingly. And when they come, we now know that we don’t need to treat them poorly because this year has shown that there’s a dignified way to treat migrants. We’ve seen that in Europe. We need to see it in the Americas. And I don’t place that burden on the United States of America alone. I place it on all of us, including my own country, because we cannot be part of the solution by simply talking from outside and not literally putting our shoulders to the plow.

The International Organization of Migrants needs our support. And we need to make sure that as we reform the Organization of American States, that instead of it seeking to become a political player, it needs to become a player that simply brings opportunity to our people in the Americas, from Alaska to Chile. And how does that come? If we did nothing else in the next decade in the OAS but to allow our people to become bilingual and trilingual – people under 18 and adults – then we would change economic possibilities of this hemisphere in ways that we can’t even contemplate.

We need to ensure that if we fight this climate crisis injustice, then we fight it not just as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and developing countries calling for fairness for our nations, but we provide that fairness to our people. And how do I mean? We have taken a decision in Barbados that there can be no award of any contracts for renewable energy without taking into account the bounty that must go to our people. And therefore, accordingly, this year I announced that every rooftop that is owned by anyone in Barbados will have the right to have placed on it as a right, not a choice, not a right to apply, as a right. Photovoltaic systems from 2.5 Kilowatts to 5 to 10 to 20. Why? Because we don’t own individually the wind, the sea, and the sun. It is the patrimony of the nation. And if we are to move our people out of poverty, then we must use the bounty that is afforded to us through renewable energy, good jobs, but also good investment to allow our people to benefit.

And we ask you to recognize that we must not only engage in platitudinous comments about what we can achieve with net zero. Net zero does not mean fossil fuel free. It means, still, that there will be 20% energy coming from fossil fuels. We know natural gas is that clean fuel. But as we do it, let us recognize that it is not possible to exclude those developing countries who have now the opportunity to finance their way to net zero, simply because we want to keep the world in the construct of the old imperial order in which it is found.

Whether it is a reform of the international financial institutions or whether it is moving ourselves into a new reality, we cannot continue to cement the inequalities of an old imperial order. And that is why I have come also to thank President Biden and Vice President Harris. For too long, there has been benign neglect. And the Partnership for the Americas, as well as the Climate Partnership Pact 2030 offers us a real possibility of hope. But it is up to each of us to keep and hold each other accountable.

We are happy that coming out of yesterday we made progress that we didn’t see the day before. And we hope that tomorrow we will build on this subcommittee’s that will make a real difference on energy security, food security, and finance access that will mean that we can look our people in the face and say, we have done right by you. We cannot achieve it overnight, but we are moving in the right direction.

And we must also address the reality of exclusion, not on the exclusion of individuals in our society through racism and class prejudice, but exclusion of countries from the ability to participate in the financial system by having us derisked, by having correspondent banks: Belize – 83% of its banks have been de-risked. How do the people of Belize do trade with the rest of the world, with the United States of America, if their people cannot bank, can’t send remittances? If we are told our institutions are too small to matter and therefore it is better not to do business with us. Are we to become financial pariahs in a world at the same time that we seek to bring equity? There is so much trouble in this world.

If we think we’ve found a solution, it must not, in the words of Bob, be another illusion. We ask you to also recognize that let us use our cooperative efforts to build joint platforms for procurement so that we can reduce the price of critical goods from vaccines to water pipes to all other kinds of things that are impairing our ability to deliver proper services to our people. Africa did it with the African Medical Supplies Platform. Why can’t we have an American Supplies Platform that treats to the most critical supplies?

And why?

In the Caribbean we make an order and they say, “What? That’s too small for us.”.

We announced a tax holiday for electric vehicles. We cannot get the supply of electric vehicles. Will Brazil help us? Will India help us? Will the United States or will Canada help us? We can’t get access to batteries in order to help us become net zero by 2030. But yet we want to come on these platforms and talk about it. These are the real problems that I hope Pact 2030 will allow us to solve. And when we finished with Pact 2030, Canada and Chile and all of the others, can we create that platform for that joint procurement to reduce the price of supplies and to guarantee access to our people?

My friends, I have spoken too long, but I cannot leave this platform without saying that we have to speak some home truths to each other.

It’s wrong that Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua are not here, because as you heard from Bahamas, that we need to speak with those with whom we disagree and we don’t only need to narrow-cast. That’s the part of the problem of the world. There’s too much narrow-casting instead of broadcasting. There’s too much talking at, instead of talking with.

But secondly, those countries must equally recognize that you cannot want to fully participate if you’re not prepared equally to engage and to see progress. And the simple priority must be people, not ideology. If we can make progress for people, if we can allow people to speak different languages, if we can create a minimum floor of education and health care for the people of the Americas, then my friends, the City of Angels would have played its role in the history of the Americas.

I hope that we leave here today conscious that we must never again come to a summit to talk at each other, but simply to talk with each other in partnership and for the purpose of the prosperity of our people.

Thank you.

Another key Caribbean leader in attendance was Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Here’s a link to his full remarks. In this excerpt, he outlined four major areas of interest:

Jamaica is keenly interested in a successful outcome to this Summit, particularly with emphasis on the following areas:

Food and Energy Security – The Americas have access to an abundance of agricultural supplies, as well as renewable and other energy resources.  We need greater intra-regional technical co-operation, trade and finance to harness these resources, to make our hemisphere less vulnerable to global supply disruptions.

Climate Finance – Urgent access to climate finance remains a critical priority. The hemisphere has entered another hurricane season, a stark reminder of what could lie ahead for the next six months.

For countries like Jamaica, which are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change;

  • global emissions must be capped to net zero,
  • adaptation and mitigation solutions must be implemented and,
  • attention must be given to loss and damage mechanisms.

More broadly, access to financing for small and vulnerable economies, especially highly indebted middle–income countries, must be a priority in efforts towards recovery. Therefore, we welcome the announcement of PACC 2030.

Human Capital and Skills Development – As the nature of work and skills change, with the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; and with net migration of skills from poorer economies to richer economies, several countries in the region, like Jamaica, face a skills gap which could become a binding constraint on our growth horizon. The region needs a thoughtful and coordinated approach in facilitating massive investments in Human Capital Development while at the same time, pursuing nearshore policies to bring jobs to workers in their home countries.

Finally, Security and trafficking in Small Arms –A significant number of countries are experiencing an increase in illegally trafficked weapons and small arms into our borders from within the region. This is increasing the capabilities of criminals, and increasing violent crimes, particularly homicides. Much more needs to be done to control illegally trafficked weapons in our region.

The address of prime minister of the Bahamas, the Honorable Philip Brave Davis, was reported by Bahamian news and via his Twitter account. His views as the conference was starting were expressed here.

Prime Minister Philip Davis says climate change will be the focus for The Bahamas heading into the Summit of The Americas which begins tonight. The PM and the delegation would have received a brief this morning with foreign affairs staff.

— Our News Bahamas (@OurNewsRev) June 8, 2022

He addressed the gathering on climate change:

Noting that hurricanes have significantly impacted The Bahamas over the past two decades, Davis described this nation as being “locked in a vicious cycle of devastation and recovery.”

“In the last twenty years, at least 11 major storms have made landfall in The Bahamas,” the prime minister said.

“More than half of my country’s debt can be linked to hurricanes.

“That means that the world’s failure to slow carbon emissions constrains the decisions we make in The Bahamas every day.

“As hurricanes become more frequent and more intense, the waters rise, and so do our debts.”

Davis also reported his meetings with John Kerry.

This week at the Summit of the Americas I had the opportunity to meet with @JohnKerry the United States Government’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. As Prime Minister, I believe that we need to build the relationships that make strong coalitions for change possible.

— Philip Brave Davis (@HonPhilipEDavis) June 12, 2022

To wrap up, I’ll add these last two comments, made after the summit was over. One from PM Holness:

Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the just concluded boycott-hit Summit of the Americas in the United States was a “success” and signalled a “very important shift” in how the Caribbean region views the US. Read more: Full video:

— Jamaica Gleaner (@JamaicaGleaner) June 13, 2022

Meanwhile, the prime minister got some applause after highlighting that a map in the room where he was being interviewed did not include most islands of the Caribbean. Cuba was visible.

The interviewer said the image was not created by the Atlantic Council.

But Holness used the point to reiterate feelings of neglect in the Caribbean capitals even with millions of dollars in various forms of US assistance.

“The US spends a lot of attention in the Caribbean on Cuba … but the rest of the Caribbean feels that we’re not being paid the attention that we should get, considering ourselves as was described by a former president as being the third border of the United States,” he said.

He said the Caribbean has supported the US through its labour force and other resources, but issues such as climate change, weapons and drugs trafficking require greater focus from Washington.

PM Mottley also felt the summit was a success.

I hope these Caribbean perspectives will in some way temper the U.S. media’s dismissal and disparagement of the event. Some of the criticism is valid, and we all know that the U.S. has historically played an execrable role in the Caribbean. Our job is to push our government to do better. I hope that, as PM Mottley stated, we are moving in the right direction. 

Join me in the comments section below, for more on the summit, and for the weekly Caribbean Twitter News Roundup.

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