Sunday, 24 February 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
At long last, member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have swung behind Antigua & Barbuda in this country’s long-running dispute with the United States of America over access to the US internet gaming market.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer has returned triumphant from Haiti, bearing good news of verbal support from his CARICOM colleagues.
The verbal support may be purely pro forma, and the probability of effective backing by member states for any actual punitive action this country may take against the US low. The point is that CARICOM has more or less done its duty to a member nation in distress. That they may well have done all they are prepared to do – and may well be sincerely hoping to avoid having to do any more – is unimportant. The point has been made: in our struggle with the great United States, Antigua & Barbuda is not (entirely) alone.
It might have been better if Antigua & Barbuda had chosen to engage a less formidable opponent in this unequal struggle; but that inequality is not the major obstacle to achieving a successful resolution to the dispute. The United States may be a territorially imposing region on the world map, and a hugely intimidating military power. The US, however, is not immune to reason: small and inconsequential as Antigua & Barbuda may be, the US has nothing to gain from campaigning as an international bully, openly and illegally depriving small nations of their legitimate trading rights.
By now, it should be clear to reasonable observers of these deadlocked negotiations that the United States has dug in its heels and is refusing to budge one inch on the matter. Since the US is not a country prone to irrational action, those same reasonable observers must conclude that the US has some essential and critical interests to defend, interests that affect the core of national policy. No other deduction will satisfactorily explain the rigidity of the US position, as stubbornly exemplified by the unhelpful and often arrogant attitude of US negotiators, who have clearly been instructed (perhaps not in so many words) to sit tight and give away nothing until further notice.
It certainly would be useful if this tiny country found it expedient to adopt a less rigid stance of its own in the matter. Apparently, not many of the righteously indignant Antiguans and Barbudans who continue to pour opprobrium on the head of the callous, bullying United States are aware that the crux of the matter is the continuing demand by this country that another sovereign nation must change its national policy and legislation to accommodate our own preferences.
This attitude works very well in reverse, as is shown by the difficulties our own nation is experiencing in adjusting to the continuing and constantly escalating demands, coming from the world’s rich, developed and powerful nations, for ever tighter and ever more complex regulations to govern our offshore financial sector. So onerous have these ineluctable demands become that sober members of Parliament and knowledgeable senators have openly suggested that the time may be approaching when, rather than submit ourselves to the escalating costs of compliance with external demands, Antigua & Barbuda is finally forced to shut down the offshore financial services sector.
The pressure to close our offshore banking sector is an example of what can happen when powerful countries make demands of their weak and dependent “international partners”. The inequality of the relationship is patent, and gives the lie to the fallacy that all nations are equal in their membership of the World Trade Organisation (for example). As has been clearly demonstrated by the Antigua & Barbuda WTO experience, the real world says otherwise: when it comes right down to it, the relative size and strength of individual countries counts for a great deal.
Be that as it may, Antigua & Barbuda returns to the WTO Disputes Settlement Body next week. Our negotiators are determined to secure support from the toothless WTO for our quixotic struggle to force the United States of America to behave properly and abandon its own legitimate interests, bowing to our demand that the US open its internet gaming sector to access by overseas operators. The Disputes Settlement Body, acting in accordance with the right of member nations to pursue justice from each other in disputed matters, will of course facilitate Antigua & Barbuda, trusting to the good sense and goodwill of members to secure an appropriate resolution of the matter.
Many other WTO member nations have had disputes with the US, and many have disposed of those disagreements. Little Antigua & Barbuda, however, seems almost unique in our determination to lock horns with the US indefinitely, as the US seems equally determined to draw the impasse out forever if necessary. As the popular saying goes, “there is more in the mortar than the pestle.”
What’s in the mortar, besides the pestle, is the entire issue of global terrorism and the international money-laundering that finances Al Qaeda and other fanatical organisations. What’s also in the mortar is the truth that more than any other nation on the planet, it is the United States, US interests and US allies, who are the target of the murderous intent of such groups. It is the United States that has seen its citizens killed, its territory violated, national iconic structures such as the White House and the Pentagon targeted, and its internationally famous World Trade Center twin towers destroyed. It is the United States that has projected its military power overseas, wreaking bloody vengeance on its enemies.
It should be crystal clear to the Antigua & Barbuda authorities that the US has no intention of diverting from its determination to put an end to the financing of terrorist organisations via international money laundering. This is a matter of crucial national importance. The security of the US is at stake. The US does not trifle with matters of national security.
This is the link between our own WTO issues and the constantly escalating demands being directed at us – and at other small nations – for ever increasing regulation of our offshore financial services. The United States is leading that charge, and will not deviate from its course. To stand in the path of the elephant as it thunders along is to be, at best, ignored … at worst to be trampled into the dust.
So those who hope to decipher the apparently insensitive stance adopted by the United States in our internet gaming dispute would be best advised to read between the lines and espy the hidden rocks and shoals that have holed the bottom of our relations with that country.
Stanford Victims continue to agitate for justice, importuning members of Congress in their own behalf. Both Houses of Congress have given formal attention to the issue. R Allen Stanford is now serving his 110-year prison sentence in a Florida penitentiary. The United States Trade Representative has cited Antigua & Barbuda for lack of cooperation with efforts to resolve the Stanford International Bank collapse and other expropriation issues. Current Minister of National Security Dr Errol Cort has been cited for possible improper connections to R Allen Stanford while serving as finance minister
Half Moon Bay Holdings continues to pursue due compensation for property forcibly acquired. Minister of Finance Harold Lovell is facing theoretical imprisonment in the event that he fails to comply with the requirements of an Order of Mandamus levelled at him by HMB Holdings in his personal capacity. Former head of the Financial Services Regulatory Commission Leroy King is still fighting to stave off extradition to the US to face trial on matters connected to the SIBL debacle.
When it comes to deciphering the strange behaviour of the United States toward Antigua & Barbuda, it pays to be able to read between the lines.