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Our people and foreign policy

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15.MAY.09

Since assuming office in 2001, the Ralph Gonsalves-led ULP administration has pursued a bold and innovative foreign policy. While maintaining links with “traditional friends,” the USA, Canada and Britain, it has cemented previously existing relations, such as those with Taiwan, Cuba and Venezuela, while reaching out to a wide range of countries of differing political and ideological persuasions-Mexico, Turkey, Austria, Iran, Portugal, Malaysia, Libya.{{more}} This pragmatic but principled foreign policy has brought benefits to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, especially where educational opportunities and the international airport are concerned.

The government of any country is responsible for crafting and implementing foreign policy, but that does not say that the people of the country should have no say in such areas. It is important that the citizens of any country understand the basis of that country’s foreign relations and not just see it in tangible terms – aid, but also in the context of understanding the world, relations between states and solidarity amongst people.

A lack of understanding of any of these issues, or of the basis on which the country’s foreign policy is developed, can give rise to fears and phobia which can be easily exploited by persons, within the country or without, to suit their own ends. It is, therefore, critical that the people are included, informed and even consulted, especially when the foreign policy initiative is aimed at countries about which there may be a lack of knowledge or understanding, or even controversy.

One such area is our country’s relations with Venezuela. This relationship dates back all of three decades but has come under scrutiny because of the leadership of President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of US domination in the region. The major international media is not exactly enamoured by Chavez, and he himself often provides fodder for their cannon in the form of controversial utterances. In recent times, the warmth which had exuded from our friendship with Venezuela in earlier years is going cold, and sinister motives are imputed to every SVG-Venezuela action.

This is not a happy state of affairs, but it is reality, and our government, and that of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, will have to live with it. Hence, care must be taken to explain every major action and to have the people buy into it. Failure to do so only encourages unnecessary opposition and often a resort to backwardness. At the same time, one cannot simply dismiss fears of the people whether justified or not.

It is in this context that the government should give deep thought to its approach to joining ALBA. Right across the region there are concerns, raised because President Chavez himself, rightly or wrongly, has put forward proposals for a military alliance. Prime Minister Gonsalves has categorically denied that there is any military component of ALBA, and we must take his word on that. But the country is yet to see the ALBA instruments.

It can only be to the benefit of all that these are published, that pains be taken to explain ALBA and why it is considered necessary that we join. Such an approach can only enlighten, inform and permit us to make judgments on that basis. It would serve to combat ignorance, fear and prejudice and to ensure that government and people are working in unison.

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