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Deepen and broaden the foreign policy debate

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Now that we have started a national discourse on foreign policy, triggered by the ‘out of the blue’ announcement by the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) of its sudden shift from support for Taiwan to proposed recognition of the People’s Republic of China, it is timely to extend the discussion beyond China vs Taiwan to broader foreign policy issues.

Due to the fact that the China/Taiwan situation was never fully explained by either the Opposition or the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP), since both were at one on support for Taiwan, the assumption was that this was a correct course to take, since China is “communist”,{{more}} and by our limited and biased understanding of what that implies, undemocratic and almost evil by nature. For all but a small minority, the very word communism is like a red flag, literally and figuratively.

It is true that many crimes have been committed in the name of communism, whether under Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union or Pol Pot in Cambodia. Many other criminal leaders all around the world have hidden under the guise of “socialism” to excuse their crimes and lack of ideas for moving their countries forward. These, in turn, have been used by the powerful western news media, on whom we rely almost totally for our world view, to excuse equally repulsive atrocities against the oppressed peoples of the world.

The vehemence that most of us, and most political leaders express when talking of communism and socialism, is not felt to the same degree on matters affecting our own people. Take racism, for instance, and its worst manifestations in apartheid South Africa and the brutal colonization in the rest of southern Africa. Or the genocide of Europeans against the native peoples in the Caribbean, North America, Central and South America, as well as Asia and Africa. We accept the hypocritical excuses of “civilization” and “Christianity” being the benefits of slavery and genocide.

Historically, therefore, we have lined up behind the same people who are responsible for our plight. Every war fought by the west, just or not, whether in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or even against tiny Grenada, where an invasion was launched to get rid of a small group of criminal usurpers, has had the support of our people and governments.

This is largely explained by the fact that our world view is shaped by the powerful forces bent on controlling the world and shaping it to suit its interests. Thus, for us, Christianity is the “natural” religion, and Muslims or Buddhists and people of other religion are “odd”, to put it mildly. Even our own Spiritual Baptists are still frowned upon, not as much as in the past, I admit, but still so, nevertheless. Israel and the Jews, not the people of Palestine where Christ was born, are God’s own.

The extension goes into politics. Western “democracy” and its two-party system, squeezing out minorities, as is the case in the USA, is for us the “best” form of democracy, and any attempt by any country and its leadership to try alternative routes to development are roundly condemned, with our cheering support. The millions who suffered and were maimed, tortured and murdered in Chile, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Guatemala, and all over Africa, by dictators trained, financed and supported by those in power in Washington, London and Paris, do not get our solidarity. We are now more concerned about what is happening in Venezuela, than what is happening to our own brothers and sisters in Haiti.

That is how our minds have been screwed. Our sources of information have the same origin, so the outcome is predictable. That is why the discussion around foreign policy is so important; it goes right to the root of how we view ourselves and the rest of the world and how we interact with it. Foreign policy is complicated, and requires sophistication if we are not to be drawn into blind support of one or the other. It cannot be based on how much money one gets from this country or another. Principle and independence of mind, promotion of the interests of your people must be paramount.

Ever since we got independence in 1979, the Government of the day, the then Labour Party, pursued a policy hostile to Cuba, even trying to refuse Cuban assistance to our people after the Soufrière eruption, and denying young people scholarships on offer. I disagreed with Sir James Mitchell on a number of issues, but his opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba was one of our best foreign policy decisions. It is a shame that his successors began to retreat from such independence. Hopefully, if the China recognition is not influenced by other motives, can we hope for other demonstrations of independence?

It would be good if both political parties, more than their spokespersons babbling on radio, would initiate internal discussions on such matters. We need enlightened debate, encouragement from our leaders to their supporters to seek alternative sources of information and not be afraid to challenge longstanding beliefs. Are they brave enough?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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