By Earl Bousquet
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is known to make and break historical records over its 50 years in the making.
One thing the male-dominated regional body has not yet done is break the proverbial glass ceiling at the Guyana-based Secretariat, where every secretary-general since its inception has been a Caribbean man.
But all that is about to change right now with every possibility (barring the unforeseen) the next CARICOM secretary-general will be a Caribbean woman.
The only question is: Who?
The men at the helm – the heads of government – did not decide to just wake up one COVID-19 morning and decide to pick up a stone and shatter that ceiling over their heads.
Instead, the builders and guardians of the region’s institutional superstructure have been forced to sit back and note that History has put into their hands the stone they must now use (and cannot refuse) to break that glass, close the past and initiate a new era in the governance of CARICOM’s supreme gubernatorial entity.
Two women have already been formally nominated for the post – and a third is also highly likely, even at the last minute.
Both have served as CARICOM deputy secretary-general current holder Surinam’s Manora Soeknandan and Belize’s Dr Carla Barnett.
The third possible nominee being named is veteran Saint Lucia-born regional diplomat Ambassador Dr June Soomer, the immediate past secretary-general of the Trinidad and Tobago-based Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
This is the very first time that three women could be vying for the top CARICOM post – and the lobbying machinery is already in full swing, diplomats and influential figures firing on all pistons as they separately promote the three women.
On Monday, Guyana’s president Irfan Ali was asked by reporters whether he’d support the Surinam candidate, but he declined, saying it was too early.
The CARICOM secretary-general is appointed by the Heads of Government on recommendations of the Council of Ministers, expected to meet before month-end to consider nominations and make recommendation to the heads, scheduled to meet between the end of April and early May.
But it’s not all that an easy ride…
Despite all the gender and other perspectives, the region’s mainstream and social media don’t find the topic sexy enough.
But the diplomatic circuit is abuzz with quiet but intense discussion and debate about the high credentials of all three women.
Two have occasionally sat in what’s so far been the CARICOM top man’s chair – and one presided over a twice-larger regional entity coordinating functional cooperation between nations and states across the wider Caribbean and Latin America.
Not much is widely known across CARICOM member-states about the Surinam candidate, but insiders say she feels confident her country can gather enough support ‘for her to graduate one-seat-up.’
Dr Barnett is a little bit better known, having several times had to act in the top post at key points, even though she’s kept a relatively low key in Belize since leaving CARICOM.
Ambassador Soomer – who last February was decorated with Saint Lucia’s highest Independence National Award (The Saint Lucia Cross) earning her the formal title of ‘Honorable’ – was the first woman appointed as the island’s ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States).
She was also the first woman to hold the four-year, one-term post of ACS secretary-general and is the current chair of the Council of The UWI’s Open Campus.
No one knows exactly which countries will support which of the three possible candidates, but at least four member-states are said (by informed regional and Secretariat insiders) to favor ambassador Soomer.
However, there are two major hitches for her backers.
The first is that some (who don’t support her) are claiming that since ‘a Saint Lucian’ has been elected as the next president of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), it would somehow be ‘unfair’ for ‘another Saint Lucian’ to be appointed CARICOM secretary-general.
The second hiccup is that (up to Friday, April 16) there was no confirmation that ambassador Soomer had been nominated by Saint Lucia.
Senior functionaries in Georgetown note that ambassador Soomer’s positions over the past decade have seen her attending all OECS, CARICOM and ACS Summits, which put her in an incontestable position for the top regional post.
Diplomats and foreign ministers who know her also attest to her roles as an educator and historian, the first woman to graduate in political science at the UWI’s Cave Hill Campus.
Support for ambassador Soomer lies with governments in the north, south and east of the former West Indies, but none of that will matter unless she is nominated by the government of her native land.
With general elections due by October 2021, the 2021-2022 ‘COVID and Election Budget’ just presented and being debated in the lower and upper Houses of Parliament and pressure mounting on him to fix and name a date for the elections, Saint Lucia’s prime minister Allen Chastanet has apparently not yet taken the time off to make that expected nomination.
His government having capped her with the nation’s top national award in February, her nomination, by it, for the region’s top public service job, would be a natural progression of its demonstrated recognition of her established and exceptional diplomatic and functional cooperation credentials.
As it turns out, however, just like the date for the island’s next poll, the fate of this woman’s nomination for the ultimate CARICOM position also lies in the two hands of just one man.
And time is tight…