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Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness says if any Caricom country wanted an invitation to the Jamaican-hosted two-day visit by United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, all they had to do was ask.

Holness was responding to questions by reporters during a press conference on Wednesday after the two-day visit on whether the exclusion of certain Caricom member states was intended to create a division amongst Caricom members.

Pompeo also responded to the question, saying there is no intention by the US to divide Caricom members.

Caricom Chairman, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, announced last week that she had declined to send a representative to the meeting, saying some Caricom leaders were not invited and she saw their exclusion as an attempt to divide the region.

The Communication Ministry stated earlier this week that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley supports Mottley’s position, saying in keeping with the expectation of Caribbean unity, the Prime Minister of Barbados speaks for Trinidad and Tobago.

US me­dia re­cent­ly an­nounced that Pom­peo is vis­it­ing Ger­many, Colom­bia, Cos­ta Ri­ca and Ja­maica and Flori­da from Jan­u­ary 18-23. The fight against ter­ror­ism and the cri­sis in Venezuela are ex­pect­ed to dom­i­nate the Latin Amer­i­can/Caribbean trip.

The US State De­part­ment said Pom­peo will meet Ja­maica’s Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness to­day and “con­duct a mul­ti­lat­er­al round­table dis­cus­sion with Caribbean lead­ers, and de­liv­er re­marks on US Caribbean re­la­tions.”

Speaking during the press conference, Holness said the sovereignty of countries in the region must be respected.

“When friends asked to be hosted, or for us to host them, we’re friends, so we do that- we are friends with the US, so we are happy to host here, not to the exclusion of anyone and if anyone wanted to attend, they just had to signal, from my perspective, we would have done everything to ensure that they are present,” Holness said

Pompeo meanwhile sought to give the assurance that the US was not taking a divide-and-conquer approach to Caricom.

“There is no intent from the US to divide CARICOM, not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow, we want all the countries of this region to prosper and be successful. We know that countries in this region will agree with the US in certain positions from time to time and disagree with us from time-to-time that is true for Jamaica as well as true for many of the folks that I will visit with this afternoon,” Pompeo said.

But University of the West Indies Director of the Institute of International Relations, Professor Andy Knight believes the exclusion of certain Caricom nations to the meeting signals just that.

“I think this is just a clear indication that they are dividing the Caribbean countries on purpose between those who would be willing to kowtow US foreign policy and those who are willing to resist US foreign policy and you notice that the ones who are resisting US policy in the case of Venezuela are the ones that were not invited to this meeting so I believe this is a very blatant way of creating division between Caricom,” Knight told Guardian Media.

He said he applauded the decision by Caricom chair, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley to boycott the meeting and the subsequent support paid to Mottley by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley because this divisive action by the US is putting Caricom at risk.

“I think it would be disastrous if some of those countries don’t remain united, Caricom would fail as a regional organisation if this is allowed to continue,” he said.

He said the approach taken by Holness is shortsighted and may just come back to haunt him.