In a confidential cable dated February 3, 2006, the US embassy wrote: Caribbean political campaigns are awash with money from a variety of sources, particularly wealthy expatriates seeking to influence governments, according to regional political consultant Peter Wickham. The availability of money favors ruling parties and has dramatically changed the way campaigns are run, giving inordinate influence to outside consultants, as well as non-nationals and members of the diaspora from whom much of the money is raised. In the extreme, this has allowed an American billionaire to virtually purchase the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. It has also led to special consideration and sweetheart deals for certain regional businesses; in some instances, campaign contributors have been rewarded with diplomatic passports. Considering the diminutive size of governments in the Caribbean, a relatively small campaign contribution by U.S. standards promises great benefits for the contributor and, unfortunately, provides increasing opportunities for corruption.
Money in Politics
The amount of money spent on political campaigns in the Caribbean has increased with each election, according to Peter Wickham, a consultant who has worked for various governments and political parties throughout the region. With no campaign finance laws or disclosure requirements present in most countries, political parties are free to accept funding from any source, including wealthy expatriates seeking to curry favor for their business and personal interests. The most extreme example is American billionaire Allan Stanford, who has spent millions to virtually buy Antigua and Barbuda by bankrolling either party and providing funding for Government projects. Influence does not have to come at such a high price, however, considering the small size of the countries in the region. A sudden injection of US$350,000 in the last two weeks of St. Vincent’s December 2005 election campaign allowed the ruling Unity Labor Party to sway voters in a handful of hard fought parliamentary races by helping people pay overdue bills, fix leaking roofs, and buy groceries.
Money has changed the manner in which campaigns are run, with outside consultants such as Wickham having great influence in countries where political decisions used to depend solely on the opinions of local party leaders. Wickham agreed with the assessment of other observers, who have noted how campaigns once depended on rousing oratory by stump speakers but now feature expensive rallies with musical acts and other entertainment; the political speakers are an annoyance that the audience must endure. Campaigns also rely on in-kind donations from local supporters or members of the diaspora. Shipping containers full of hats, T-shirts, posters and other campaign paraphernalia typically arrive from the U.S. as elections approach. Money also allows parties to fly in supporters from overseas. Wickham believes the ruling party flew about 400 people to St. Vincent from the U.S. for the recent election. Dominica, however, is the major offender with both parties flying in several planeloads of people from the U.S. for its May 2005 election.
Dominica Diplomatic Passports for Sale
In poor, economically strapped Dominica, well over US$2 million was spent on the 2005 election campaign, with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt’s ruling Dominica Labor Party (DLP) having the lion’s share. Although the opposition charged that China funded the ruling party, most of the money came from wealthy Caribbean expatriates. The Government did not deny, for example, opposition charges that a non-Dominican living in the Cayman Islands provided the ruling DLP with funds in exchange for a diplomatic passport. According to Wickham, the largest amount of money came from Leroy Parris, Chairman of CLICO Holdings Limited, a Barbados-based insurance and real estate company. The Government rewarded Parris with a particularly friendly business environment and his company will soon finance the construction of new housing development in Dominica. Parris was also named a “Goodwill Ambassador” who will help attract investment to the country.
The Government of Dominica’s interpretation of “Goodwill Ambassador” appears to include real diplomatic status. In September 2005, the Dominica MFA sent Post a diplomatic note requesting that it issue a visa in the diplomatic passport of “Ambassador at Large” Parris. Despite Post’s repeated requests for an explanation of the capacity in which Parris, a Barbados citizen, will serve as a Dominica diplomat, the MFA failed to provide an answer. Post recently returned the passport to the MFA without the requested visa. Dominica also continues to have an active economic citizenship program, through which individuals from various countries of concern have previously purchased passports.