Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders began the annual summit in St Lucia on Wednesday with the incoming chairman Allen Chastanet calling for a critical analysis of the 15-member regional grouping.
Chastanet, the host prime minister, told the opening ceremony that “can we say we are satisfied with our current status? Do we believe that all our citizens or even the majority are satisfied? Are we pushing ourselves hard enough? “
He said as elected leaders, they must be prepared to rise to these challenges and like their forefathers must inspire Caribbean citizens by finding the solutions to counteract the threats faced by the region.
He said this would require regional leaders to be creative, courageous and unified at all levels.
“As brilliant as the institutions we established as CARICOM were in their time, given the changes in the world we must now reform these institutions to respond to the new normal so that they can continue to serve our region and its citizens.
“Let us not put off for tomorrow what we must do today. How much longer must we ponder the need for a strong regional security force? Do we expect criminals to respect our individual sovereignty?
We already took steps to have a regional court. Let’s finish the job.
“How many more studies do we need to confirm the justification for regional health care? The lack of an effective regional transportation policy is crippling our economies. The impact of de-risking and the withdrawal of international banks have created the urgent need for greater integration of our central banks and continued harmonization of our financial regulations.”
Chastanet said that these are some obvious areas that urgently need leadership and a unified approach.
He said over the last few years, from climate change concerns, to championing the rights of the Windrush generation, to fighting for tax justice and fiscal sovereignty, the region has had to let the world know, “we are here and we will be heard.
‘These and other issues require us as CARICOM and as Small Island Developing States to make some bold choices to secure our mere existence,” Chastanet said, adding that he was pleased to be chairing the regional integration grouping “at a very critical time in the life of this region:
“At a time when we can truly show the strength in our united front on key international issues; a time when we can once again through our actions inspire the people of the region and remind them of the necessity of CARICOM; a time when we can reflect on each other’s individual successes and our collective achievements.”.
He said the recent election of St, Vincent and the Grenadines as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is yet another example of what can be achieved once there is firm resolve.
“All of CARICOM rejoices in this triumph; recognizing that this is a golden opportunity for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to take on board the calls for reforms at the UN body, ”he said, recalling that when St. Lucia was elected president of the UN General Assembly in 2003, it received invaluable support from other CARICOM countries in maintaining that office.
“Understanding the importance of this new development, St. Lucia has pledged a contribution to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in maintaining and funding the office. I am sure my colleague Prime Minister will not mind my saying that although this seat was won by St. Vincent, it is also a CARICOM success and we are behind you 100 per cent. Hence, I call on members to also pledge their support to St. Vincent in maintaining this office and ensuring a successful tenure.”
In his wide-ranging speech, Chastanet said that the issue of Europe blacklisting Caribbean countries as tax havens shows that the EU has been “targeting us as individual countries and we as CARICOM missed the initial opportunity to respond jointly”.
But he insisted “it is not too late” and the question now “is, how do we as developing countries meet the requirements of a just tax regime while maintaining our fiscal sovereignty.
“We must as a region be committed to a high standard of governance but this cannot cross the line and infringe on our competiveness. As a region we should rebel against the use of a blacklist that permanently damages our reputations. There is absolutely no justification for this methodology.”
He said also the “lingering uncertainty over Brexit” is another matter that will continue to concern the region in the coming months.
“We must begin to view this as an opportunity. On the one hand, we will have to work as a unified bloc to strengthen our historic relationship with the UK. We must also now work equally hard to formulate a renewed relationship with Europe.”
Chastanet said that during the deliberations here, it is important to remember that the region is into the hurricane season and that the evidence has shown that climate change fuels increasingly destructive super storms, as had been the case two years ago when hurricanes Maria and Irma passed through the Lesser Antilles.
He said in fighting the effects of climate change, the region would also need to depend heavily on the international community for assistance and support.
But he said that the last two years have taught the Caribbean that the countries that are the greatest emitters and the cause of the current plight, are not sufficiently willing to compensate for the damage that is being done.
“Despite our best efforts they have deliberately not amended international economic protocols to even allow us to make the necessary investments in building resilience. We have to urgently look for more immediate and innovative ways to solve our problems. “
Chastanet said he was looking forward to presenting in more detail the plans for the creation of the region’s own resilience foundation and to seek the support and endorsement of CARICOM during the meeting here.
“We also need a new governance structure that will allow us to draw down on the funds more quickly. We can’t take five years to implement these resilience projects,” he said, thanking Prince Andrew, Duke of York, for his efforts to assist the SIDS in that regard.
“We are indeed privileged and honoured to have the United Nations General Secretary attend this meeting and we will be looking for his support and endorsement of our foundation. At the same meeting, we will be seeking the endorsement of the pacific SIDS, as well as developed countries and international development institutions.”
He said among the other issues expected to engage the regional leaders during the three-day summit is the consideration of new measures to enhance the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) which allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region.
He said he welcomed the renewed energy of the Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley “and with her leadership and most importantly sense of urgency,
“I believe that we are well on our way to reinvigorate CSME. I especially want to reaffirm and fully endorse the decision to include the private sector in a more meaningful way and the plan to create a regional Chamber of Commerce. “
St. Lucia has not always backed the united CARICOM position on Venezuela where opposition forces supported by the United States are seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office.
Chastanet said that “we must continue to be honest negotiators and be prepared to make timely decisions.
“Colleagues, the situation in Venezuela remains unresolved and continues to haunt us. The effect of the breakdown can now be seen plastered all over the media in our own countries. The position of the Caribbean Community on Venezuela has not changed.
“We have agreed that resolution must be by dialogue; that it must be a Venezuela-made solution; that there should be no military intervention; that the rule of law must apply and that the humanitarian situation must be addressed. We also re-emphasized the notion that the Caribbean region must remain a zone of peace.”
But Chastanet said “we cannot run away from the impact that this Venezuela issue is having, especially as it relates to security and immigration, in the countries within close proximity.
“I have pledged and continue to pledge my full and unwavering support as we seek to find a resolution.”
The St. Lucia Prime Minister also told his regional colleagues the issue of crime is a matter that continues to be of concern to the region.
He said at a meeting in Grenada the CARICOM Ministerial Council for National Security and Law Enforcement agreed that there should be greater collaboration and co-operation among the member states.
The goal is to achieve more significant results in the battle against the flow of illegal drugs and guns, trans-national crime and the heightened incidence of homicides.
He said most encouraging was the decision of the Council to meet at least twice a year in order to fulfil their responsibility within the framework.