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A Coalition of the Willing

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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is expected back home this week after attending the Twenty Sixth Regular Meeting of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community which ended Wednesday in St. Lucia.

That meeting ended with a reaffirmation that the CARICOM Single Market (CSM) and the Regional Development Fund (RDF) will be in place by December 2005.{{more}}

The decisions were disclosed by Lead CARICOM Head of Government for the CSME PrimeMinister Owen Arthur of Barbados at the end of the first working day of the conference.

Arthur said that the heads would proceed to put in place “all the arrangements across the Region to create a Single Market by the end of this year, subject also to putting in place a special affirmative economic programme for the OECS countries, Belize and Guyana.”

Prime Minister Arthur stressed that the Community would undertake both actions simultaneously to ensure that the Region has a single market that is equitable.

“You cannot have a two track approach to integration. We need to bring it together properly. In so doing, we have to make sure that as we create a Single Market, there is space in which countries that start as being unequal can contemplate on sharing on an equitable basis,” said Prime Minister Arthur.

He further stated, “CARICOM cannot be a coalition of unequals. The purpose of a Single Market and Single Economy is to provide us with the instrument for equitable Caribbean development. We can create a Single Market with Member States contributing to the process, simply through our parliaments removing the restrictions.”

But even as Arthur was making the pronouncements there was some level of unease from both his government and that of Trinidad and Tobago over the signing of the Petrocaribe Agreement which was signed last week in Venezuela between that bold South American leader and several other CARICOM states.

Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados were the two attending CARICOM states that did not sign the agreement which provides petroleum at preferential terms and rates of interest from Venezuela.

For Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves the CARICOM summit came soon after his return home from two trips abroad, which he considered very fruitful. He had left on Thursday 25 June heading a three-man team, which included Ambassador to the Organization of American States Ellsworth John, Deputy Director of Planning Jeffery Cato and VINLEC Chief Executive Officer Thornley Myers.

In Cuba, Dr. Gonsalves held discussions with and secured the promise of further assistance from Cuban President Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz for the construction of the international airport at Argyle. This in turn follows earlier talks in Havana between the two leaders which resulted in a three-man team of Cuban engineers visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines where they toured the proposed Argyle site after studying the reports prepared by the Canadian Consultants on the project. This three-man team, headed by engineer Rene Lopez had briefed cabinet on their findings.

Dr. Gonsalves said this week that another team of Cuban experts was expected back here soon, as he had secured promise of further assistance from Cuba, a country whose well- developed tourism product depends on their several international airports spread across the Caribbean’s largest island. All designed and constructed by Cuban engineers.

From Cuba, Dr Gonsalves and his team headed to Venezuela where beside signing the Petrocaribe agreement, further talks were held on what the Prime Minister called putting together the “Coalition of the Willing” toward the realization of the International Airport at Argyle. This “Coalition of the Willing’ includes a group of countries which, though they may have differing social systems are at one in their desire to help a poor developing country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It includes Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Cuba and Venezuela.

What is central to the approaches to airport development and the issue of regional integration is the lesson that even though nations may have divergent interests they can work together for the common good. The inevitability of us working together within CARICOM and in a wider Caribbean Latin American unity is staring us in the face.

Initiatives by leaders who stand outside of CARICOM such as Cuba and Venezuela must be applauded and reciprocated. We have a common interest in overcoming the disadvantaged state we find our economies battling with.

While there are welcomed initiatives to have the most powerful nations forgive the debts many of the Third World national will never be able to repay, it is through increased trade, using innovative methods that we will survive together.

All of us, within CARICOM, Latin America and Africa must create our own Coalition of the Willing.