CARICOM needs to stay as one, now more than ever – PM Mottley
For the next six months, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves will sit as the Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as it faces what is expected to be an “exceptionally difficult time ahead” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gonsalves assumed the position as Chair on Friday, July 3, during the 20th Special meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government, which was held virtually.
As explained by CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador, Irwin LaRocque, “The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from gathering together at this time, in person, in a Regular Meeting of the Conference, when we would have had a formal opening ceremony with special guests.”
He expressed his hope that such a meeting would soon be able to be held in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
LaRocque commented on the “exceptional” period that CARICOM has had to manoeuvre in the last four months, particularly, in order to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fall-out arising from it, and “the electoral crisis in Guyana, the Headquarters of the Community.”
“In addition, while most Member States continue to be denied access to concessional financing in our critical time of need, so-called friendly countries continue to blacklist some of us, thereby exacerbating an already difficult situation,” he noted.
Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley QC, who assumed the Chairwomanship of the Conference for the last six months has had to contend with this exceptional period.
The outgoing Chair, “provided astute and decisive leadership to our Community, even as you grappled with the severe problems faced by your own country,” the Secretary-General told her.
He thanked her for her dynamic leadership and guidance over this period.
In delivering his address, Gonsalves spoke on “Reshaping CARICOM to meet the on-rushing challenges in our contemporary global political economy.”
“The inequalities and harsh encumbrances in the global political economy, the existential threat of climate change to our region, and the explosion of pandemics have made it pellucid, as never before, that our Caribbean Community is central to our people’s salvation on this our Earthly City,” Gonsavles expounded.
He recalled, “Indeed, in the early days of COVID-19, our colleague, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago, perhaps with only a touch of hyperbole, affirmed that ‘CARICOM is the antidote to COVID-19’.”
Gonsalves joined LaRocque in expressing gratitude to the work of the regional insitutions during this time, and commented that over the past months the Community was “brilliantly led” by the outgoing chair, Mottley, and listed the ways in which she has done so.
Gonsalves indicated that he has asked Mottley “to continue her leadership work in several of these areas” during his Chairmanship.
The immediate agenda for his Chairmanship, he informed, will continue to include: “the challenge of COVID-19 and its four interconnected dimensions of health, the economy, society, and security; the coordination of the delivery of a sufficiency of regional air transport in quality, affordability, safety, and sustainability; the socio-economic recovery of our region; the strengthening of our region’s resilience against multiple vulnerabilities; the building of a better, more equal, more inclusive global order in full recognition of a properly articulated ‘small state exceptionalism’”.
“And the further upliftment of our Caribbean civilization in every material particular within our region and in our interface with others in our hemisphere, the developing world, the major economies and global institutions,” he added.
“We know ourselves as a people, and our immense possibilities, despite our limitations. We know that there is much more that we can achieve together without rancour or bitterness, even in the midst of dissonances and contradictions,” Gonsalves reminded.
He ended his speech by accepting Chairmanship with “humility and an enduring obligation.”
The outgoing Chair, in her address, reflected on what the Community has faced during her tenure.
Her first order of business was thanking the Secretariat and the regional institutions in the capacities with which they have served. “If ever there was a time that we understood the importance of these regional institutions, it is now,” Mottley commented.
She spoke at length on the handling of COVID-19, and the rays of light they have achieved going forward.
One of these is the African Medical Supplies Platform which CARICOM has been given permission to have access to, which means supplies will be available readily at fair cost.
She touched on the “serious economic hardship” to the region following the pandemic.
“I’m happy to report that after months of writing and months of lobbying that we’ve had from some of our partners, very positive responses,” Mottley informed.
On July 2, she disclosed, she received a letter from the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Mr. Mike Pompeo, as well as the Secretary of Treasury, Mr Steve Mnuchin, which represents “an opportunity to be able to work together with our partners within the hemisphere to see how best we can blunt the instruments or blunt the consequences of COVID-19 as we go forward.”
Speaking at length on what has been promised, she noted “There is no doubt that this letter is one of the most bold and significant responses from the United States government to our region.”
The Prime Minister also spoke on the insolvency of LIAT, the cruise ship industry and regional elections for 2020.
The outgoing Chair said that she hoped, “As I pass on this Chairmanship to my brother, to the person who is the most senior of us within the Region as Heads of Government, that we will continue to see the improvements that will enure to the benefit of ordinary Caribbean people.”
To Gonsalves she said that she made one simple appeal. “We have to find a way of resolving once and for all after these decades, a form of financing for regional institutions that allow them to be able to function,” Mottley emphasized.
“If ever the Caribbean Community needed to stay as one, if ever the Caribbean Community needed to act as the adult nations that we are; if ever the Caribbean Community needed to be able to band together to allow us to make up for the deficiencies that we have within each territory, and to allow the regional institutions to avoid for us the duplication of expenditure on critical areas of governance: it is now,” she beseeched.
In signing off, Mottley noted that it was one of her “greatest privileges” to serve as the Chair.