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Tackling Caricom’s critical challenges

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While Vincentians are engaged in the enjoyment of Vincy Mas, their National Festival, right in our neighbouring state of St Lucia, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will be holding their 40th Conference, deliberating on issues of development, cooperation and integration facing our region.

Unfortunately for the region, such an important event which has impact on the lives of millions of our citizens throughout the region does not command enough attention outside the specific country which hosts the annual Summit. This is partly due to a widespread conception or misconception that CARICOM Heads of Government Conferences are really nothing but “talk shops” out of which little positive emerges and hence not worthy of regional focus. This is not only unfortunate, but also an incorrect approach, not helpful to the interaction between those governing and the governed or to accountability of those holding political office.

One distracting factor as well is the fact that the CARICOM Summit falls smack in the middle of what has become, in the Eastern Caribbean at least, THE Carnival season. Since CARICOM was instituted in 1973, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines have all shifted their carnival dates from the traditional pre-Lenten season (February/March) to mid-year (not mid-summer as we are practising ourselves to ape, for we have no summer or winter seasons). They have joined Antigua/Barbuda and Barbados in a string of festivals beginning June/July in SVG and extending through St Lucia, Antigua and Barbados, climaxing in Grenada in mid-August. This is good for tourism and cultural development but it tends to deflect somewhat from the regional summit.

Another overlooked but nevertheless significant issue is the still relatively low-keyed nature of the CARICOM DAY holiday throughout the region. The Heads had agreed to the institution of a region-wide CARICOM DAY public holiday as another symbol of the march towards regional integration. While there is coincidence in the observation of some public holidays on religious grounds (Christmas, Easter)and some others of international commonality (May Day) or historical significance (Emancipation), the institution of the first Monday in July as a regional public holiday was an important message. Regrettably, national convenience has resulted in some date shifts and has diluted what was intended to be a unifying factor.

It is against this background that our leaders must soldier on, year after year. On the agenda in St Lucia is a host of familiar issues, prominent among them the repetitious update on progress in instituting the Caricom Single Market and Economy. This year, a report by a Commission on developments in this regard, will be presented to the Heads for consideration. This continues to be a very frustrating goal for a region which is in dire need of such integration for obvious economic and social reasons.

There are other matters of critical regional importance, not least the unjust ‘blacklisting’ of Caribbean countries by the self-appointed global overlords of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the regional approach to sustainable harnessing of the economic potential of the oceans (Blue Economy),, access for concessionary financing for resilience building and, of course, crime and security in our region.

Citizens of the region will also want to hear what their leaders have to say on pressing issues of the day, such as the situation in Venezuela on which powerful extra-regional forces are pushing some CARICOM states to tow a hostile line leaning towards foreign military intervention contradicting the time-honoured regional position of non-interference and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Above all, Caribbean people need to get a sense on renewed purpose and direction from their leaders, a feeling that as a region very vulnerable to both natural (climate change, natural disasters) and man-made threats (trade, financial sanctions, Brexit etc), we are resolved to band together as a region, to deepen our commitment to regional integration and to chart new courses in international cooperation such as strengthening relations with African states and the African diaspora.

Above all, leaders must be prepared to provide the appropriate mechanisms for meaningful engagement with their citizens, at private sector, civil society, the religious community, including the non-traditional Rastafarian community. Without such real interaction, it will be impossible to successfully chart a way forward for the region and its peoples.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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