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Get up! Stand up!

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The legendary Bob Marley’s epic composition, GET UP! STAND UP!, has been taken as a rallying cry by Caribbean civil society organizations they converge on St. Lucia next week to stage a Week of Activities focusing on the threat to and destruction of livelihoods of thousand of people in the region as a result of the current process of “free” trade with all its agreements and regulations.{{more}}

St. Lucia has been chosen as the venue because it will be hosting negotiators and government officials from both the European Union and the CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) countries. They will be in St. Lucia to finally open the third phase of negotiators between the two parties aimed at concluding an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between them.

This EPA is not the only one being negotiated by the European Union (EU). In place of an agreement with all the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states as in the past, the EU is now negotiating six EPA’s-four with African regions and one each with the Caribbean and the Pacific.

While the negotiators are preparing for their talks, Caribbean people have already begun to feel the heat in regard to the threat to their livelihood. It is already clear to those involved in the agricultural sector for instance that hard times are upon them. Whether it is in sugar where the European Union price cuts are making life difficult for more than 200,000 persons, cane farmers and field and factory workers, and closing down the 400-year St. Kitts sugar industry, or in bananas where instability and price cuts have led to a sixty per cent decline in numbers employed, acreage and income received, the picture is far from a rosy one.

But it is not just agriculture. The new trade gospel of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is such that all aspects of life and work are affected. Together with its sister agencies such as the MFI and World Bank, the WTO shapes our future — what type of jobs we have, the conditions of our work, whether artistes have control over their own works of art etc. They even tie the hands of our governments as regards the basic essential services they provide.

Privatization of such services as health and education is already taking place. We all will suffer in one way or another.

So when the organizers raise the rallying cry, they do so on behalf of all of Caribbean society. Even the “big fish” in the region can detect the danger.

We therefore impress on our governments, our negotiators that the people of the Caribbean do not want to be short changed. We must let the negotiators from the European Union know that the policies put forward and actions do not serve our best interests. We must let our farmers, workers, producers, manufacturers, hoteliers etc know that we too share the common pain and we too wish to work with them for the common gain.

Next week therefore, organizations like the Barbados-based Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), WINFA, the Public Service International, Via Campesina (the international federation of small farmers organization), Banana Link of Britain and EUROBAN of Europe will be conducting a number of mini-consultations with various interest groups in St. Lucia, organizing workshops, participating in panel discussions and Town Hall meetings, engaging with negotiators and government officials and speaking with the media on the

issues affecting Caribbean people.

They will be carrying messages of struggle, of hope, will insist that in all negotiations and agreements, trade be a TOOL for development, not a rule to perpetuate poverty and underdevelopment. They will raise banners for banana farmers, sugar workers and rice producers, proclaim the aspirations of the region’s youth, defend the dignity of our women and above all insist that our livelihoods be protected.

A big petition drive to collect 10,000 signatures which will be presented to the negotiators is already in motion and special focus will be placed on it next Thursday, September 29th. These will then culminate in a big PEOPLE’S RALLY at the Derek Walcott Square in Castries, on Friday, September 30th.

The issues are broad and all-encompassing but above all, because of the sheer scope of the effect, the real and potential damage to rural communities, and its devastating impact on social life, crime, violence and drugs, AGRICULTURE will be at the heart of all the action.

After all, it is ALL ABOUT LIVELIHOODS!

Time for us to GET UP! STAND UP! FOR OUR RIGHTS.

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