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Civil society- Integral to summit process

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The cosmopolitan city of Port of Spain is abuzz with excitement as this weekend’s big Fifth Summit of the Americas, hosted by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, approaches its climax. The excitement is especially generated on two grounds- (1) This is the first time a Caribbean nation is hosting a hemisphere-wide gathering of the leaders of the 35 countries, and (2), among those leaders will be a certain Barack Obama, the hugely popular President of the United States of America, who just about everybody would like to see, if not touch.{{more}} The high-profile Summit itself takes place April 17th -19th, and the participating Heads of State and Government, will engage in wide-ranging discussions relating to Human Prosperity, Environmental Sustainability and Energy Security, and Democratic Governance and Public Security.

Even before the Summit has begun, however, there was controversy over the lack of mention in the Draft Declaration of the concerns expressed by most leaders over the continued exclusion of Cuba from the hemispheric family. Only the United States, of all the countries which will participate, refuses to have official relations with Cuba and there have been calls for reconciliation, not just from the likes of Presidents Chavez of Venezuela and Morales of Bolivia, friends of Cuba, but even former foes of the Cuban government such as President Arias of Costa Rica.

The Fifth Hemispheric Summit is not solely for governments. In preparation for the main body, a series of meetings will be held, April 15th-16th. Among these will be three meetings of important, non-governmental components of hemispheric society – youth, civil society and the private sector, with the aim of building partnerships between these three sectors themselves, and between them and governments. Each of this trio will hold its own Forum, the results of which will be fed into the wider process. The intention is to stimulate discussion and ideas in relation to the Summit’s agenda and to present recommendations to the member-states of the Organization of American States (OAS), the organizing body of the Summit.

These discussions will not take place in a vacuum. There has been a process of consultations taking place since last year. In October for instance, there were meetings of Caribbean and civil society representatives in Port of Spain. These were replicated in South, Central and North America with each of the gatherings making recommendations for possible inclusion in the Final Declaration of the Summit. Among the civil society recommendations are:

(1) General: That the Summit Declaration should explicitly recognize all nine major civil society groupings in the United Nations’ family – women, youth/children, business/industry, workers/trade unions, farmers, indigenous people, non -governmental organizations (NGOs), local government and science/technology.

(2) Strengthening Civil Society Participation

The Caribbean Civil Society meeting made a key recommendation for the creation of a framework for enhancing and strengthening the partnership between government and Civil Society. It also called for commitments on the part of governments to institutionalize civil society participation in national policy and for concrete actions to support civil society and facilitate their participation in an effective partnership.

(3) Human Prosperity

In this area, the fight to eradicate poverty throughout the region was emphasized with recommendations made in health, to protect vulnerable groups, for an adequate standard of living and food security, among others.

(4) Democratic Governance

Here, two sets of recommendations are noteworthy. They are, those pertaining to the drive against corruption, in the society and in government, and the adoption of a Participatory Governance Index with provisions such as the right to recall and the holding of referenda on significant issues.

(5) Public Security

Recommendations in this regard focused on combating domestic violence and child abuse and dealing with drug addiction, narcotics and the trade in illegal guns.

(6) Environmental Sustainability and Energy

Under this vital heading, Caribbean civil society has made a number of proposals relating to-climate change, its impact and natural disaster preparedness, alternative energy, best codes of practice in the energy and extractive industries, making use of traditional knowledge, the banning of dangerous chemicals, support for organic farming and the need for public ownership of beaches and waterways.

It is now left to be seen the degree to which these recommendations will be taken on board. Fortunately, hemispheric civil society is not merely patiently waiting. As an indication of its twin-track approach of partnership while maintaining its autonomy, an Alternative People’s Summit, culminating with a march on Saturday, to highlight the concerns of the region’s peoples, is also being organized. The People’s Concerns need to be addressed urgently.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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