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Caricom summit needs revamping

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Each year the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) meet at the beginning of July. This annual gathering is the most important Summit of the leaders, held on the occasion of what has been designated as CARICOM DAY, the first Monday in July, supposed to be a public holiday throughout the region.{{more}}

Unfortunately, such a high-profile occasion does not get the recognition it deserves and in most CARICOM countries the CARICOM DAY holiday passes virtually unnoticed. The attendant danger is that even the Summit of our leaders suffers as a result and itself does not command the attention which it ought to.

Perhaps one reason for this below-the-radar passage is that the month of July is smack in the middle of Carnival celebrations in the Eastern Caribbean. Starting with St Vincent and the Grenadines and progressing through St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and then concluding with Grenadian festivities in the middle of August, it is Carnival preparations and activities which grab the headlines. Additionally, Jamaica, the second-largest population centre in CARICOM, and, incidentally, the country where the loudest noises of separation from CARICOM emanate, celebrates its independence at the beginning of August, also diverting attention away from any CARICOM-related activities.

The result of all this is that a significant proportion of our people are not really tuned into CARICOM or the Summit of the Heads at this time. We may argue that this is voluntary, that citizens of the region should exhibit a greater sense of responsibility, but the reality is that the Carnival celebrations are predominant. The result is that hundreds of thousands of citizens, in a relatively small population, are disadvantaged where information on summit deliberations and decisions is concerned.

To compound this situation, mobility among Caribbean people has increased in recent years, especially where entertainment is concerned. Given modern telecommunication, Carnival messages spread far more quickly and meet with warmer reception than anything to do with CARICOM. The failure to develop any highly effective regional communication medium does not help either.

It is in such a climate that our leaders meet annually, to discuss and decide on matters of strategic interest to Caribbean people. There already exists a certain degree of apathy towards CARICOM and the decided lack of progress on the issues of greatest concern to the people of the region. The rather sterile communiques issued by the CARICOM Secretariat at the end of the Summits do little to either inform CARICOM citizens about the matters under deliberation or to endear them further to the idea of the Summit.

Those communiques reflect the style of the CARICOM Secretariat, badly lacking an appeal to the lively people of the region. There is a vast disconnect between the two, a distinct lack of dynamism, both at the level of the central regional mechanism, the Secretariat, as well as at the highest leadership level itself. If truth be told, with very few exceptions, the Heads of Government do not make an inspiring lot. Many of them owe their accession to office more to the failings of their predecessors than to what they might themselves have to offer. Outside of their own narrow constituents, most make little impact on the rest of the people of the region.

That leadership vacuum presents a major challenge to a body forced to have to address the critical problems facing the region and its peoples. The July Summit had to grapple with the ongoing economic and financial crisis affecting the world economy and crippling the Caribbean region, agriculture and food security, the integration movement, coordination of foreign policy and the burning issue of the CLICO/BAICO scandal.

It is to the credit of the leaders, among them our own Prime Minister Gonsalves, that some resolution of the latter issue has at last been reached. But there is still “too much of a muchness”, about the outcome of the Summit and the apparent lack of decisiveness on the challenges before us. The criticisms raised about this latest Summit, and those before it, have much validity. They are rooted in the lack of connection between the leadership and the people. If your television is not plugged in, it would be impossible to see or hear anything. Perhaps some thought needs to be given to the timing of the annual Summit and to the revitalization of CARICOM DAY itself into a meaningful endeavour.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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