· Chairman of the Conference, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony,
· Colleague Heads of State and Government;
· Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community;
· Special Guests;
· Heads of other Regional organizations and institutions;
· Distinguished ladies and gentlemen;
I am delighted to be back at my first Regular Session of the Conference of Heads since 2007. It is good to be back among colleagues and friends.
I begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to you, Prime Minister Anthony and to the Government and People of St. Lucia, for the very warm and generous hospitality that has been extended to me and my delegation since our arrival in your beautiful country.
It was a good choice to have this conference at the Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa and Beach Resort. Surely, you have chosen this magnificent venue to showcase Caribbean innovation and entrepreneurship and the strength and potential of intra-Caribbean investment.
I join with my colleagues in welcoming you, Prime Minister Anthony, to the Chairmanship of the Conference. I have no doubt that your interest and vast experience in regional affairs will strengthen our Community. Your leadership will serve to renew our commitment as a family of nations.
I convey also our deepest gratitude to the outgoing Chairman, President Bouterse, for his stewardship over the last six months.
Mr. Chairman, Colleagues, distinguished guests,
This year the people of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago will celebrate our Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence. I wish to congratulate my sister, Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissasor on this historic milestone – one that is just cause for much joy and celebration for both of our countries.
I extend a warm invitation to you my esteemed colleague Heads of State and Government, and to our dear Secretary General, Ambassador LaRocque, to be my special guests in Kingston on the 6th of August as we celebrate our birth as a nation.
Colleagues, distinguished guests,
The Caribbean Community was founded in 1973 as the institutional vehicle through which the region could best pursue the vision for a united, integrated community.
Yet today, in some circles, CARICOM is greeted with cynicism and its relevance is continuously questioned. I do not subscribe to those views. In fact, I want to underscore Jamaica’s commitment to regionalism as a core principle of our Foreign Policy and External Trade Policy.
Jamaica will continue to publicly reiterate the importance of the regional integration movement to the attainment of our national development goals and for the advancement of our region as a whole.
Over the years, we have had many triumphs as a family of nations. We have forged cooperation arrangements and built effective institutions to help our people to prosper. Yet the regional construct remains a work in progress, a process that takes patience and endurance, a cause that is worth fighting for. I believe that we who are gathered here are convinced of this.
I am no less certain that many of our people look on and wonder what all the fuss is about and what is achieved at our Summits. I submit that we must do a better job of letting our people know that CARICOM is there to serve them and to make a difference in their lives.
If our people are to appreciate our Community and to value the time and effort that we as leaders expend to give it direction and shape; then we must invest in communication and engagement. It will take time and effort but we fail to do so at our peril. Is it not our duty to help our people fall in love with CARICOM?
If we constantly focus on what is wrong, instead of celebrating what is right then we will become discouraged and weak. We must not blow our disagreements out of proportion and highlight every setback as a metaphor for CARICOM. What a disservice this would be to the people of our region.
Let the voices go out from Castries that CARICOM matters and if it were not there we would have to invent it.
· CARICOM matters to our people in healthcare, especially for mothers, children and those affected by HIV/AIDS;
· CARICOM matters to our people at times of natural disasters.
· CARICOM matters to our people when we pool our efforts to lend a helping hand, as we have done most recently with our brothers and sisters in Haiti;
· CARICOM matters to our people in the administration of justice, through the Caribbean Court of Justice;
· CARICOM matters to our people in development financing and job creation through the Caribbean Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Fund;
· CARICOM matters to our people in secondary and tertiary education, through the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and the UWI.
· CARICOM matters in a region which has produced so many world class scholars, leaders and professionals in all walks of life in the societies of the world in which they live.
· CARICOM matters to our people in foreign policy coordination, where we speak with one voice on climate change, on the rights of middle income countries, on non-communicable diseases;
· CARICOM matters to our people in security, where we share an advanced passenger information system and other mechanisms to enhance our collective security;
· CARICOM matters to our people in sports and culture, as we showcase the excellence of our indomitable Caribbean spirit and the prowess of our youth in CARIFESTA and the CARIFTA games.
This is why CARICOM was created in 1973 and it remains the reason we are here today – to craft policies and a direction for CARICOM that matter to our people.
There is much that we still need to do. We must embrace freedom of movement for our people. This must be the foundational pillar on which our integration rests. I call here today for an expansion of the categories of free movement to include security guards, household helpers, and caregivers. I urge us to be bold and inspirational and to recommit today to full freedom of movement in all categories by 2015.
We need to place greater focus also on issues affecting our women and children, in particular poor and vulnerable women, girls and boys, as well as the elderly, persons with disabilities, the marginalized and disadvantaged in our societies.
We must address issues such as the trade imbalances that have become a distorting feature of our Single Market. We must level the playing field so that all can compete on an equal footing. Every single CARICOM Member State must benefit from our regional integration movement.
Our private sectors must feel that there are opportunities to be pursued regionally, through innovation and entrepreneurship, through trade and investment.
We must also address issues to do with human trafficking.
Let us remind ourselves and rekindle among our people the spirit and dreams of our Caribbean visionaries:
· The Right Excellent Errol Barrow of Barbados;
· the Honourable Forbes Burnham of Guyana;
· Sir Allan Fitzgerald Louisy of St, Lucia;
· Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad & Tobago;
· the Rt. Excellent Norman Manley and the
· Most Honourable Michael Manley of Jamaica –
They all were Caribbean leaders who were imbued with a deep sense of national and regional pride. They had the understanding that collectively we are stronger than the sum of our individual efforts.
In Jamaica, I am quick to remind our people of the sacrifices that our national heroes and heroine made. Here at CARICOM, let us all be reminded of the sacrifices our regional ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ made.
Generations of our ancestors bled and paid the final sacrifice so that we can now be free. They gave us Emancipation. Our regional fathers then gave us adult suffrage. They gave us independence.
The independence that they fought for, the independence that we now enjoy, was an illusive goal that they yearned for, They called it “the period of freedom." Now that we have the freedom they sought, the independence they fought for, we must ask ourselves, what shall we now do with it?
Barrow, Burnham, Louisy, Manley and Williams dreamed of the destiny of the West Indies as a nation. Now, decades later we have a Caribbean Community. Now that we have the institution they fought for we must ask ourselves, what shall we now do with it?
We must build a Community in which the people of the region feel confident that CARICOM is capable of improving their quality of life, not just for this generation, but for generations to come.
It has been a journey, one that we cannot stop on now. Our regional fathers were proud leaders fighting for a cause. They looked at the world they lived in, where they were going and had hopes for the future. We are that future.
Now, we have to do the same for generations to come.
At this juncture of our history we have to question our own stewardship as they did in the 1960’s when the Federation idea was challenged. They asked themselves then in Norman Manley’s words:
“How will we stand, what will they think of us, what name will we bear, what mark will we make?”
We are the present generation of leaders in this blessed regional space.We must now ask ourselves; “what can we do to chart a course to make things better for our people”
It is up to us to put the political excitement, meaning and fervor back into CARICOM. However, it is not enough that the people we serve feel excited about and satisfied with CARICOM. They must feel inspired by our outcomes. They must feel its relevance to their lives. All Caribbean peoples must feel that they are at the center of our regional governance.
As Caribbean leaders we have been given the task and responsibility to act in ways that will make the present and next generations of our Caribbean peoples look back with pride and call us blessed. We mustcraft and share bold visions, take strong decisions and inspire the daring self-belief that our ancestors felt like ‘wildfire in their bellies’.
Now is the time. This is the hour. Let us with unity of purpose now move the agenda of the CARICOM forward. Let us unite and build our region. Our people deserve it. We will settle for nothing less.