Among the many things we the people of the Caribbean have in common is the warm and welcoming Caribbean Sea. Its foamy crests embrace all our coastlines. Our island homes are set like tiny jewels amidst its crystal blue waters. Yet each jewel is different – rare and precious –distinctive and diverse. As Caribbean peoples, our similarities and our differences have origins in unique experiences of altered histories.
Forty years ago our forefathers and mothers decided that it was prudent to embrace both that which we had in common and that which gave us our distinct flavours to move towards a common goal. It was the visionary leadership from Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and our very own late Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Right Honourable Michael Manley that insisted that we should pool our collective efforts for the benefit of all our peoples.
In their wisdom, they established a structure built on partnership; they created an institution that embraced our common histories and cultures of community. They called it the Caribbean Community, CARICOM.
Forty years ago, in 1973,the Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed in this CARICOM Member State of Trinidad and Tobago, formalizing the intent of our community of nations. Today, 4th July 2013, wecelebrate the 40th Anniversary of this bold and historic step.
It is an honour for me to participate, this morning, in the symbolic signing ceremony to mark the 40th year since the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, signifying Jamaica’s recommitment to the letter and principles entrenched in the Revised Treaty governing this important family of nations.
The theme we have chosen to mark this significant milestone, “Forty (40) years of Integration: Celebration and Renewal”, causes us to cast our eyes in retrospect even as we move steadily forward. It reminds us that the CARICOM construct, as envisaged forty years ago, is rooted in our history, geography, culture and many other commonalities which remain fundamental to its existence and survival.
Caribbean integration predates the formal establishment of CARICOM.Thatjourney towards the formulation of CARICOM causes me to pause to recall the sentiment of the four founding Prime Ministers who spoke at the Special Conference of Heads of Government of the Independent Commonwealth Caribbean at Chaguarmas, Trinidad and Tobago, July 4, 1973.
Ladies and gentlemen;
An entire generation of Caribbean peoples have emerged since then. This is one reason why it is important that we reacquaint ourselves with the context which informed the creation of CARICOM. Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, CARICOM is more than an organisation or mechanism. It represents the vision and aspiration of our forefathers for a strong integrated region which would provide the best prospects for economic and social development.
It is our responsibility, not only to remember their vision, but importantly, to live up to it. We must bring that vision to life in this generation and the next for the benefit of all Caribbean people. The great regionalist, Norman Washington Manley said, we have to do so “with a fixity of purpose and continuity of effort”.
The then Host Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, said, among other things forty years ago:
‘After having placed the traditional emphasis on links [with the] metropolitan economy rather than our own individual economies, we have learnt the importance of close ties with one another at economic and other levels- whether higher education or health, labour or shipping, examinations, financial matters or mass communications.
The late Errol Barrow, former Prime Ministerof Barbados, pointed to two experiences which informed his passion for Caribbean integration and unity. One was the West Indian Students Union in London in the 1940s, which staged the first public meeting on Caribbean integration in London. The other, on July 4, 1965, when he and Former Prime Minister of Guyana, Forbes Burnham, met to discuss the possibility of establishing a free trade area between the two countries, in the first instance, and the rest of the Caribbean “at such time as they were willing to follow their examples”.
Mr. Burnham believed that the Caribbean must view its resources in totality and that they should be developed for individual countries, for region and equitably distributed. He reminded us that we cannot cower, paralysed in the corner of caution in this time of human affairs; that we should be careful, exact in our occasions and in what we propose to do; but that the care and the exactness, must be exercised on the high road of action.
The commemoration of this important milestone provides us with an opportunity to celebrate our achievements and reflect upon the various challenges over the years, as we seek to predict, strategize and respond to the current and rapidly changing international environment. CARICOM, despite its challenges, remains one of the most highly developed integration movements in the world. Therefore, as a community, we have much to be proud of.
Of course we must do serious introspection in this ever changing dynamic international community. We must ensure continuous evaluation and renewal to ensure the capacity of the movement to achieve objectives of the Revised Treaty.
Integration is a process not an event.
We the Caribbean are great peoples whose spirits continue to infuse the world with music, colour, spice, vibrancy and excitement. No challenge can daunt a people who created the technology that makes sweet music from steel pans.No problem can stop a people whose Reggae music has inspired revolutionary change across the world. What can deter peoples whose athletic prowess defies the laws of physics and whose depth of thought is seen in distinguished scholarship?
Nothing can stop a united Caribbean people. We are from the crests of the Blue Mountains to the glassy waters of Grand Anse… We are from the deep forests of Guyana and Suriname. We celebrate the beautiful bays of St Vincent, the hot sulpher springs of St Lucia and Dominica.