PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders began a historic summit here on Monday with CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque indicating there is a need to stave off existing challenges to the regional integration movement that is observing its 40th anniversary.
LaRocque told regional leaders that there can be no greater indicator, "symbolic and substantive", that Haiti has taken its rightful place within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) by hosting the summit.
“Ten and a half years after its formal accession as a member state of CARICOM, for the first time a President of Haiti is Chairman of CARICOM. Also for the first time, Haiti is hosting a meeting of the Heads of Government,” he said.
“That this country has been able to rise above its monumental challenges of the recent past and take over leadership of our Caribbean Community is testimony to the strength and resilience of its people.
“These are attributes which have earned you, the Haitian people, the admiration of all the Caribbean and should serve as an inspiration to your brothers and sisters in the Region as we all confront the tough social and economic challenges of this time."
LaRiocque said that Haiti’s membership into the regional grouping present opportunities for improving the lives of the people of Haiti through co-operation in areas such as health and education, and economic benefits to be derived from commerce and trade.
“Some of these benefits have already begun to be realised; for example, with the work of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) and soon with collaboration among the universities of the region, as well as the one way duty free access to the other member states of CARICOM for some of your products.”
He said there is also an added significance to Haiti’s assumption of the leadership of CARICOM as the grouping celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
“ For, even as we look back with justifiable pride in our achievements over the last 40 years, we must embrace the promise of our future through accepting new ideas and seeking new perspectives. The achievement of the past is no guarantee of success in the future.”
He said the circumstances which fashioned the region’s approach to integration have changed, so too has the nature of the challenges, adding “therefore, so must we.
“As we go forward to the next 40 years, in accepting that the imperative for integration of our small states is undeniable, we also have to accept that we must change our modes of operation if we are to deliver to our people the standard of living they desire.”
He said the Guyana-based Secretariat the process of change has already begun since the beginning of the New Year.
He said in furtherance of the mandate from regional leaders, a change facilitation team has been working to advise him on the process.
A review has been conducted of the CARICOM Security institutions and this programme of reviews for reform will continue with other institutions and organisations involved in the integration arrangements, he said, adding “but we are all aware that for integration to make the impact on the ground among our people, change must be pervasive and embrace all facets of the work of the Community.
But LaRocque said that the transformation that the region leaders are seeking is taking place at one of the most difficult times in the economic and social life of the region.
“Since the financial and economic contagion of 2008, growth in this region has been strangled. Most of our member states contend on a daily basis with a fiscal situation that threatens to overwhelm them.
“The excruciating debt burden is exacerbated by the policies of the international financial institutions which disqualify many of our member states from concessionary financing because of criteria inappropriate to our circumstances.
“Those criteria are also being considered by other International Development Partners and, if adopted, could render our development efforts even more challenging,” he said, adding that those financial and economic burdens are intensified by the growing levels of crime in our Community, in particular the rise in gun-related violence.
LaRocque said that the threat posed to the stability of the region by the prevalence of firearms cannot be underestimated and the on-going wanton waste of human life is a continuing source of grief.