SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS - Carib issues for Obama
Published: Sunday | March 22, 2009
Lovelette Brooks, News Editor
PRIME MINISTER Bruce Golding and other regional leaders will have their first face-to-face meeting with United States President Barack Obama at the fifth Summit of the Americas, to be held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, from April 17-19.
This will give Golding and his colleagues a chance to put regional issues on the table at a time when a 'flu' in America's financial sector has led to a global pandemic.
But what should regional leaders put on the table and how can they ensure that this historic summit is more than just another 'talk shop'?
That has been the focus of the recently launched Roxborough Institute which is seeking to bring together regional thinkers to discuss how to ensure that the Caribbean's interests are projected on the world stage.
The Sunday Gleaner has sought the opinion of some of these thinkers on how to address the major problems now facing Jamaica.
Professor Don Robotham endorses a new alliance that will mobilise the Caribbean, all of Latin America and unite with much of Africa and Asia too. His prescription includes:
Short-term measures targeted at specific bauxite and sugar communities affected by the economic crisis.
Short-term measures targeted at helping persons laid off in specific sectors (tourism and public sector).
Short-term measures for balance of payment support for Caribbean governments at the macro level.
Relaxation of IMF/World Bank/IADB conditionalities for financial and programme support.
Relaxation of WTO/European Union requirements for a 10-year period. This would mean a suspension of the requirements of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which require Caribbean states to open their economies to competition from European and other firms.
According to Robotham, the issue of public ownership of strategic assets (bauxite/alumina plants, major hotels) needs to be put back on the table.
"The decision to close Alpart was made by Deripaska's (Rusal) creditors in Russia, London and New York, and Jamaica had zero input into this. This cannot be allowed to continue," he emphasised.
"A broad approach is what is called for. So far, there has been no sign of any such initiative from anywhere. All the meetings being called have been convened by the North. The politicians of the South are passive. They need to awaken from their slumber and answer the call," says Robotham.
Dr Marshall Hall is optimistic that the economic crisis and the fallout of sugar and bauxite present an opportunity for local producers to significantly increase production, especially of food crops.
He is calling for a lowering of interest rates so that farmers can afford to borrow to finance their businesses.
The bauxite closure he says is a major loss and he does not think that the companies are likely to reopen after one year.
Social researcher and anthro-pologist Dr Herbert Gayle suggests an agenda heavily focused on human and social development. He says the present economic climate will affect the ecological survival of families, therefore, an approach must be sought to engage family cohesion and enterprise.
"This is the time for all leaders to manipulate their followers (the populace) to use their vulnerabilities and engage them in meaningful enterprise. Young men must be schooled and must learn a skill. Skills training is critical," says Gayle.
Harsher times, he continues, bring out the creativity in people, and "our youths must be given opportunities. Many of our successful entrepreneurs make it out of economic hardships because they were afforded the opportunity to develop their creative genes, and we all have them", he asserts.
Former secretary general of CARICOM, Sir Allister McIntyre, says that countries in the region which are vulnerable to environmental and economic events should get special assistance and suggests that the summit is the ideal forum for Jamaica to exchange views not only with its counterparts in the region, but with Canada and the United States of America.
Jamaica, he says, is at present feeling several shocks from the fallout of sugar, bauxite and a gradually slowing down of the economy.
"Short of creating new employment opportunities, Jamaica should consider a temporary export of workers, similar to what obtains now in British Colombia where workers in the construction sector are being trained and certified. At the end of their training, they would come back home with a skill," he says, adding that the new budget being crafted should be a budget of development.