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Challenges now facing Caricom in St Vincent

ANALYSIS

RICKEY SINGH

Sunday, January 19, 2014    

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THE new chairman of the 15-member Caribbean Community, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, has lost no time in signalling an "activist mood" to help resolve lingering problems and advance the work agenda of the regional economic integration over his six-month stint in that rotating top position.

Within the first two weeks of succeeding Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Gonsalves sent a letter to European Union (EU) President Jose Manuel Barroso, inviting him to treat as a matter of urgency Caricom's anxiety for the Dominican Republic to revise its controversial new immigration law that renders stateless more than 250,000 persons of Haitian descent who are Dominicans by birth.

Declaring Caricom's deep concern over the EU's public silence on the DR constitutional court's endorsement of the controversial immigration legislation, Dr Gonsalves referenced the position of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which deemed the law immoral and discriminatory for arbitrarily depriving those Dominicans of their nationality.

Noting the EU's silence on the court's "outrageous decision", Gonsalves pointed out that Caricom has already decided to cease doing business as usual with the DR and to place on hold its request for membership of the community.

He has requested President Barroso to use his good offices for an urgent review of the EU's relationship with Cariforum -- the mechanism by which Caricom and the DR engage Europe on trade, investment and related issues -- and deal directly with the Caribbean Community until the government in Santo Domingo shows willingness to reverse the obnoxious law.

Major agenda issues

Of course, Caricom's firm stand against the DR's decision is one of the major issues on the packed work agenda now in possession of Heads of Government for their first inter-sessional meeting next month in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The reality is that quite a few Heads of Government are facing serious domestic financial, social and economic challenges of their own, host Prime Minister Gonsalves among them.

The harmful consequences of the phenomenon of climate change that resulted in last month's devastating pre-Christmas floods in the Eastern Caribbean -- including St Vincent and the Grenadines -- as well as the steadily climbing threat to citizens security posed by rampant criminality, are among the bundle of pressing issues identified for the work agenda.

Reflecting his awareness of the looming challenges confronting the region in general, Gonsalves observed that he would be hosting the coming inter-sessional meeting in admittedly "difficult national circumstances and in a regional and international context fraught with economic uncertainty, existential threats arising from climate change; multiple exogenous challenges and home-grown regional burdens..."

The prime minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, for one, facing the current challenge of an economy in crisis and with growth forecast at less than one per cent in 2014, could readily empathise with Dr Gonsalves' assessment.

So too would Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar whose country -- hailed last month by the World Bank as "one of the wealthiest and well developed nations in the Caribbean region" -- is currently staggering from climbing murder rates with some 23 killings already for this month.

Sensitive issues

Yet, for all the social and economic challenges facing regional governments and institutions, Prime Minister Gonsalves is of the view that Caricom leaders "cannot reasonably avoid for focused attention" the quest for reparations for native genocide and African slavery.

Further, he feels that this first half-yearly meeting of the community's Heads of Government must be prepared to demonstrate firm commitment to fulfilling a decision of the Caricom Bureau to hold the line against doing business as usual with the Dominican Republic. Hence, his letter to the EU president to consider dealing with Caricom directly, instead of via the Cariforum mechanism.

Another sensitive issue requiring priority attention would be to overcome the recurring problem of implementation of what's known as "Community law" governing intra-regional freedom of movement of Caricom nationals. It is an issue that would undoubtedly reference the landmark decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice in the case involving Barbados and the Jamaican national Shanique Myrie.

Caricom citizens will gladly welcome new initiatives to bring an end to the recurring denial of free intra-regional movement. After all, it is a problem that mocks the letter and spirit of the revised Caricom Treaty that provides for a single economy.

But, at the same time, the bloodletting from gun-related murders across the region must, of necessity, inspire new, creative initiatives to combat the horrors of criminality afflicting too many member states of our community.

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