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Unleashing the power of Caribbean integration in COVID-19 fight

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The world is learning, slowly but surely, that the fight against COVID-19 demands a global response, and we sincerely hope that the Caribbean is well on the way with regional coordination.

By Caribbean we do not mean only the Caribbean Community (Caricom) — which includes the English-speaking countries, Haiti, and Suriname — but the Caribbean that encompasses Cuba, Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela as well.

Each country in the Caribbean has been impacted by COVID-19 and each government has responded with its own unique programmes. Although there are certain broad commonalities, each national programme is different.

While individual governments might think they have done the best for their country, the efficacy of their policy packages would be strengthened considerably by coordinating with each other, as in sharing knowledge, bulk purchasing of medicines and negotiating as one with cruise ship companies and airlines, and the like.

Indeed, COVID-19 has served to demonstrate the value of regional cooperation where the record has been spotty, despite long years of efforts to build an integration movement. This is another opportunity to make it work.

We note some developments which are indicative of the value of regionalism, including several discussions involving Caricom Heads of Government, the ministers of health and ministers of finance who have already calculated the financial needs of the region and approached the International Monetary Fund.

Controlling the spread of the deadly COVID-19 vindicates the establishment of regional institutions which, to their credit, have been working round the clock. The Caribbean Public Health Agency has done an outstanding job in sharing its expertise and updating the public with information.

The medical faculty of The University of the West Indies has made available its world-class medical practitioners, research expertise, and hospital facilities and has established a task force on COVID-19, albeit under great strain.

The Caribbean Development Bank is identifying grants and repurposing loans to provide financial support to the fiscally constrained governments.

But of course, regional cooperation should go further to include Central America, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, all of which can contribute to crushing coronavirus in the Caribbean.

For example, Cuba has once again been a good neighbour in sharing its personnel and knowledge, generously assisting Jamaica with nurses and the possibility of sharing medication which could potentially help to suppress COVID-19.

Fortunately, the institutional vehicle for a truly Caribbean-wide dialogue exists in the form of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) whose membership encompasses all the countries of the wider region.

The ACS meets this coming week with the chair being held by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados who, fortuitously, is head of Caricom. This surely is an opportunity not to be missed.

So as we acknowledge that the global COVID-19 pandemic can best be tackled by the slowly evolving multilateral cooperation and coordination on a global scale, let us start in the Caribbean region writ large.