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Regional leaders open annual summit in Grenada

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

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ST GEORGE'S, Grenada (CMC) – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders began their 38th annual summit here on Tuesday night underscoring the importance of closer collaboration in a changing global environment and also emphasised the need for a unified position on the political situation in Venezuela.

Host Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, who will chair the three-day summit, told the opening ceremony that the 15-member regional grouping needed to find the resolve to commit to a unified position on the current political challenge in neighbouring Venezuela, where opposition forces are seeking to remove the government of President Nicolas Maduro by staging daily street demonstrations that have so far resulted in the death of more than 50 people.

“We cannot ignore what is going on in a country with which all of our member states have had strong historic ties; and one with which countries such as Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago share maritime borders,” Mitchell told the ceremony, adding “these realities, combined with our international record of standing up for political order, democracy and respect for human rights, ought to inspire us to arrive at a clear stance on this current crisis in Venezuela.

“Of course, in doing so, we must be cognizant of the broad principles of non-interference, the support for the rule of law and order, constitutionality, and the respect for human rights,” he said, noting “we appreciate that there is a duly elected government in place in Venezuela, and that many of the internal struggles are manifestations of a struggle for political power.

“As proud, independent nations, with a shared history of anti-colonial struggle, we approach these issues, rightfully so, with a particular mind-set. Indeed, when certain international advocates whisper aloud about unconstitutional regime change, we must give pause; but pause must not result in paralysis. Our inaction must not be the consequence of our suspicion.”

Mitchell, who is most likely chairing his last CARICOM summit, hinting that he would be moving out of the political arena, said that as a region and as neighbours, CARICOM needs to be concerned about anomalies and excesses; and about extremism from all sides.

“We must stand united to condemn violence – from whichever quarter it comes. We must, therefore, not retreat from using our close ties to nudge all parties to a position of “dialogue” that will be in the best interest of the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

The Venezuela issue, according to the CARICOM Secretary General Irwin La Rocque is not an agenda item for the summit, but he acknowledged that it was possible that the leaders would be issuing some form of statement on the situation at the end of their deliberations.

In his address, Mitchell joined his colleague heads of governments from Guyana, The Bahamas and Haiti in underscoring the importance of the region bloc to the socio-economic development of the Caribbean.

But he said that while the grouping has had much to cheer about in the past “we ourselves, do a lot to undermine the very construct of CARICOM and regional integration when we yield to the urge to go off on solo excursions, even after we reach common positions.

“Every instance of this deepens the cynicism about our ability as CARICOM heads to remain consistent; to stand in solidarity on issues; and to follow through on consensus decisions,” he said noting “we must be acutely aware that our constituents around the region, especially our youth, pay close attention to our collective conduct on issues that matter a great deal to them.

Mitchell said during his six months chairmanship, CARICOM should aim at several key achievements, including a comprehensive quantitative assessment of trade performance under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, services, labour and skills across the region and the strengthening of the “Statistics Division” of the CARICOM Secretariat, to better equip the to carry out the heavy lifting required in respect of evolving demands.

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