Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (L) with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at the CELAC summit in San José, Costa Rica
By Caribbean News Now contributor
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica -- Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has urged Latin American and Caribbean leaders to continue to work together to build on the significant progress made in reducing poverty in the region.
Speaking at the third Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in San José, Costa Rica, on Wednesday, the prime minister noted that Trinidad and Tobago remains committed to the CELAC plan of action as the framework for cooperation.
Persad Bissessar told representatives of the 33 CELAC member countries of Trinidad and Tobago’s achievements in addressing poverty, and in fighting corruption. She noted the critical role that education can play in lifting people out of poverty, and highlighted that this country has achieved universal free pre-school education ahead of the set target of 2015. In addition, she said, Trinidad and Tobago has already achieved universal free primary school education.
Noting the damaging impact of corruption on economic growth of countries, the prime minister stressed the importance of legislation governing the proper procurement of goods and services is critical to ensuring equity, fairness and to promote sustainable development.
“My government has taken strong action to protect the rights of citizens and prevent corruption, through the passage of procurement legislation which is designed to ensure transparency and accountability in the procurement of goods and services,” Persad-Bissessar said. “As we continue the thrust for greater regional integration, including enhanced partnerships with Latin America, addressing the issue of corruption must be a priority for all of us.”
On the issue of regional security, Persad-Bissessar reiterated Trinidad and Tobago’s bid to host the headquarters of the United Nation’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which regulates the trade in small arms and light weapons.
The prime minister told leaders gathered at the summit that significant strides have been made in promoting development in Latin America and the Caribbean, but noted that the work is far from complete.
“Ultimately, it is up to us, as leaders, to work together to build on the progress we have made in reducing poverty in the region,” she said. “We have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of millions of people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean through the CELAC action plan for 2015.”
|OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza
In his speech at the opening ceremony of the CELAC summit, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, urged the countries of the region to further integrate and to expand their domestic markets to restore the economic growth of the past decade.
Insulza said that the first challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean today is to restore the growth levels seen in the early 21st century, which allowed tens of millions of people to escape from poverty.
“Many of the commercial and financial factors that allowed for the expansion of the last decade are no longer present in the global economy,” he warned. “Latin America and the Caribbean must be in a position to offset their absence with greater integration and expansion of their domestic markets, more effective savings and investment policies, higher quality education, development of their infrastructure, and enhanced technical and scientific capacity,” he said.
Noting that the CELAC summit represented an opportunity for Latin America and the Caribbean to reach common positions to meet the challenge of achieving higher growth under the new conditions of the global economy, and at the same time "a fairer distribution of the fruits of that growth," the OAS secretary general recalled that the next Summit of the Americas, to be held in Panama in April, will have as its central themes "prosperity and inequality."
Alluding to the presence of Cuba in the next hemispheric meeting in Panama, and emphasizing the need for these issues to be discussed by all the governments in the region, he said the meeting "will be an historic event which will be attended, for the first time, by all the heads of state and government of the 35 independent states of the Americas.”
In his speech, Insulza also referred to security issues facing the region, especially related to the scourges of drugs and organized crime.
“In recent years, we have made headway in our quest for alternative approaches to dealing with those issues, convinced that repression is not enough and that what we need is a public health perspective, less imprisonment and more prevention, and more flexible administration of justice. Above all, we need to address the problems of exclusion that underlie much of the criminal behavior we endure,” the secretary general added.
The OAS leader also called for broadening the unprecedented democratic process that the region is currently experiencing.
“That process, as we well know, is still fragile and can suffer setbacks. Democratic elections, the rule of law, the separation of powers, political pluralism, and respect for human rights and freedom of expression, gender equality, and nondiscrimination are values we all proclaim but which still need to be greatly reinforced in our day-to-day lives,” he said.
The CELAC summit was officially opened by the president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, who said that the main goal of the region is to eradicate poverty.
"I do not exaggerate when I say that there is no greater priority than ensuring the sustainability of public policies in the coming years that will lead us to defeat hunger and poverty in our region," said Solís.