By Kamla Persad- Bissessar
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
The year 2013 has come to a close and, with it, my tenure as Chairman of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
My Chairmanship coincided with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of our Community and it was my distinct honour and privilege to have hosted the Thirty-Fourth Conference of Heads of Government, and, on the 4th of July, the commemoration of our milestone at Chaguaramas, the birthplace of our Community.
My tenure was shaped, in great measure, by the decisions that were taken at the Thirty-Fourth Regular Meeting of the Conference as well as by matters that arose during the six months that demanded urgent attention. As expected, the economic situation facing Member States and the Region was uppermost in our collective thoughts and actions. One of the major outcomes of that focus was the approval, by the Bureau of the Conference, of the establishment of the Commission on the Economy to advise us on solutions that would lead to growth and development. The Commission has already started its work.
In recognition of the fact that economic growth and development cannot be accomplished without the movement of people and goods, we have intensified our efforts to provide reliable transportation across the Region. The emphasis on transportation will benefit from the work of the Transportation Commission that was established at our July meeting, the Terms of Reference for which was approved by the Bureau.
In July also, the Conference of Heads of Government agreed to establish a CARICOM Reparations Commission to shape the Community’s quest for reparations from the former colonial European countries, for native genocide, the transatlantic slave trade and a racialized system of chattel slavery. The Executive of the CARICOM Reparations Commission met on December 9, 2013 in Jamaica to define and set in train its plan of action.
We also commenced, in July, a regional dialogue on persons living with disabilities and special needs, and I am pleased that by year’s end, a High Level Meeting on the Rights of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean had been convened in Haiti. This is matter that I hold close to my heart, and I hope that as a Community, we will be able to forge a common strategy towards building a disability-inclusive society.
In November, the Bureau met in special session to deliberate on the ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic on nationality, which retroactively strips tens of thousands of Dominicans, mostly of Haitian descent, of citizenship, rendering them stateless and with no recourse to appeal. We have accorded this matter the highest priority and have decided on some key steps including the suspension of the Community’s consideration of the request by the Dominican Republic for membership of CARICOM. Since our meeting, the Presidents of the Dominican Republic and Haiti have agreed to establish a Committee to seek a joint solution to the problems facing the two governments, in which CARICOM will participate. The Secretary-General will be following up with the President and Foreign Minister of Haiti in this regard.
Following the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice in the case of Shanique Myrie and the State of Barbados and the State of Jamaica which was delivered in October, the Legal Affairs Committee has been tasked with considering the wide-ranging implications for decision-making in the Community and for hassle-free travel. We await the LAC’s recommendations.
As we strive for a more efficient integration movement, the process of Reform in the Community has been proceeding apace and we have been seeking the input of all our stakeholders via consultations undertaken by a team of Change Facilitators, led by the Secretary General. To date, national consultations in all Member States and two Associate Members have been completed. I anticipate that the draft Strategic Plan for the Community, which will be culled from those consultations, will be tabled at the Intersessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government in February.
One of my final acts as Chairman was leading the Community’s delegation to the official memorial of late South African President, Nelson Mandela. I wish to extend gratitude to my colleague Heads of Government and their representatives who were able to join me at this truly historic event.
As I pass the baton of Chairmanship to my colleague, Dr the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, I wish to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Community, to offer sympathy at the loss of life, injury and damage to property and infrastructure which occurred in his country, as well as in Saint Lucia and Dominica, as a result of severe weather impacting the Eastern Caribbean last week. The Community stands ready to offer all possible assistance as rebuilding commences.
Let me wish all the citizens of our Community a peaceful and productive 2014, as I renew my country’s commitment to shared prosperity through our regional integration endeavours.