PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti -- That Haiti is hosting its first meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government more than ten years after becoming a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) could be no greater indicator that it had taken its rightful place within the Community, CARICOM secretary-general, Irwin LaRocque, said on Monday.
“This is certainly one occasion that the use of the word historic is most fitting. Ten and a half years after its formal accession as a member state of CARICOM, for the first time a president of Haiti is chairman of CARICOM. Also for the first time, Haiti is hosting a meeting of the heads of government. There can be no greater indicator, symbolic and substantive, that Haiti has taken its rightful place within the Caribbean Community. I am certain that this is a unanimous sentiment,” LaRocque said as he addressed the opening ceremony.
The secretary-general said that Haiti’s ability to rise above its “monumental challenges of the recent past” to take over the leadership of the Community was testimony to the strength and resilience of its people.
“These are attributes which have earned you, the Haitian people, the admiration of all the Caribbean and should serve as an inspiration to your brothers and sisters in the region as we all confront the tough social and economic challenges of this time,” LaRocque added.
His comments were made against the background of the serious financial and social challenges facing the region. He alluded to the financial and economic contagion of 2008; the excruciating debt burden and the policies of the international financial institutions (IFIs) which disqualified many member states from concessionary financing based on criteria that was inappropriate to the circumstances of the Region; and crime. The latter is a major agenda item of the meeting. Discussions on combating the growing levels of crime in the region will include an exchange of views with Eric Holder, attorney-general of the United States.
Focusing on opportunities for improving the lives of Haitians within the Community and through its participation in the CARICOM Single Market, the secretary-general referred to cooperation in health and education, benefits to be derived through commerce and trade, one-way duty-free access to other member states for some products from Haiti, and collaboration among universities within the region.
The celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Community this year has added significance to Haiti’s assumption of the leadership of the Community, LaRocque said.
“This year, we celebrate our 40th Anniversary and what better way to begin that commemoration than having our most recent member leading the way. For, even as we look back with justifiable pride in our achievements over the last 40 years, we must embrace the promise of our future through accepting new ideas and seeking new perspectives. The achievement of the past is no guarantee of success in the future,” he noted.
Summoning the strength and resilience of the Haitian people as a guide and inspiration as the Community moved to the future, LaRocque acknowledged CARICOM’s perseverance during its “fair share of trials and tribulations” over the past 40 years, and encouraged the region to “stave off existing challenges” by strengthening its commitment to integration as the only way to survival and prosperity.