New challenges for a reconfigured world Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
July 1, 2002

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SIXTEEN years ago Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) gathered in this (the former) Garden City -- the capital of Guyana, to deliberate on approaches to future challenges of the movement as it prepared for its prescriptive role of moulding into effective shape a disparate scramble of islands and territories calling themselves the Commonwealth Caribbean. It was a historical event, for prior to that summit, regional leaders had not held collective conversation for several years.

A career Foreign Service officer writing in the only daily newspaper at that time the ‘Guyana Chronicle’ noted: “This is partly a memoir, partly an attempt to analyse the background to the Seventh Summit Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community which opens in Georgetown today. The writer has been a witness to and a participant in events leading up to the Ocho Rios Summit in 1982. The other summits had to be studied from the documents available. The exercise has been undertaken to demonstrate that the integration movement is mature and has a demonstrated capacity for resilience. For seven long years the CARICOM Heads did not convene. Responsible people in the Region and those committed to Caribbean integration were definitely concerned. The collapse of the West Indies Federation in 1962 seemed to cast a long shadow. The impression created was that the differences among CARICOM leaders were so great that the basis for the summit meeting did not exist. This caused great concern in the Region and beyond.”

With the staging of the Seventh Conference of the Caribbean Heads of Government in Georgetown, the ‘lean years’ of the movement were behind them, and the stage was set for a new and exciting perspective of Caribbean togetherness. Host of the Summit was Mr Hugh Desmond Hoyte, who the year before had succeeded Guyana’s first executive President Forbes Sampson Burnham as leader of the Cooperative Republic. Among his colleagues were: Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel of Belize; Prime Minister Herbert Blaize of Grenada; Prime Minister Edward Seaga of Jamaica; Prime Minister James Mitchell of St Vincent; Prime Minister Kennedy Simmonds of Nevis; Prime Minister Lyndon Pindling of the Bahamas; Prime Minister Errol Barrow of Barbados; Prime Minister Vere Bird of Antigua and Barbuda; Prime Minister George Chambers of Trinidad and Tobago; Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica and Prime Minister John Compton of Saint Lucia.

In this the second year of the new millennium, the overriding concerns of the 1986 CARICOM Summit seem dwarfed both by time and developments regionally and internationally. Back then, the goals seemed relatively simple: They included that of “Sharing a common determination to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of their peoples for full employment and improved standards of working and living.” Apartheid in South Africa was one of the foremost social plagues of the human condition. Guyanese-born Shridath Ramphal was then the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and in his address to the Seventh CARICOM Summit he exhorted Caribbean leaders to be forthright in their support on the imposition of sanctions against the regime of South Africa. Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell heralding the end of communism as a socioeconomic system. And, in February 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison initiating the process for the dismantling of apartheid and the beginning of a democratic South Africa. Indeed, the world has been reconfigured.

One article published in the ‘Guyana Chronicle’ in July 1986 quoted CLR James as saying, “Federation for the West Indies is the means by which it will claim Independence, modernise itself, and although small in number, be able to take its place as one of the modern communities living in a modern civilised existence.” Through the process of meaningful conversations this week CARICOM leaders will determine how much closer the West Indian region has moved towards this position.