Calm, calls, colour at summit opening By Nivedta Kowlessar
Guyana Chronicle
July 4, 2002

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AN AIR of calm prevailed amidst tight security as Caribbean leaders gathered yesterday afternoon in a freshly spruced up capital, earlier ruffled by violent protests, for a ceremonial start to two days of intense deliberations.

The sun was rolling over west on a brilliant July afternoon when the convoys of delegates escorted by siren wailing Police outriders pulled into the Homestretch, Georgetown venue of the National Cultural Centre.

Though not exactly obvious from outside, the 30-year-old city landmark had a major facelift and internal renovations as Guyana prepared to host the opening in an environment of pruned trees, clipped parapets and cleared canals. On the centre's lush lawns, a blue and white billboard promoted the `Caribbean Court of Justice' - `Your court, your voice, your right'.

Fluttering in a gentle breeze, flags of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states flanked the southern entrance to the compound and police in smart ceremonial wear welcomed dapper Heads of Government, their delegations and special invitees.

Traditional red carpets and the `Silver Tones' of the Roy Geddes steelband beckoned invitingly into a warmly lit, less than full auditorium decorated with potted plants and heliconia arrangements. More police in ceremonial garb formed an arch with the Guyana Police Force standard, beneath which each leader was escorted by children towards the stage.

As Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Rovin Deodat announced their names with a punctuating tap of drums by the Police Force Band, CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington and President Bharrat Jagdeo welcomed each leader onto more red carpets. These contrasted nicely with grey upholstered chairs and a black backdrop with a banner proclaiming the 23rd Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

Queen's College student Dana King led the gathering in prayer before Carrington took to one of two podiums to give an overview of the summit at which the leaders will be examining the state of the Community, the Community in the international arena and the Community at 30.

CIVIL SOCIETY ENCOUNTER: from left: Prime Minister of St. Kitts & Nevis, Dr. Denzil Douglas; Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Dr. Kenny Anthony; President of Suriname, Mr. Runaldo Venetiaan and President Bharrat Jagdeo and members of civil society at yesterday's conclusion of the two-day caucus held at the Ocean View International Convention Centre.
Describing it as a "community on the move", he said CARICOM may well be the "last train" on the path to develop the region and ended his opening remarks with an echo of Byron Lee's "All Aboard?".

Outgoing chairman, Prime Minister Said Musa of Belize delivered an address reflecting on his six months at the helm, with brief suggestions for advancing Caribbean integration before the `new boy on the block', Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie made a lengthy but charismatic delivery that covered his youthful athletic background to what he expects of CARICOM.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning listed his country's "hung" political environment, HIV/AIDS, the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and the effectiveness of some key regional institutions as critical issues for consideration.

St. Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony recalled his last visit to resolve political differences in Guyana, calling it one of CARICOM's "crowning" achievements and noted the regional grouping is facing its most challenging phase and a "defining moment" in its collective history.

President Jagdeo, assuming the chairmanship of the bloc, ended the round of speeches with eight major points for attention - an agriculture policy, creation of multilateral regimes, a common approach to crime and security, strengthening of democracy, greater involvement of non-partisan, accountable civil society in CARICOM activities, promotion of a larger Caribbean sphere of influence and support and projecting the reach of the Community beyond its geographic confines.

He ended with the hope that the leaders can try to convert action on CARICOM business from the pattern of the American soap opera `Days of Our Lives' to "a Rambo style movie" and an invitation for the visiting delegations to savour Georgetown's charm and the country's interior beauty.

Then came what Carrington called a "more enjoyable" dimension to the ceremony when President Jagdeo presented the 2002 CARICOM Triennial Award for Women on Professor Rhoda Reddock, Head of the Centre of Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.

After he pinned the medal onto her simple black dress and gave her a congratulatory kiss, Reddock expressed thanks for the very distinguished award, saying it was a great honour to join the legendary band of six other women of the region to receive it.

She said it reflected the continued commitment of the Community in transforming and improving gender relations, which is one of the most difficult tasks and one of the most important, as it shapes all other relations.

Saying Caribbean potential is "far too stymied" by gender stereotypes and ideology, Reddock said she accepted it on behalf of all the "unseen and unrecognised women" whose work contributed vision to the Community.

Seeing herself walking in the footsteps of Caribbean `foremothers', the awardee drew laughter when she questioned whether women were adequately represented in governments and other key institutions in the region, pointing to the all-men Heads of Government gathered for the summit. The only exception was Barbados Foreign Minister Billie Miller who represented her Prime Minister Owen Arthur at the opening.

The citation for Reddock read by Assistant CARICOM Secretary General, Dr. Edward Greene, said she distinguished herself as an academic, administrator and international consultant, who has dedicated her scholarship to teaching women and development in the Community.

It said she has been "unstinting in her promotion of Gender and Development Studies as an important discipline in its own right.

"The pursuit of this cause has been arduous and she has been assiduous in her advocacy in support of the development of regional programmes in Women and Development Studies."

Reddock has authored numerous publications and is best known for her work `Women, Labour and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago: A History', which has been named by Choice magazine as the Best Academic Book for the year in which it was published.

Noting her regional and international acclaim, the citation said in paying tribute to the outstanding contribution of this year's awardee, one must refer to the fact that Reddock "has been an inspiration and mentor to the younger generation of Caribbean feminists."

Reddock ended her presentation with a warm handshake each for the leaders as the Police Band played "Brown skin gal stay home and mind baby" among a medley of folk tunes before a colourful cultural presentation themed `Glimpes of the Caribbean - Guyana Style'.

Tassa and African drumming, Hilton Hemerding's `This is Guyana', prancing masqueraders, graceful Indian dances, and actor Henry Rodney's wielding of a "cutlish" in his portrayal of the Caribbean's `Banana Man' were among scintillating performances drawing the ceremonial closing curtains after almost three hours.