CARICOM: Hard row to hoe
Guyana Chronicle
July 6, 2002

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DISTURBED OVER but not distracted by Wednesday's anti-government protest in Georgetown that led to deaths, wounding and arson amid fierce clashes with the Police, Caribbean Community leaders yesterday (July 4) settled down to the business of their 23rd regular annual summit, seemingly determined to advance their agenda.

At the ceremonial opening on Wednesday evening, a number of Community leaders spoke passionately and eloquently about the goals of the region's economic integration movement and reaffirmed their commitment to work in the best interest of the peoples of the region as they respond to the challenges of changing international developments.

When the curtains come down this evening on an originally-planned three-day summit, what would make the difference is what's really new in the decisions taken for implementation.

For instance, on sensitive and demanding issues of crime and security, race and democratic governance, creation of a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) ahead of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2005, and changing the structures and arrangements of institutions serving the Community, as raised at a pre-summit Civil Society Conference as well as by some of the leaders themselves.

Completing their agenda is one thing. Setting practical time-frames and having relevant mechanisms in place to ensure implementation of their decisions, usually arrived at by consensus, is the challenge not just for the Heads of Government. Also for the civil society representatives, particularly from the private sector and labour movement, who have made known their own disappointments and ideas for "the way forward".

Frankly, given the realities of having to compete for markets with the industrialised nations that heavily subsidise their agricultural sectors and provide incentives to further strengthen the advantage held by their manufacturers for export, CARICOM has a hard row to hoe as it approaches its 30th anniversary this time next year, given current high levels of crime, unemployment and poverty. And, of course, the spreading HIV/AIDS pandemic.

It would, therefore, be of much interest to witness what progress the Community can make in the decisions to be taken here at the 23rd Summit before the Heads of Government meet again for their next Inter-Sessional Meeting in six months time.

Among the harsh realities to be faced are, for example: The current Chairman of CARICOM, President Bharrat Jagdeo, is confronted with the threats posed to his democratically-elected government by extra-parliamentary politics of destablisation.

Dominica, which is supposed to host the next Inter-Sessional Meeting, is gripped by its worse financial crisis in many years, as well as internal divisions in the ruling Labour Party, including demands for the resignation of its young but ailing leader, Prime Minister Pierre Charles.

Two of the major partner states of the Community -- Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago -- are faced with demands for early elections. In Jamaica, one is constitutionally due by March 2003 but is expected before yearend. In Trinidad and Tobago, with its unprecedented hung parliament following the December 2001 poll, a new and third election in two years could come by the end of October.

Both Prime Ministers P.J. Patterson of Jamaica and Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago, therefore, have much more than fulfillment of the CARICOM mandate to worry over in the face of existing national circumstances with their mixture of escalating criminality and election politics.
*(Reprinted from yesterday's "Our Caribbean" column by Rickey Singh in the ‘Weekend Nation’ of Barbados).