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CARICOM Observes 50 Years

Caribbean Community leaders head to Trinidad next week for what they describe as a very special summit because the sessions are being held in the place where the original Treaty of Chagauramas — the defining legal document governing the regional integration movement- was signed 50 years ago.

Back then Prime Ministers Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Eric Williams of Trinidad, Errol Barrow of Barbados and Michael Manley of Jamaica signed off on the treaty, paving the way for what is globally known today as CARICOM, the 15-nation single trading bloc encompassing nations from Suriname and Guyana on South America’s mainland to Belize in Central America as well as The Bahamas and Haiti in the North Caribbean.

Caribbean Community leaders head to Trinidad next week for what they describe as a very special summit because the sessions are being held in the place where the original Treaty of Chagauramas – the defining legal document governing the regional integration movement- was signed 50 years ago.

The three-day summit starts on Monday, July 3 and will have a series of major agenda items for heads and special invitees during the conference. Apart from a special cultural presentation and speeches by several leaders at the opening ceremonies, the plenary and caucus sessions are expected to discuss some simmering issues in the regional family, not the least among them bringing Haiti and crime and security and poor air transportation in the region.

For example, two weeks ago, regional governments through an eminent persons group led by three CARICOM former prime ministers had hosted dozens of stakeholders from Haiti at a special summit in Jamaica aimed at breaking the governance deadlock and getting the parties to talk to each other. And even though no definitive agreement was reached at the meeting, follow-up sessions involving prime ministers Bruce Golding, Perry Christie and Kenneth Anthony are to be held on the ground in Haiti in the coming weeks as a bloc, frustrated with its limited capacity to help its poorest and most populous member state, lobs a political ‘hail Mary’ to Haiti.

The other key agenda items have to do with violent crime which many governments say is spiraling out of control. Host nation Trinidad, which recorded more than 600 murders last year is again on track to break all records this year. Barbados, St. Lucia, The Bahamas, Jamaica and Haiti are among those complaining about runaway violent crime. Next week’s meeting is being held just two months after Trinidad hosted a special regional summit on crime that Prime Minister Keith Rowley had said was badly needed.

“We all have continued to be haunted by violence from the domestic quarters at home, to our school yards, to our streets and our borders. In short ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, violence is threatening to destroy our paradise in the Caribbean Sea. This is not to say that we have not been struggling to cope with this truth, on the contrary, we have been, but if we are not careful its stubbornness and metastasizing malignancy could overwhelm us. Violence in the Caribbean is a public health emergency which threatens our lives, our economies, our national security and by extension every aspect of our well-being, Rowley had told the meeting.

Crime and Haiti apart, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua, the home base of hosts island hopper commuter service, LIAT, says he will raise the woes of the carrier regardless of whether it is on the agenda or not as the issue is “inescapable.” “You cannot have a successful integration movement if the people cannot move. I am just hoping we can go past the insularity and the national priorities. There are regional competing forces that would like to see the demise of LIAT but again,” he said clearly referring to the emergence of Inter Caribbean.” I think LIAT should be respected as a Caricom institution and that they should be a regional commitment to re-stirring it in the interest of Caribbean people” he said at a public event this week.

To mark the 50th, several Eastern Caribbean member states, Grenada and St. Kitts among others have declared special holidays for Monday, July, 4 the day the treaty was signed by the four leaders. It is unclear whether others will follow suit but Guyana is known to be one of the few which have celebrated this day as a special holiday.