From the deportation crisis in the Dominican Republic, the renewal of U.S/Cuba relations, to the current tense border disputes between Venezuela and Guyana, regional leaders at the recent Florida Conference on Caribbean issues in Miramar say the Diaspora must have a part to play in finding solutions.
Conference chairman and former Guyanese diplomat Wesley Kirton expressed some optimism about the community’s political engagement in the region, commending the all Caribbean-American commission in Miramar for passing a resolution condemning the Dominican Republic for deporting its citizens of Haitian descent. He said it’s important the Caribbean Diaspora “sees itself as part of the broader hemispheric family in which the objective is to maintain peace and stability.”
He also believes the Diaspora can be influential in securing solutions to the Venezuela/Guyana dispute if it became “more sensitized” to the issue. “The Diaspora could get Venezuela to act more responsibly, and not frustrate Guyana’s oil exploration activities in the Essequibo region.”
“In all, the Caribbean Diaspora has to be engaged, create partnerships, act in greater numbers, and not just focus on national Diaspora activities,” said Kirton. “If the Caribbean Diaspora is to be an influential bloc in matters like voting in US elections, more integration is needed.”
For their part, current Guyanese Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge, a panelist at the conference, pledged that more collaborations with the Diaspora will be a major priority for the new administration. But nothing can happen, said Greenidge, without the community becoming more proactive in their engagement.
“We have embarked in a process for more intensive communication and relationship between the diaspora and the homeland,” said Greenidge. “But it is your responsibility to ensure that when we slip, when they communication is not as intense as it should be, you let us know in no uncertain terms.”
The Cuba Problem
One key focus at the conference were the economic repercussions in the Caribbean and Florida in response to the renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Most conference attendees believed the changes won’t have a negative impact on Caribbean tourism.
Former Guyanese Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud believes one of the positives of the renewed relationship is the potential expanded market for other Caribbean countries. He also believes the potential growth of tourism in Cuba will mobilize other Caribbean tourist destinations to make the proper adjustments to remain competitive.
Kirton also noted the resurgence in Cuba’s tourism offers opportunities to develop health and medicinal tourism in the rest of the Caribbean. He said the Caribbean Diaspora can play a role by investing in the development of these new tourism areas.
Barbara Braithwaite, President of the Barbados-American Chamber of Commerce said in developing a Cuba/Caribbean multi-destination strategy, careful planning must go into a sales and promotional efforts, where costs will be shared by participating operators. She said for Caribbean tourist operators to remain competitive with Cuba, they’ll have to adjust their pricing policies, since travel cost to Cuba is expected to be much cheaper, and place greater emphasis on “cultural tourism, history tourism, educational tourism and medical tourism,” instead of the traditional sea and sun experience.