Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders opened their 43rd annual summit in Suriname on Sunday night reiterating that addressing solutions for the challenges facing the region would require collective intellect and a will to act together.
The incoming chairman and host President, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, told the ceremony there is need for closer collaboration among the 15-member regional integration grouping if CARICOM is to survive a changing global environment.
“We recognize that we are in a peace zone. We recognize that our strengths lie in unity and if you are united, we can yield a more substantial influence. Our strength is also in diversity. We are island states…and one member state lies in the narrow strip of land connecting North and South America.”
Santokhi said that the Caribbean also share several threats such as low coastlines, adverse effects of global warming, climate change “and when we develop strategies, we have to base them on this…on our reality.”
He said since its inception CARICOM has had ambitious goals to create a common market, cooperate in foreign policy matters, and promote functional cooperation in various areas vital to social and economic development.
“We have, moreover, taken many steps, to deepen and widen the integration process. However, the reality is, that we are not yet sufficiently cooperating. The reality is, that we still have differences of opinion, on issues.
“The reality is, that we have everything to support each other in the economy, single market, movement of goods and persons, and connectivity. But the processes, to facilitate this are going very slowly.”
Santokhi said despite progress in some areas of regional cooperation, CARICOM is still far from achieving the stated goals.
“We are now here in Suriname, with a new chairperson and a new conference, and I reflected on how this conference, can make a difference, to start important changes. Important, to us as member states, but also as a collectivity. These changes have already been mentioned in various meetings.”
He said the fact, that region has 15 votes, together makes it have a strong voice, that it can use to promote unity, initiate dialogue, facilitate intra-regional cooperation, and joint efforts by CARICOM enterprises.
“If we work together, we can create a tourism product that will allow tourists an optimal Caribbean experience, from the East with tropical rainforests, to the West with the most extensive reef in our hemisphere.
Santokhi said the regional countries now find themselves at a crossroads, and this is the moment to re-assess, refocus, and recommit their endeavors, to ensure sustainable development and prosperity for the people of the region, ultimately aimed at leaving no one behind.
“But we require leadership and willingness, to go for broad cooperation. To go for a creative approach, to go for innovation in our approach, for new strategies, to go for private sector involvement. To go for the participation of the youth.
One of the highlights of the opening ceremony was the presentation of the region’s highest award, the Order of the Caribbean Community to former CARICOM secretary general Irwin La Rocque, former prominent Barbados government minister, Dame Billie Miller, former West Indies cricket captain, Sir Vivian Richards and Trinidad and Tobago calypsonian, David Rudder.
They were all recognized for their contribution to the region’s development.