ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 16, CMC – The chairman of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Monday urged greater cooperation among member states as the region battles a number of challenges, including the earthquake situation in Haiti, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the need to fulfil various policies agreed upon by regional governments in the past.
Addressing the installation ceremony of Belizean Dr. Carla Barnett as the eighth Secretary General of the integration movement, Prime Minister Browne said with regards to Haiti, where more than 1, 300 people died and several thousands missing and injured from last Saturday’s powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake, that Haiti needs a “fundamental change of direction” going into the future.
He said the earthquake and the attendant loss of lives in the French-speaking CARICOM member country “are painful reminders of the political, economic and social tragedies that have beset Haiti since its new history began in 1804.
“As chairman of CARICOM, I believe that the time has come to change the trajectory of Haiti and we must establish measures in collaboration with Haiti’s political directorate and the international community that will allow Haiti to make a fundamental change of direction,” Browne said, noting however “that is a longer term goal.
“But now we must bind up our nations’ wounds and mobilise assistance to meet the immediate humanitarian needs,” he said, adding that he has been in contact with Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry pledging CARICOM’s support for the rehabilitation efforts”.
Browne said apart from Haiti, the integration movement is faced with the challenge of getting its population vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the region we have to tackle the twin contradictory issues of access to vaccines as well as vaccine hesitancy among our populations and we must not be daunted by these challenges. We are triumphed over this murderous pandemic,” Browne said, noting that in some member states, the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated “is till unacceptably low.
“There is great risk we will not reach herd immunity in very many months. We need to correct this and we have to continue to stand together to fight the issue of vaccine hesitancy which is perhaps the most significant threat to the region at this time”.
Browne said that it is necessary for the regional countries to re-float their economies while keeping the populations safe and to “place ourselves to take advantage of the spike in tourism demand that several member states are currently experiencing”.
CARICOM Single Market and Economy
Browne said that the region also needed to “finalise” the terms of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region.
He said such finalisation “must be done quickly if CARICOM is to retain the confidence of the people in our member states”.
He said there is also a need to re-think the method of work within CARICOM and at the level of the regional leaders “always looking for peak efficiency.
‘There is no doubt that we have to make the CSME operational and to increase our level of functional cooperation so that we could have a more effective CARICOM region. It is my intention to raise these matters with you and to strive for ways we can make the machinery of CARICOM run more smoothly,” Browne told Dr. Barnett, the first woman to be appointed as Secretary General.
“It is absolutely important that we improve the machinery of CARICOM for the benefit of all member states especially considering the challenges we have to confront at this time ansd those challenges are not limited to COVID and climate change, but these challenges continue to confront our member states on a whole”
Browne, who invited Dr. Barnett to visit Antigua and Barbuda “at the earliest opportunity” reminded everyone that “the work is hard, but the rewards are great for the people of our region, who deserve no less.
“So clearly we have to put issues of insularity behind us, we have to cooperate and to understand we are better off working together and that we will be more vulnerable if we continue to pursue our own individual agenda.
“So let us use this opportunity with the instalment of our new Secretary General to recommit ourselves to the work of CARICOM and to advance the integration movement,” Browne said.
Dr. Barnett, replaces the Dominican-born diplomat, Irwin LaRocque, who served two five year terms at the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat and Prime Minister Browne thanked him for this “calm influence” while reminding the region that Dr. Barnett has had vast experience” and should be “hitting the ground running”.