The Honourable Baldwin Spencer
Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
Incoming Chairman of the Conference of Heads
of Government of the Caribbean Community
Twenty-Ninth Regular Meeting
Conference of Heads of Government
of the Caribbean Community
Sandals Grande Resort, Dickenson Bay, Antigua
July 1, 2008
- Your Excellency, Dame Louise Lake-Tack Governor-General of Antigua and Barbuda
- Distinguished Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community
- Distinguished Secretary General of the Organisation of American States
- Distinguished Secretary General of CARICOM
- Distinguished Secretary General of the Commonwealth
- Ministers of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda
- Ministers of other CARICOM Governments
- Madame President and Members of the Senate
- Madame Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives
- Honourable Members of the Judiciary
- Distinguished Delegations from CARICOM member states; and from regional and international organisations
- Reverend Members of the Clergy
- Esteemed Honourees of the Order of the Caribbean Community and CARICOM Triennial Award for Women
- Members of the Diplomatic Corps
- Specially Invited Guests
- Members of the Media
- Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my great honour and very special pleasure to welcome you to this Twenty-Ninth Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.
On behalf of the people and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, I extend a very warm welcome and a heartfelt promise of abundant hospitality to visiting participants at this Summit.
I would like to say a special welcome to our Awardees for the Order of the Caribbean Community and the CARICOM Triennial Award for Women.
I salute you, who have given so much to our region.
It is fitting that we honour you and assert that your efforts have uplifted and enriched the Caribbean as a whole.
As we honour the OCC Awardees today, I want to make bold and suggest two persons who, in my view, are eminently deserving of the Order of the Caribbean Community.
I speak of the Right Hon. Percival J. Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica; and the former President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Dr. Fidel Castro-Ruz.
Both these leaders have made great contributions to the cause of Caribbean development and their recognition will light the path for others to follow.
Former Prime Minister Patterson was readily forthcoming with generous assistance when I came into Prime Ministerial Office in the last week of March 2004.
I immediately came into the Chair of the Conference of Heads of the Caribbean Community.
I had the daunting task of organising a new administration.
Further, my administration faced a constitutional mandate requiring my government to present country’s annual budget within seven days of my appointment as Prime Minister.
Simultaneously, I was confronted with the international crisis that surrounded the controversial removal from Haiti of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In that conjuncture of circumstances, I asked Prime Minister Patterson to continue in the CARICOM chair far beyond his term; which had already been extended to accommodate Antigua and Barbuda’s General Election period.
PJ Patterson’s resolute and effective leadership of the regional agenda in that Haitian crisis distinguished him as a global statesman of the highest order.
I also believe that our Community should say special thanks to His Excellency Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz and grant him the richly deserved recognition.
His personal and his country’s contribution to the development of this Region and to its human resources in particular, is surely deserving of the highest commendation by this Community and a fitting award.
Ladies and Gentlemen and People of the Caribbean Community:
With your indulgence, I wish to present a brief appreciation from Antigua and Barbuda to one of this evening’s esteemed honourees:
Brian Lara played his first record test innings, 375 runs, at the Antigua Recreation Ground in April, 1994.
He then returned to the ARG ten years later, in April, 2004, to establish the world record of 400 runs in an individual innings in Test cricket; again against England.
In the process, Brian established a symbiosis that ensured an enduring place in cricketing history for the Antigua Recreation Ground.
The reverse is also true, the ARG has ensured an enduring place in the pantheon of cricketing legends for Brian Lara.
Brian’s retirement from Test Cricket in the same series in which the ARG went into retirement, strengthens the symbiosis between this most prolific batsman and Antigua and Barbuda.
The ARG has been replaced by the venue we constructed for the Cricket World Cup, and which we have named after another cricketing legend, Sir Vivian Richards.
The ARG has been replaced.
Brian Lara will never be replaced.
Nor, for that matter, will ‘Sir Viv’.
We celebrate Brian’s impending induction into another exclusive Hall of Heroes, the Order of the Caribbean Community.
Congratulations, and thanks, Brian.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Had the West Indies won Sunday’s One Day International against Australia, the mood at dinner tables and watering holes across the region might have been a lot livelier this week.
Notwithstanding our team’s occasional lapses into brilliant play, there is diminishing conviction when people contemplate a resurgence of West Indies cricket.
Against the run of play in West Indies cricket, the region’s performance was quite impressive in staging the Cricket World Cup last year.
CARICOM governments played a central role in developing necessary infrastructure; and in otherwise ensuring that the Cricket World Cup was staged in the region; and staged successfully, and profitably.
The intervention of CARICOM governments was welcome, pivotal and productive.
Briefly, our region became a genuinely common space; with integrated laws and systems, and very significantly, with common attitudes to trans-border movement within that space.
On reflection, it seems a perversity that sequential to its involvement in and contribution in the World Cup venture, CARICOM has not been leading a coordinated stakeholder team in an intense and all embracing special project for the revitalisation of West Indies cricket.
I submit that such an initiative should be seen as a critical imperative for swift implementation.
In addition to its capacity to create a shared regional identity and ignite a common passion among the peoples of the region, West Indies cricket has the potential to contribute meaningfully to the region’s economies.
CARICOM has earned the right to take the driver’s seat on the road to the revitalisation of West Indies cricket.
I urge colleagues to seriously and urgently consider such an intervention.
Now, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Yesterday, on the eve of this meeting of heads of the Community, radio hosts were inviting the views of callers on the relevance of CARICOM.
Indeed, reference was made to the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ recent and colourful description of CARICOM as, in essence, a ramshackle institution.
As harsh as Prime Minister Gonsalves’ judgment might appear to be, we ignore his call for an overhaul of CARICOM at our peril.
There is manifest need for deep introspection on the issue of reengineering CARICOM.
Within this framework, we must move immediately to engage the Bureau of Heads in the vital function of driving the implementation of key decisions between regular Meetings and Inter-Sessionals.
This should be one of the targeted outcomes of this meeting.
Related to this, there exists an endemic communications gap that CARICOM needs to bridge very urgently.
We must, as a principal priority, elevate mass communications with the Caribbean people to the top of the CARICOM agenda.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
This CARICOM Summit is taking place at a time of great challenge for our region; and for the planet.
Here in the Caribbean, member countries are under growing pressure from escalating energy prices; rising food prices and increasing prices on virtually all products; rampant crime and violence; the devastating effects of climate change; the ravages of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and AIDS; and the horrors of drug use; drug trafficking; and human trafficking.
Now more than ever CARICOM is required to act as one. There is no doubt that the external world treats us as one.
No country, big or small, has the capacity to solve problems such as drug-trafficking, climate change or escalating food prices on its own.
We must act as one in the interest of the people of this region.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Tomorrow’s session of this meeting will focus on tourism, a common factor to Caribbean countries; the key contributor to our region’s economies; and an industry under serious threat.
Of particular interest to this Summit, Caribbean economies are now facing a 17 percent cutback in airline services from our tourism supply centres in the lower United States; together with increases in airfares and new airline charges.
This makes for bleak perspectives for the region’s tourism driven economies.
The courageous offer by LIAT to fill the void created by the reduction in airlift by US air carriers is commendable; it is not, however, a viable proposition.
International airlift is a present and critical problem.
So, too, with regional sea and air transport for tourism and trade; and personal and business travel.
This demands urgent action.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are just a stone’s throw away from the historic Dickenson Bay, where the initial steps in the formation of CARICOM were taken forty-three years ago, with the Agreement establishing the Caribbean Free Trade Association, CARIFTA.
Not far from this spot, Antigua’s V.C. Bird, Guyana’s Forbes Burnham and Barbados’ Errol Barrow signed the Dickenson Bay Agreement.
The mid sixties were not the best of times for the regional integration movement.
The ten member West Indies Federation had collapsed in 1962 after Jamaica voted by referendum to pull out rather than pay federal tax.
This prompted the memorable equation from the then Trinidad and Tobago Premier, Dr. Eric Williams, that one from ten left nought.
Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago lost no time in moving on to Independence.
The remaining eight territories attempted to hold it together for a while with a new federal structure, but the effort of the ‘Little 8’ was abandoned in 1965, and Barbados proceeded to independence the following year as did Guyana.
Fortunately, for all of us, for the region, and for world history, the Caribbean then, as now, was blessed with visionary leaders who believed in the dream of West Indian unity beyond the boundaries of cricket.
The vision and boldness of Antigua’s V.C. Bird, Guyana’s Forbes Burnham and Barbados’ Errol Barrow led to the establishment of CARIFTA in 1968, with Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago the founding members.
CARIFTA evolved into the Caribbean Community, which was established by the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which was signed on July 4th 1973.
By July 1974 all the member states of CARIFTA had signed the Treaty to become full members of CARICOM.
At the completion of CARICOM’s first thirty five years, we can count many blessings.
CARICOM has delivered distinct benefits to the Caribbean people.
If CARICOM did not exist we would have had to invent it.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Here at this historic meeting, we celebrate the vision of the leaders before us, who gathered in Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago and took that fateful step thirty-five years ago that set us on the path to regional integration and development.
Over the past thirty-five years, CARICOM has become a global factor fully engaged in the multilateral forum, in our hemisphere and elsewhere.
CARICOM has also established a Single Market, and is on the brink of creating a Single Economy.
To this, CARICOM needs to add a modern, open and democratic regional governance structure that brings coherence and efficiency to the administrations of the member states.
It is my intention to return to Dickenson Bay with my colleague Heads during our meeting to reflect on CARICOM priorities, including immediate challenges as well the medium-term and long-term strategies.
At the end of our deliberations, I am confident that a Declaration of Dickenson Bay will proclaim to the Caribbean people and to the world, a renewed commitment to regional integration, with new emphases.
Many of the priorities we will set for CARICOM at this meeting are relevant for our interaction as a Region with the international community.
Priorities for regional cooperation in CARICOM include cementing the CSME framework and the launch of the CARICOM Development Fund.
This Fund is a vital instrument that can propel CARICOM economic development into the future.
There is no greater responsibility and challenge facing CARICOM now than that of responding to the regional crime and security crisis.
Across the Caribbean, a wave of violent crime has threatened our states’ ability to secure our citizens.
This is a threat that can only be dealt with effectively by regional action, and I wish to commend Prime Minister Patrick Manning for the important work he is doing in forging CARICOM’s unified response to this critical issue.
All our other efforts at economic development will succeed or flounder depending on how well we deal with the crime and security threats in our region.
I am persuaded that CARICOM needs to address the crime and security issues frontally as one, and devise bold and innovative solutions.
Initiatives such as the CARICOM Maritime and Airspace Security Cooperation Agreement and the CARICOM Arrest Warrant Treaty are innovative and effective tools to deal with the threat of crime and security, and I urge that we do even more.
Our meeting will be addressing the rise in energy costs by searching for alternative energy solutions; by achieving food security; by mitigation of rising food prices; and by promoting renewed focus on regional tourism in the context of current international trends.
We intend to send a strong message about climate change and our common will to tackle this challenge.
We will also address globalization and competitiveness issues.
Globalization is the single most important key-concept that marks the past decade, and its effects are all around us.
A key indicator of the kind of globalized world we live in is the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement Agreement (EPA).
There is rising concern about the benefits that will flow our way from the EPA.
My colleagues and I will give careful reflection to these concerns and will weigh them against the duty-free, quota-free access that the EPA promises.
In addition, the creation of a free and fair multilateral trading system continues to elude the international community.
In our own hemisphere, the lack of real progress in defining the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas is tied to the unresolved issues at the World Trade Organization.
As we grapple with these complex and urgent issues over the next three days, I am convinced that this Twenty-ninth Regular Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government can be a key building stone to that purpose.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Though it is not highlighted on the regional media agenda, CARICOM member states continue to be stripped of invaluable assets with the flight of an estimated majority our region’s university graduates to organisations and institutions in other countries.
This massive and unabated brain drain shows no sign of subsiding and is serious cause for concern at the level of the Heads of the Community.
The departure of our brightest and our best to greener foreign pastures impoverishes a region which cherishes our people as our most valuable resource.
We have to devise ways for keeping our graduates in the region, and for attracting those now working abroad to return to lead a transformation of our region to developed country standards and status.
However, against this gloomy backdrop, let us look at the bright side.
CARICOM countries continue to be beacons of democracy, peace and freedom to the rest of the world.
This comes sharply into focus as the world watches the ongoing tragedy of Zimbabwe.
The CARICOM experience stands in stark contrast to the current Zimbabwean scenario.
Over the last few years, the peoples of the region, in free and fair elections, which were free from fear, have changed their governments in a majority of our member countries.
In every such instance, there has been acceptance of the will of the electorate and every transition has been swift and smooth.
Elections in CARICOM countries will continue to be free and fair, free from fear, and held on time; with smooth, orderly transitions between outgoing and incoming governments.
A General Election will take place in Grenada next week.
There is every reason for us to be fully confident that the outcome of that election will faithfully reflect the will of the Grenadian electorate; and that there will be abiding peace on the Spice Island during and after the election season.
Elections in Antigua and Barbuda are constitutionally due in the first half of 2009.
With all assembled here as my witnesses, I guarantee that Antigua and Barbuda’s General Election will be a model in fairness no matter how vigorous the contest.
Indeed, I take this opportunity to now advise CARICOM and the Organisation of American States and the Commonwealth Secretariat to expect early invitations from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for observer teams to be ready to be early on the ground to monitor the preparations for our elections, as well as for the conduct of our elections.
As chairman of the Group 77 and China, I have been enlightened on the extent of respect CARICOM’s presence and contributions enjoy in the international Community.
CARICOM countries will continue to earn the respect of the world for our model democracies.
As more countries of the Community move to more open and more transparent conduct of the people’s business, our region, as a whole, will earn global respect for our standards of governance.
Still, we must hearken to Prime Minister Gonsalves’ cry for the heart, we must streamline operations, we must move CARICOM to the next level.
Colleague Heads of Government, distinguished delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I pray God’s guidance in our deliberations over the next three days.
May God bless all our nations.