BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — People of the Caribbean Community, it is with a sense of immense pleasure, pride, and humility that I greet you at the start of the new year, as the new chairman of CARICOM. Across our region, 2019 has brought more than its fair share of challenges, and indeed many of them, including the very daunting prospects of the climate crisis, are certain to follow us into this New Year.
But as we enter 2020, with no thought of defeat, we do so conscious that long before terms such as resilience and sustainable development were fashionable, we saw ourselves and we knew that we are a resilient people who for centuries have battled adversity of every kind, and we have always prevailed.
Our very history has been one of struggle but one of success.
It is against this backdrop that we can take a fresh look at the path we would wish to set for ourselves and our children, using a term that is no doubt familiar to us all.
It is my sincere wish that our approach to the advancement of our people in every country of the Caribbean Community would be characterized by a level of clarity that is usually associated with 2020 vision.
For generations, the actions and the experiences of ordinary men and ordinary women of the Caribbean have left no doubt that they have always known what they have wanted for the inhabitants of these islands.
And we are no different today. In fact, many of us have demonstrated what true integration really means, in spite of the obstacles of bureaucracy that we sometimes confront in our leadership class as we go about our ordinary business.
But at the same time, we recognise that the regional integration movement is very much a relay race. Sometimes we are hard on ourselves, expecting to achieve overnight, that which requires patience and careful nurturing over generations.
Our vision to better the lot of our people has remained constant from the very early days of the Montego Bay Conference in 1947 on Closer Association of the British West Indian Colonies, to the West Indian Fédération of 1958 to 1962 most ably led by the founder of my own political party, the Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams.
From the establishment of CARIFTA on December 15, 1965 – ten weeks after I was born at Dickenson Bay in Antigua, to its transformation into the Caribbean Community, the institution we now know, the document signed on July 4, but coming into force on Emancipation Day, August 1, 1973, at Chaguaramas in Trinidad, or to the 1989 Grand Anse Declaration in Grenada that signaled our determination to remove the disadvantages of size and geography from our national development through the commitment to establish the Single Market and Single Economy.
Our process has therefore been one that has moved from generation to generation of committed Caribbean people, to the building of a regional integration movement that will allow us always to work to provide the best lives possible for our people.
Lest we be influenced by those who would only see a half-empty glass, rather than one that is half full, may I remind us all that the European integration movement started on April 16, 1948, so as we enter the third decade of the 21st century they too are still working to perfect that union, despite having far more resources than we have ever had in the Caribbean.
I pray, therefore, that 2020 will strengthen us to run our leg of this regional integration relay race with confidence. I pray that as leaders of the Caribbean Community we will work to give our people renewed confidence and inspiration to help us run this leg while staying focused on achieving the next phase of critical progress.
And what is that next phase?
We are duty-bound to continue this journey across the Community whether as a collective of the whole or in two’s and three’s where we are gathered in a way that will:
- Remove the obstacles to passport-free movement between our nations;
- Make it easier for Caribbean people to go and work where there are opportunities in the Community in a way that is hassle-free in the same way that we have done it for the movement of capital. In keeping with our own Errol Barrow’s vision, the reality of our people must not only be a lived reality but also a legal reality. The Caribbean Community must lead the world in shaping an environment within which migrants among us can live and work with dignity. After all, our modern settlement in the Caribbean has been nothing but that of a community of migrants;
- Truly advance the process of a single domestic space for transport and communications in the region by working to provide more affordable and reliable air and sea links between our countries and also to establish a single domestic rate for telecommunications and phone calls within CARICOM;
- Work with the private sector and the labour movement to provide further opportunities beyond transport and communications mentioned above, to food security, to opportunities in the blue economy or renewable energy and ICT for our people – opportunities for investment and for employment;
- Enable us as we face the climate crisis, to pool the funds of the region in order to be able to finance our own development trajectory for sustainable development so that we may adapt to the new realities of the climate crisis. This will require us coming up with innovative instruments that will better allow us to access the capital that we are not now accessing at a global level. Let us remember that those who help themselves will always be helped by others but we must help ourselves first by pooling our own resources.
My message, in essence, is that 2020 can and must provide the platform for a positive spirit of hope and optimism and a fierce determination to come together as Caribbean people to purposefully carry forward the transformation of our region into a space that truly values, nurtures, and provides concrete opportunities for every Caribbean man, woman, and child to run our leg of this relay.
But our pathway toward a better life for our people will not open up the opportunities we seek if we focus only on ourselves and our region. While we look ahead, we must do so fully cognizant of the advances we are making in claiming our Atlantic destiny as a region as we reach out to our brothers and sisters on the African continent.
We have already started discussions at the highest levels on the African continent with people with whom many of us share a common ancestry and history and who, like us, recognize the imperative of mutual cooperation as we go into 2020.
CARICOM has accepted the offer of shared office space from the government of Kenya in Nairobi. We need to open it urgently and advance our interests in the city that is indeed the home of the UN Environmental Programme and UN-Habitat both of which deal with issues that are vital to our own development in the Caribbean Community.
Within the next six months, we will also work towards jointly hosting the first-ever African Union-CARICOM Summit. We need to resolve as a region that we will not leave that gathering without laying the foundation for tangible progress in areas of direct air and sea access across the Atlantic, greater trade in goods and services, and more cultural exchanges between our regions.
In closing, I commend to people across our region the initiative we have embraced in Barbados. We have designated 2020 as the year in which we will work together to perfect our finer vision for all Barbadians, regardless of where in the world we live. We can only become better as Caribbean people if we hold to the maxim — Dare to dream; always be determined to deliver.
But as we seek to use this year 2020 to perfect a finer vision for our island in Barbados, as we gather parish by parish, I want now to ask each of us as Caribbean people to do the same for where we want to go and who we want to be as Caribbean people for 2020 must be where we can perfect that fine vision.
All that is left for me to do is to wish you, each and everyone, a blessed 2020 and to a greater and more powerful Caribbean Community.