Belize City - 12 March, 2009
Heads of State and Government of CARICOM
Secretary General of CARICOM, Dr. Edwin Carrington
My Lord, Chief Justice of Belize
Ministers of Government and Members of the National Assembly of Belize
Heads of International and Regional Organizations
Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps
Other Specially invited guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On behalf of the government and people of Belize, I welcome CARICOM’s distinguished Heads and all other esteemed visitors to Belize. It is an honour and pleasure to receive you in this Central American nation in the heart of the Caribbean Basin.
The holding of this meeting here, at the western end of the CARICOM arc, is of special significance. At a time when thinking big is a necessity, it helps to accentuate the scope and reach of our Community. It helps to underscore the ambition of our grand enterprise. But it also helps to dramatize the problems inherent in taming what can sometimes seem like this wild beast of Caribbean integration. The fact that for so many of the participants four days travel time is required to get to and from this two day meeting, is emblematic of some of the challenges facing our Community. The laws of geography are immutable and we will continue to be separated by considerable distances. The viable movement of goods and people requires cheap and reliable transportation, and at the moment neither is seriously available for countries at the respective far points on the regional chain. It is one of our dilemmas; and the most cursory glance at our agenda will serve to confirm the myriad others also symptomatic of the great task at hand.
Of course the regular – if the use of that word is not a grotesquerie in the circumstances – the regular stresses and strains attendant upon an undertaking such as ours, have been much exacerbated by recent events. The signing of the EPA has been, to put it mildly, controversial. And implementation is already throwing up its own obstacles. Now, it is in our nature, as Caribbean democrats, to question and criticize. Even when the merits of an issue appear to be self-evident and I am not saying that was the case with the EPA – but even there is underlying consensus, naysayers have been encouraged. With Thomas Jefferson we have always felt that doubters should stand undisturbed, even if only as monuments to the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. But with respect to the EPA, where many aspects are time-bound, revisionism and second guessing are, I believe we all now accept, overrated commodities.
Then, hovering above us like an incubus [one that oppresses or burdens like a nightmare], there is the current global, economic and financial crisis. To posit [assume or affirm] that it should act as a spur [a goad to action; stimulus] rather than a deterrent [to discourage, or prevent from acting] to consolidation of our CARICOM destiny is one thing. To actually manage our processes in such a way as to make the word flesh, is quite another.
When we do our stock taking here in Belize then, there will be much to ponder. And at the heart of our deliberations must be a reminder of what integration is designed to achieve. According to the Preamble to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, it is “…. the need to promote in the Community the highest level of efficiency in the production of goods and services especially with a view to liberalize foreign exchange earnings on the basis of international competitiveness, attaining food security, achieving structural diversification and improving the standard of living of peoples…..”
But these days our core objective seems to need constant revalidation. The creation of a single integrated economic space requires not only common approaches and common policies, but common bureaucratic and administrative procedures. And, inevitably, in the process of adjustment to increasing global competitiveness of the whole, the relative importance and performance of individual member states will change. The politician has not yet been born that will easily embrace the prospect of relative shifts that are disadvantageous to his people. Yet, it is a fiction to believe that it is possible for each country in our movement to develop at an equal pace with others. The conundrum [an intricate and difficult problem] of how to square the circle remains.
Both as Chairman and as Lead Head for Justice and Governance, the CCJ is another matter I feel I must raise in these opening remarks. It represents a key element of the Community’s governance process, but so far only two countries use it as their final court of appeal in civil and criminal matters. The significance of our apparent unwillingness to replace the Privy Council with our own first class jurists, is not lost on our populations. It can’t help but contribute to cynicism about the seriousness of our commitment to Caribbean identity. I can hardly say this just to be a scold, since Belize is, in this matter, a guilty party. I introduce the subject, rather, in order to employ precept and example. I commend the merit of the court as a critical lynchpin of our movement; and I also undertake to propose shortly here at home the constitutional amendment that would allow Belize to sign on to the appellate jurisdiction.
For us here in this country, there is also the issue of the duality of our special circumstances, the question of how to reconcile the push and pull of our twin Central American and Caribbean realities. We are accustomed to the glib comfort of saying that we are the bridge between the two sub regions. But far more thought needs to be given these days to how Belize’s increasing ties with the mainland can serve not just symbolically, but practically to encourage wider regional integration. It is in this context that I am especially pleased to confirm that we will be joined in the course of our deliberations by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, current Chair of the Central American Integration System.
Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen: to sketch the problems that continue to face us is not to discount the progress already made. In addition to the continued free movement of goods, there is now the free movement of capital and of services in our Community. The year 2008 also saw the establishment of two other key elements of the CSME: the Competition Commission and the CARICOM Development Fund. Also, the categories of free movement of skills have been enlarged to comprise now university graduates, media workers, nurses, non-graduate teachers and artisans.
We reflect on this. We recollect that the Europeans took over 30 years to complete their integration work. We recall the ingrained culture of fragmentation we have to overcome. And we therefore take some satisfaction from having reached this far. Too much, though, remains to be done for us to be long detained by self congratulation. The philosophical and practical difficulties loom large; and the trick now is to consolidate the gains of the Single Market while picking our way carefully forward to the establishment of the Single Economy.
No one will doubt that this is a proposition more easily stated than achieved. Indeed, regional chatter has of late become especially gloomy, journalistic predictions especially dire. The notion has even been advanced that Belize’s magnificent Barrier Reef may well prove to be the symbolic shoals on which CARICOM runs aground. But reports of our death are an exaggeration. Instead let the restorative powers of this land, the elixir of its ancient civilization, work their magic. We must come away from this meeting with the renewal of energies and the reaffirmation of purpose that our CARICOM citizens both demand and deserve.
In concluding, I thank the organizers and planners of this meeting, the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and my own CEO. Again, I am delighted that all of you are here in Belize, where we have on offer our famous trifecta [a variation of the perfecta in which a bettor wins by selecting the first three finishers of a race in the correct order of finish]: beautiful cayes and teeming reefs; lush tropical rainforest; and breathtaking Maya structures. Make yourselves at home, and enjoy.
Thank you!