STATEMENT BY HON. FREDERICK A. MITCHELL, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND THE PUBLIC SERVICE, COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS, AND OUT-GOING CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL FOR FOREIGN AND COMMUNITY RELATION (COFCOR), AT THE NINTH MEETING OF THE COFCOR, 24 APRIL 2006, ST GEORGE’S, GRENADA
Posted in: Statements from CARICOM Meetings | 24 April 2006 | Release Ref #: 68/2006 | 1060
Mr. Chairman, the Honourable Elvin Nimrod, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Grenada
Rev. Osbert James
Secretary General of the Caribbean Community
Excellencies and other Government representatives
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honoured to address you today as the Outgoing Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR). I am pleased to be in Grenada. I wish to thank Minister Elvin Nimrod and the Government of Grenada for the excellent hospitality and arrangements which they have put in place for me and my delegation. I want to also congratulate the Government and people of Grenada for the remarkable recovery which they have made after the two devastating hurricanes hit this country over the past two years ago. The signs of progress and recovery and enterprise are everywhere, and I will take this welcome news back to my country that Grenada is back.
The Bahamas assumed the Chair of COFCOR on 1 June 2005, just days before the Thirty-fifth meeting of the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States held last June in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It was our country’s honour to host that meeting in Freeport, our second city that itself was just recovering from a hurricane. It has been an eventful year.
Some Ministers might recall that when the came to The Bahamas last year, they landed right in the middle of a bruising domestic public debate about The Bahamas and its relationship with CARICOM and whether we ought to become part of the Single Market and Economy. The issue has now been decided with the Agreement that The Bahamas signed in February at the Inter Sessional Meeting of Heads of Government which allowed the provisions of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to enter into force, but with The Bahamas continuing only in the political and specialised Organs of the Community and not the Single Market and Economy arrangements. Please accept our thanks to all member Governments for their understanding on this issue as it relates to The Bahamas. Please also know that The Bahamas remains committed to regional cooperation. Congratulations are in order all around for the remarkable accomplishment of the launching of the Single Market on 1st January of this year.
As we look back over the year, we can all be proud of the accomplishments of this body for, and on behalf of our respective peoples. Our role as the principal advisors to our Heads of Government has helped to chart our nations through some difficult times. The sign of our success is that there is peace and stability in all of our societies. There has also been economic progress despite the setbacks brought on by natural disasters. We all remain at peace with our neighbours, and where the national borders of our members were threatened by anachronistic and contrived claims, we have stood up for our members, and reaffirmed their right to existing borders. We must not remain complacent.
The recent assassination of the Minister of Agriculture of Guyana shows how watchful we must be to guard against the forces of darkness that also threaten to disrupt the public order and the rule of law. Our collective sympathies and those of the Government and people of The Bahamas go out to the Government and people of Guyana and especially to our colleague Minister Rudy Insanally.
Haiti is about to take its seat once more in the Councils of CARICOM. This is a pleasing development, following the difficulties that ensued following the departure of the then President of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. As the Chair of COFCOR, I led a delegation along with the representatives of the CARICOM Secretariat to the United Nations in March where we met with President-elect Rene Preval.
During the next year, one our greatest challenges will be ensuring that all is done to reincorporate Haiti properly within our Councils. My own feeling is that an early mission by Foreign Ministers to Haiti should be sought and that we ought to seek the sanction of Heads to do so with dispatch.
It was also my honour to have assisted in maintaining and enhancing of the quality of the continuing conversation with so many of our friends and allies. Our relationship with the United States, the closest developed neighbour to the region improved over the past year. There were three meetings with the U.S. Secretary of State, most recently a dedicated meeting in Nassau in March. Trade Ministers have now met the Trade Representative of the United States. It is left now to follow up on those meetings.
One of the meetings that I believe should be held is a meeting of National Security Ministers with the Homeland Security Chief of the United States. My own view is these contacts with the U.S. Government should be regular, sustained and frequent so that the quality and nature of the conversations become easier. The optics of this for many our peoples are important.
We should not however neglect our other friends whether they are in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia and most importantly in Africa. In fact, my view is that as Minister Nimrod plots our course over the next year, I have no doubt that there will be a continued deepening of the relationships with all of our friends.
Of special importance is the proposed Conference on the Future of the Caribbean to be held in Washington in June 2007. The Conference on the Future of the Caribbean would provide Caribbean stakeholders with an opportunity to project a vision of what they would like the Caribbean to be like at mid-Twenty First Century, and the type of strategic thinking and planning that is necessary for the Caribbean to attain its objectives. This will be an opportunity to review with the U.S. Government, our own Governments, civil society from the U.S. and the Region, the academics and the Diaspora where our Region is headed as we look toward 2020. It is a discussion that has already begun with Europe. It is a discussion that should help us define first and foremost for ourselves who we are and where we are going.
It is a momentous and defining time for the Region. I have no doubt that if we use the intellectual capital of all our peoples that not only will we survive in this new order, but that we will prosper in it.
I wish to add words of welcome to our newest colleague but some one who we know well Tony Hylton, the Minster of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica. We said our farewells in Nassau to our friend and colleague K. D. Knight. I wish also to express my personal thanks and that of the Government of The Bahamas to the Most Honourable P.J. Patterson who demitted office last month as the Prime Minister of Jamaica and to say congratulations to the new Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller.
We as a Region have accomplished much in the past year. We cannot however live in the glories of the past but must now forge ahead with commitment and dynamism to face head on, the challenges which beset us as a Region.
I wish to congratulate our In-Coming Chairman and pledge my unswerving support to him as he undertakes the daunting task of guiding this Council forward in affairs of international import. As Billie Miller said to me last year, “Fred, it’s over to you.” Elvin, it’s over to you! I wish to say to Grenadians that this Chairmanship is a great honour and a sure sign that you are back and on the way. I also thank the Secretary-General and the staff at the CARICOM Secretariat for their tireless effort and guidance.
I thank you.