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Opening Remarks By Mr. Edwin Carrington, Secretary-general, Caribbean Community, At The Opening Ceremony Of The 21st Meeting Of The Conference Of Heads Of Government Of The Caribbean Community, 2 July 2000,  Canouan, St. Vincent And The Grenadines

The Deputy Governor- General of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, His Excellency Mr. Denniston Bobb and Mrs. Bobb
The Rt. Hon. Sir James Mitchell, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Chairman of the Caribbean Community
Their Excellencies the Presidents of Guyana, Suriname and Haiti
The Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and Outgoing Chairman of the Caribbean Community
Other Distinguished Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community
Hon. Ministers of the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and of other CARICOM States, and of Cuba
Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, Leader of the Opposition of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
His Excellency Donald Mc Kinnon, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth
His Excellency Dr. Cesar Gaviria, Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States
Sir Neville Nicholls, President of the Caribbean Development Bank
Sir Shridath Ramphal, Chief Negotiator, Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery
Prof Rex Nettleford, Vice -Chancellor of the University of the West Indies
Mr. Dwight Venner, Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank
Other Distinguished Guests
Distinguished Delegates
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed a great honour and privilege to welcome you to this Opening Ceremony of the 21st Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

This is the first occasion on which the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community are meeting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a Regular Session of the Conference. I therefore sincerely thank the Government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for hosting this Meeting, and particularly for doing so on what I am sure is the smallest island on which the Heads of Government have so far met. This fact serves to emphasise that no island is too small, indeed, no people too few, or no person too young, to make a significant contribution to the building of the peoples' enterprise that is the Caribbean Community. Beautiful Canouan, with its 5.25 square miles and approximately 1000 inhabitants will from this day be a living testimony to this fact.

Undoubtedly, over the next few days, Canouan will afford Heads of Government a most tranquil and ideal environment in which to deliberate on the many weighty issues before them, and to forge the meeting of minds required for arriving at wise and prudent decisions.

Distinguished Heads of Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, the fact that we can meet here in such an environment is due principally to the efforts of one among us – our Chairman, the Rt. Hon. Sir James Fitz-Allen Mitchell, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. As the Parliamentary Representative for this Region for over thirty years , the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister has, through his herculean efforts, transformed this small and virtually uninhabited island into the slice of Paradise which it is today. By all reports, he has virtually made this a habit, especially for the islands of the Northern Grenadines.

Mr. Chairman, I have read your 20th Anniversary of Independence Address, of 27 October 1999, and could not help being impressed by the many achievements of your country under your leadership over the last two decades.

Your devotion and contribution to the Region also warrant very special mention. I believe I am right in asserting that you are the only serving Head of Government whose signature is affixed to the Treaty of Chaguaramas which was occasioned when your country acceded to the Treaty in 1974. Furthermore, your service to the Region did not begin with CARICOM, but stretched way back into CARIFTA. Today, more than a quarter of a century later and for the second time, you are the Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community as well as its spokesman on a most important and delicate subject – Bananas.

We of the Community can also attest to your commitment to the process of good Governance, whether it be at home, in the Region or beyond. We all recall your participation in your own Grand Beach Accord, in missions to St. Kitts and Nevis and to Haiti, and further afield in a Commonwealth mission to The Gambia, to assist in resolving internal issues that had arisen in the countries concerned. Your record of contribution at home, in the Region and further afield, would be difficult to surpass.

But Mr. Chairman, recently you have been hinting that after more than three decades in politics, you have been giving some thought to slowing down. It would be hard for many of us to visualise St. Vincent and the Grenadines without your tall and dynamic figure appearing somewhere in the foreground telling us, your voice tinged with boyish excitement and anticipation, of some new project you have in mind.

Whenever you choose to move on, we hope that the achievements of this Meeting of the Heads of Government Conference here in Canouan under your Chairmanship, would have been a fitting tribute to your long and valuable service to the grand design that is the Caribbean Community.

Distinguished Heads of Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Caribbean integration process is today on the verge of another critical phase of its development. Starting from a mere free trade area in 1968, and moving to a Community and Common Market in 1973, it is now poised to make another quantum leap as it establishes the Single Market and Economy.

While the day-to-day slippages in implementing elements of this process may be frustrating, over the broad sweep of its history, one cannot ignore the fact that such progress in just three decades by 14 Member States with differing political and economic realities, geographically spreading from Central America across the entire Caribbean archipelago into South America, does not come easily. Nor, as we advance to 15 Member States with the entry of Haiti, will progress be any easier in the future. Throughout it all, however, the Caribbean peoples' undaunted hope for, and their unwavering commitment to the building of a viable Caribbean economic, social, and cultural Community has kept the torch of regional integration alight. It is that hope and that commitment to joint action and closer integration that will enable the Region to withstand the vicissitudes and to seize the opportunities of the new globalised world, and to lead our countries to the early implementation of the new arrangements necessary to make truly effective our Single Market and Economy.

It is with that conviction – without prejudice to the importance attaching to the many critical issues on our Agenda – that I content myself by concluding with the following comment on what to me is, above all else, the determining issue. Given the degree and depth of cooperation that this next stage of the integration process demands of the entire Caribbean society, its timely and effective achievement calls for a more active and comprehensive involvement of the peoples of the Region.

To this end, a number of initiatives have already been agreed on and indeed, some have even been implemented. Most notable among these is the Charter of Civil Society which Heads of Government adopted at their Eighth Inter-Sessional Meeting in Antigua and Barbuda in February 1997, and under which they committed the Region to the creation of a society characterised by the highest standards of inclusiveness and participation. The recent Cricket Conference and its follow-up and the proposed “Forward Together Encounter with Civil Society” early in 2001 are vital initiatives in this regard. In a historic vein, we can also recall the important Regional Economic Conference of 1992; the Tourism Summit in 1994 and the Regional Youth Encounter in commemoration of our Community's Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, in 1998.

The principle is therefore not alien to the process so far. However, in a Region characterised by an enviable democratic tradition, this commitment to a more broad-based process calls for greater effective capacity for its implementation. Total reliance on a few regional journalists is not an adequate means of involving regional populations, or even of keeping them informed of developments within the Community. A comprehensive programme of public consultation, nationally and regionally, made possible through the provision of adequate resources principally by the Community and its Member States, is vital to the process of bringing all sectors of the regional civil society fully into the process.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Heads of Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, it would be a great testimony to the spirit of Canouan, namely, that “a little can go a long way” if, when we rise on Wednesday, we can say that we have made a great stride in ensuring that all are involved , and thus, in securing the future of the peoples of the Community. That, Mr. Chairman, would be the most fitting tribute to you, and to the valiant people of Canouan and the rest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

I thank you.

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