I welcome you all to the Twentieth Special Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from gathering together at this time in person in a Regular Meeting of the Conference when we would have had a formal opening ceremony with special guests. I certainly hope that we will soon be able to have such a meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The last four months have been one of the most exceptional periods for us in the Caribbean Community. During that period, we have had to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fall-out arising from it and the electoral crisis in Guyana, the Headquarters of the Community. In addition, while most Member States continue to be denied access to concessional financing in our critical time of need, so-called friendly countries continue to blacklist some of us, thereby exacerbating an already difficult situation.
We have done fairly well to contain the virus. Protocols have been developed by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and the CARICOM Secretariat, both for managing the virus and re-opening our borders. These have served as guidance to our Member States in their efforts to overcome the challenges.
The Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, has been in the Chair during this exceptional time. Prime Minister, you have provided astute and decisive leadership to our Community, even as you grappled with the severe problems faced by your own country.
I convey my personal gratitude, and that of the Community, for your dynamic leadership over the period of your tenure. You were always available to provide guidance. It would be remiss of me not to convey deep appreciation for the support that you have provided to the Secretariat.
You have also persuasively argued the Region’s economic, financial and public health case, whether by written communication or your virtual presence at international events.
You have led us through an unprecedented number of meetings as the Conference of Heads of Government took charge in addressing this pandemic and its effects.
The Conference has held five formal meetings and several informal consultations, as well as meetings of the Bureau, between the Intersessional in February and today.
Also, during that period, Ministerial Councils met to deal with matters of Health, Food Security, Education, Information and Communications Technology, Regional Security, Trade and External Relations, all within the context of managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have been grappling with the on-going electoral crisis in Guyana, as we sought to maintain the reputation of the Community as a bastion of democracy.
Five Prime Ministers, one third of the leadership of the Caribbean Community visited Guyana, by invitation, to hold talks with the political leadership.
CARICOM’s involvement in the situation in Guyana has always been by invitation.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the independent CARICOM Observer Team to the recount of the Guyana General and Regional Elections, for their personal sacrifice to answer the call to service. The Team was in Guyana, by invitation, and willingly spent 46 days during the pandemic. I have every confidence in the work they have produced.
Our new Chair of the Conference, Dr. the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is admirably suited to lead the Community at what will continue to be an exceptionally difficult time ahead. Prime Minister Gonsalves is the longest serving Member of the Conference and will undoubtedly bring to bear all his experience, and considerable acumen, as he guides the Community over the next six months.
I look forward to working with you Mr Chairman, once again, as we have always worked well together. It is noteworthy that you are the only Prime Minister who has been in the Chair twice during my tenure.
I cannot close without acknowledging the excellent professional work of the staff of our Regional Institutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has enabled us to save lives and keep the infections at a manageable level. CARPHA, IMPACS, CDEMA, RSS, CDB, UWI, CARDI, the OECS Commission, the staff of the CARICOM Secretariat and many others have been working closely together in this effort.
Our Ministries of Health and Chief Medical Officers have also provided yeoman service.
I also have to recognise the significant contributions of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and more recently the African Union.
The CARICOM family came together in the face of threats to its well-being. It is what we do. Best practices were shared and sources of much needed medical supplies were shared.
All families have disagreements, but the ties that bind them are never broken. Families help those with challenges. Families rally around and protect each other from external danger, such as blacklisting and the threat to territorial integrity. That is not interference. That is the CARICOM family caring for each other.
It is that family spirit of togetherness and determination that will get us through this exceptional time.
I thank you