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I last visited Guyana at the behest of my colleague Heads, acting as their envoy, and charged with the responsibility for assisting with the resolution of the country’s political problems.

The circumstances are different this time around, and as I understand it, so is the political situation. I was honoured then, to be in Guyana, and remain grateful for the cooperation and goodwill with which that weighty mission was received. The success of its engagement in Guyana represents in my view, one of CARICOM’s crowning moments in regional diplomacy, and for this we must commend both President Jagdeo and Mr. Desmond Hoyte who accepted the wisdom of CARICOM’s involvement.

I am a returning envoy to another Caribbean home. Guyana was my home for the short period of my life at the CARICOM Secretariat, and has also been home for many Saint Lucians over the years. Waves of Saint Lucians migrated to Guyana in the 1950s and 1960s to work in the mining industry of Guyana. So much so, that Guyanese christened Saint Lucians as “palawallas”, because they found their kweyol language to be mystifying and confusing.

As on that earlier occasion when I visited as the envoy of CARICOM Heads, I am most honoured to be here today, this time more directly in the service of the people of Saint Lucia.


It is in that capacity, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I hope to focus your attention. The Caribbean Community is experiencing a most challenging phase in its collective history. We stand on the verge of transformation; a defining moment in our evolution into a Single Market and Economy. This transformation cannot be superficial, for what we are contemplating should constitute a most profound change of both our genus and our species. It cannot be a putting on of new skin over obsolete and unviable skeletons. It is an opportunity to evolve into a superior, more viable, more relevant institution, capable of thorough adaptation to the new environment we propose to inhabit.

We are perhaps all too familiar with that environment, and the challenges posed by the international context within which our Community is located. Indeed, we may be all too susceptible to the conventional responses expected of us, and somewhat less comfortable with the radical internal challenges that arise alongside our thrust to truly transform our Community. These are potentially more fundamental than the externalities with which we must inevitably treat, and I wish to offer some specific examples for your consideration.


Firstly, let me say that over the last few years I have become even more convinced that among the significant challenges facing the leadership of our Community is the task of building a regional constituency to whom we are truly accountable. It is a constant preoccupation to convince our people that our collective efforts and initiatives at the regional level are in their best interest; and by extension, how we motivate them to identify with, participate in, and defend those efforts and initiatives.

Colleagues, it is of the utmost importance that we see the people of our Region as partners in this endeavour upon which we are embarked.. It is equally important that they see themselves as partners in that process, equally empowered at each step in the process. We cannot afford a great and glaring “disconnect” between the Conference of Heads of Government and “the ground”; a chasm which can only impede our progress as a people in general, and as a Community in the process of becoming a Single Market and Economy.

The initiative of the Heads of Government to engage regional Civil Society in dialogue is a major accomplishment . However, if it is to be credible and legitimate, it must be accompanied by an enduring willingness to engender and embrace a regional constituency; to shorten the distance between the hallowed halls of regionalism and the fallow footpaths of popular aspiration. Th quest for enhanced relevance must therefore become an integral feature of our ambitions.

This is a new age characterised by new types of engagement between Government and Civil Society, and we must strive to enhance the Region’s political culture, while ensuring that the business of the Community is not the subject of partisan political agendas.

I suggest to you that the rate of progress, and the level of public acceptance of initiatives aimed at strengthening the Community – such as the Caribbean Court of Justice – would have been much advanced had the regional Civil Society been engaged earlier and more formally on this issue.


Speaking of the Caribbean Court of Justice, I do not think we can find a better barometer of the challenge we face as leaders of our Caribbean Community. I find it incomprehensible that any citizen of our Reg ion, valuing his independence, should still wish to see our highest court perpetually domiciled within the erstwhile colonial capital. We value our independence yet we cannot trust ourselves. It is amazing that we want taxpayers for the United Kingdom to continue to pay the cost of our judicial freedom. That there are still pockets of such thinking, represents for me, the greatest psychological irony of Caribbean independence.

Nevertheless, we cannot allow ourselves to be incapacitated by disappointment and bewilderment. We must continue to soldier on, strengthened by our belief in the righteousness of our cause, but always working to ensure that the people of the Region share in the articulation of our vision and participate in its realisation.


Colleagues, I am no less concerned about the worsening economic circumstances of the Member States of our Community. Of particular and special concern is the economic situation within the OECS which comprises full half of CARICOM’s membership. The last decade has been particularly difficult for the OECS Member States. Their economic fortunes have been declining, and the last fiscal year has been perhaps the worst that our respective governments have had to endure in recent history.

The inescapable realities of size, population and paucity of natural resources, constrain production options in limited domestic markets. These militate against the achievement of sustained growth and development. We have consistently maintained that any economic success registered in our economies has been the result of sound economic management of a nevertheless fragile resource base. We have also been consistent in our assertion that our economies are particularly vulnerable to external shocks; and have warned too, that systematic erosion of the EU/ACP regime for bananas would eventually lead to economic and social deterioration within our economies.

Today, the result stare us starkly in the face; not only on the streets of banana producing members, but in non-banana producing states as well. Surely, anyone who understands the dynamics of the regional economy will know that the difficulties currently being experienced in the OECS will be transmitted through the regional market to non-OECS members of CARICOM.

Sadly however, it does not appear that this view has gained much currency among some of the Region’s key economic institutions . Surely, the time has come for us to explore new and more appropriate mechanisms for addressing periodic bouts of economic crisis in our Community.


In this context, some administrations remain acutely sceptical about the benefits to be derived from WTO compliance as well as accession to the FTAA. We are asked whether the gains significantly outweigh the impending risks and inevitable costs. We are being asked to confirm whether our acquiescence is driven by political expediency or by a fundamental determination to fashion a new trading environment more conducive to growth and prosperity. In responding to these queries, do we ask our private sectors to go gently into that night, or to rail against the dark? What is the advice that we must extend to our private sectors?

We cannot shy away from a calculated look at our geo-political situation. Our Region has very few remaining friends. Bilateral partners are preoccupied with other matters such as bartering aid for democracy in Africa, or securing national borders and global turf against new waves of political and economic destabilisation . What message do we read when a financial institution, resident in the Region since the early eighteen hundreds, unceremoniously sells its entire portfolio? We may rightly wonder at the symbolism… a cold commercial transaction or an ordained divorce from the regional landscape?

Through there is a certain advantage in harmony. – ” singing from the same hymn book”, – as Sir Shridath Ramphal would say – many of our constituents still wonder whose song we are singing. They ask whether the lyrics are relevant to our development agenda. And while I will not pretend that narrow national politics should deter the greater regional good, I find an undeniable and instinctive rationality in our Caribbean people wanting to identify the conductors of this global symphony. While some of us are marching ahead purposefully and confidently towards the dawn of the FTAA, others are having serious doubts. We have some difficulty seeing the practical benefits that are to result from our participation. And Saint Lucia is saying that we cannot continue to follow in a wake of blind faith.

Our Community has learnt not to be apologetic or intimidated when pursuing our perceived interests in the arena of international economic negotiations. Before we proceed, Saint Lucia wants to understand what practical benefits the FTAA bears for us. There seems to have been an assumption that has matured over time, that we are fully behind the FTAA process, ready to sign on the dotted line. Let me caution that this assumption is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is no overstatement that our Community is at an important crossroads. Its future direction depends on the quality of our work over the next few days and months.

It seems to me though, that the time has come to consider fundamental reforms to the programme of work at our Meetings of Conference. Heads of Government should not be faced with constantly receiving reports, Conference after Conference. Perhaps the practice which we have pursued on occasions, of having the Heads deliberate on key issues in caucus, and allowing the Ministers and officials to receive and review non-critical agenda items, should be deepened and expanded. Our experience has shown that it is far easier to obtain consensus on burning issues when the Heads meet in the atmosphere of frankness and security provided by the Caucus. I wish to suggest therefore, that the Caucus of Heads be extended and that the plenary be managed by Ministers and officials.

The Conference should be preoccupied with real and living issues facing our Community. For example, there is every reason at this time to focus our agenda on the economic crisis sweeping the Region. This is an occasion to reassure our people, to deepen and strengthen our relationships with our social partners, and to offer practical advice that will shape our economic revival.

I particularly look forward to the presentations to be made by fellow Heads, the President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and the Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). Esteemed gentlemen it cannot and must not be business as usual. And, I pray that new courage and enlightenment will characterise our discussion thereafter.

I thank you, and as always, trust in your good faith and collective wisdom.

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