Conference of Heads of GovernmentMemberPress ReleasesSpeechesTrinidad and Tobago


Your excellency the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Your Excellency the Prime Minister of Spain
The Hon. Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and
Chairman of the Caribbean Community
Heads of Government
Secretary-General Carrington
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen:

This Twentieth regular Meeting of the Heads of Government of CARICOM finds us at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning, I am sure, of a new era that will witness the expansion and deepening of our regional organisation as it faces the formidable challenges and exciting opportunities of the twenty-first century.

At this meeting, we must not shy away from assessing our failures as well as our success with the utmost frankness and rigor. This will enable us to better design our strategies and equip member states to face the difficulties and capitalise on the opportunities of the emerging new world order.

Our deliberations over the next few days should therefore examine how CARICOM can assist member states in appropriately retooling themselves.

Many of us are having to face the fact that markets for our traditional agricultural products, which have always been insecure, may soon become untenable. We have to move beyond lamenting this reality and take concrete measures according to each country’s interests but moving together as one region, to redesign our economies and create new opportunities for our producers.

Caribbean people, in several countries across our region, have already demonstrated their willingness and capacity to adapt constructively and incisively to new market realities. The success of cultural and eco-tourism and of off shore and financial services in many of our countries eloquently illustrate this.

If there is a distinct and viable move towards these niche or specialised markets, whether in the services or agro-industrial sector, then our educational institutions must be responsive to these new realities.

The only way we can continue to carry out diversification programmes and ensure that our people benefit is through a major reform of our educational systems to provide relevant and quality education. The new technologies enable us, perhaps for the first time in our history, to attain this goal.

The UWI is one of CARICOM’s most successful institutions and has played a pivotal role in the development of our territories, producing many of our leaders and a highly skilled cadre of doctors, lawyers, managers and engineers. But now, poised on the edge of the new millennium,

the UWI has an even greater role to play in helping us to stay competitive.

Computers and the internet will be among our most basic tools in the twenty-first century, and knowledge of these as elementary and indispensable as English and Mathematics. They have obliterated Belize’s old excuse that the tyranny of distance prevents us from keeping abreast of developments in our sister territories of CARICOM. The power of the internet renders distance and time inconsequential in this regard.

I know that Belize is not alone in the Region in having a project to provide all schools and other places of learning with computers and access to the information superhighway that should be available to all our students.

I want to propose here today that this Conference of Heads of Government issue a clear and urgent mandate that the educational institutions in all member countries engage in a collaborative effort geared at giving our people real access to the world’s knowledge.

In reviewing CARICOM’s role and impact on our countries over the years, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) must be given special mention. This CARICOM institution has been providing vital services to our territories when our people are most vulnerable .

The catastrophe and fury unleashed on Central America by Hurricane Mitch last year, from which Belize narrowly escaped, have highlighted how fragile and vulnerable we all are.

Belize has found CDERA’s services to be essential to our overall development and planning. Global climatic trends and current forecasts that serious hurricanes are likely to hit this region require that more importance and support be given to CDERA and the Caribbean Meteorological Organisation.

Mr. Chairman, the Government and people of Belize take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the principal objectives of CARICOM, to expand trade and investment opportunities for its members, to promote economic cooperation, foreign policy coordination and functional cooperation in the area of social and cultural services.

As the scope for action in each individual country is ever more reduced as a result of globalisation and unbridled trade liberalisation, it becomes ever more important to focus our energies on regional approaches and joint negotiations. No longer can we compartmentalise foreign policy as an exotic side show to our pressing domestic agendas. We all now realise that success or failure in our domestic agendas is determined, more than by any initiative we might try to carry out on our own, by the decisions taken at multilateral fora.

Belize’s strategic location and good relations with our Central American neighbours enable us to serve as a bridge between CARICOM nations and those of Central America. These two sub-regions which until quite recently stood back to back have now turned to face each other with the aim of finding common areas of cooperation.

The Belizean experience in functional cooperation with the nations of Central America was instrumental to the dialogue we began at San Pedro Sula in 1992.

Mr Chairman, this CARICOM, our Caribbean house that we have built with painstaking efforts since 1973, is capable of being the instrument that will enable its members, to make sure that our people suffer as little as possible from the harsh economic realities that we must face. Through CARICOM we must aim to be progressively better equipped to snatch benefits from the changes being thrust upon us. But whether it will become that instrument depends on us. We must redesign our internal political structures to give greater importance to regional affairs and we must, where necessary, modernise the structures and institutions of CARICOM to deal effectively with the new realities.

We must ensure, Mr. Chairman, that when, through our collective efforts, we fling open the doors of the Twenty-first Century, they are flung wide enough to enable access by the underprivileged and marginalised people of our territories.

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