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Security, economics high agenda issues at 37th Heads of Government Conference 4-6 July 2016, Guyana

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government will meet for their 37th Regular Meeting on 4-6 July 2016, in Georgetown, Guyana, at the Guyana Pegasus Hotel. In the search for opportunities and regional solutions to challenges, the Meeting will advance matters pertaining to regional security – economic and otherwise; and the social well being of the approximately 16 million people who make up the Caribbean Community.

As expected, Correspondent Banking is among the top agenda issues before the highest decision making forum of the regional grouping of 15 Members and five Associate States.

CARICOM, and indeed the Caribbean as a whole, is concerned about this issue. If all correspondent banking relations are withdrawn, the region will be isolated from the rest of the world and will be unable to carry out some of the most basic of bank transactions. Critical services including remittance transfers, international trade, and the facilitation of credit card settlements for local clients, among other services, will be affected.

CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister of Dominica, Hon Roosevelt Skerrit

The genesis of this issue lies in the signal by several international banks, mainly in the US and Europe, to client banks in the Region of an unwillingness to continue carrying their business, as part of  a so-titled “de-risking” strategy. The Caribbean has been labeled as a tax haven and accused of lax tax regimes and avenues for money laundering and terrorism financing, despite no evidence to prove this.

At their Inter-sessional meeting in Belize, Heads “emphasized that Member States have complied with all global regulatory standards, including those established by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Global Forum, and have been scrutinized in every detail by the IMF and other multilateral institutions”. They deemed the action by the correspondent banks, “as an economic assault” tantamount to an economic blockade against Member States.

 But CARICOM is fighting back. Using the power of the collective, they have appointed a high level advocacy group, led by the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Hon. Gastown Browne, to represent the interests of the Region in addressing the issue, including approaches to the UN, the WTO and the US Government.


The Meeting will take stock of actions to date, and seek to advance the search for solutions to this matter.


Border Issues:  Heads will consider the border issues between Guyana and Venezuela, and Belize and Guatemala. The Community has consistently expressed it full commitment to the preservation of the territorial integrity of all Member States.


Belize-Guatemala:  Guatemala has had a longstanding claim to Belize dating back to the 18th century.   At the center of Guatemala's claim is the 1859 treaty between Britain and Guatemala. From Britain's viewpoint, this treaty merely settled the boundaries of an area already under British dominion.


In November 2000, the heads of the delegations of Belize and Guatemala signed an agreement to adopt a comprehensive set of “confidence-building measures to avoid incidents between the two countries. 


The OAS-mediated agreement seeks to resolve by peaceful means and through a specific agenda of measures to be implemented, a territorial differendum that originated two centuries ago between Britain and Spain over their colonial territories in Central America


 CARICOM Heads of Government have encouraged both Belize and Guatemala to continue their efforts at constructive engagement and the building of friendly relations for the betterment of their peoples.


At their  27th Inter-Sessional meeting, in Belize in February 2016  Heads of  Government “recognized the important role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in support of the efforts of the Belize and Guatemala governments to secure lasting peace and development.  They “called on the international community to support the efforts of these two countries, and to be especially generous in their support for the sustained involvement of the OAS in these efforts”.


The Heads “reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the maintenance and preservation of Belize’s sovereignity and territorial integrity.


Guyana’s border controversy with its western neighbor Venezuela, relates to the   more than a century-old dispute, which arose as a result of Venezuela’s contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 is null and void. (The 1899 Award had conclusively settled the boundary between the two countries).

Guyana’s pursuit over the years for a peaceful settlement has yielded mixed results.  A founding member of the 43-year old integration movement, many of its diplomatic interventions have rested on the pillar of foreign policy coordination, one of five pillars which underpins CARICOM integration.

In its more recent act of aggression, Venezuela on 6 July  2015, announced a Presidential Decree of 1859 of 6 July 2015 which lays claim to all the Atlantic waters off the Essequibo coast. This effectively reversed the 1899 agreement that settled the border dispute.

In response, CARICOM reiterated its position of “total support for the integrity of Guyana’s territory and maritime space, as well as that of all CARICOM States”, even as it emphasised the need to maintain peace and stability as the basis for enhancing regional cooperation and development for both these countries.

Speaking at the 36th Regular Meeting of the Conference, in Barbados, in July 2015, then Chair of the Community, the Rt. Hon. Freundel Stewart, Prime Minister of Barbados stated –

“We [CARICOM] are committed to assisting Venezuela and Guyana in this dispute, preferring at all times a peaceful solution… But as of now, having regard to the fact that there was an arbitral award in 1899 and having regard to the fact that the Geneva Agreement of 1966 has not yielded the kind of results that either Venezuela or Guyana expected, CARICOM’s formal position has to be a commitment to the territorial integrity of Guyana,” he said.


At their 27th Inter-Sessional Meeting in Belize, in February this year, Heads of Government “reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the maintenance and preservation of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.  They also “expressed their full support for the role of the United Nations Secretary-General and his efforts, in keeping with the provisions of the Geneva Agreement, to bring the controversy to a definitive and judicious conclusion”.


Plight of Persons of Haitian Descent rendered Stateless in DR: Heads will revisit this long standing, unresolved matter, as CARICOM continues to advocate for a resolution to the crisis which makes approximately 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic stateless.


 A 2013 Constitutional ruling by the Dominican Republic (DR) Government effectively renders stateless anyone with foreign ancestry born in 1929 or later.  The international community’s response to this decision, established as  the largest case of statelessness in the Western hemisphere,  resulted in the DR Government instituting  a regularisation system to enable  Dominican Haitians and Haitian migrants to register and to be  issued with identification cards.  The 17 June 2015 deadline set for this process was not met by many Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants. This was due mainly to their inability to raise the required fees as well as  the difficulty in acquiring the necessary documents which in many cases did not exist, such as ID cards that were confiscated by authorities. As a result, the DR government has indicated it will begin deporting non-registered migrants. “Up to 250,000 people are at risk of being deported to a country where many of them have no family members, no job prospects and no current ties.”1


CARICOM has firmly “called out” the Dominican Republic for its treatment of   Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants in   the recent immigration crackdown at the end of the June 2015 deadline.    In a Statement issued at the conclusion of the  Thirty-Sixth Regular Meeting of Heads of Government, Chairman of the Community, Barbados’ Prime Minister, Hon. Freundel  Stuart,  strongly indicated  CARICOM’s condemnation of  behavior which enshrined “barbarity into the constitutional practices of the Dominican Republic”.


In June 2015, at the High-Level Dialogue between the European Union and the Caribbean Forum of African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) States, the Dominican Republic representatives had   agreed that their country would undertake a new approach. The CARICOM Statement also expressed concern about this breach.


At their 27th Inter-Sessional Meeting in February, in Belize, Heads “expressed concern at the continuing grave human rights situation of Dominicans of Haitian descent threatened by statelessness and the precarious humanitarian situation of  undocumented Haitians in the Dominican Republic who have been deported to Haiti”. They  concurred that “ the human rights situation…. must form part of the agenda of the CARIFORUM-EU policy or political dialogue.


 In its advocacy process at every level, CARICOM has invoked the assistance of the United Nations, particularly its human rights agencies, as well as the Organisation of the Americas to help resolve this matter In July 2015, CARICOM Secretary-General, Amb. Irwin LaRocque, also raised this issue when he accepted the credentials of Archbishop Nicola Girasoli, Plenipotentiary Representative of the Holy See, on the occasion of the establishment of diplomatic relations between CARICOM and the Vatican, in July 2015.


Exchange of Views with President of Chile: CARICOM continues to expand its relations with Third Countries. To date, close to 40 countries have established relations with CARICOM, including those  from as far as the Baltic Sea – Lithuania established relations in November 2014, and  the Middle East, Israel established ties  with the Community in 2013.

At this meeting, the Heads of Government will discuss cooperation on matters of mutual interest with the President of Chile Ms. Michelle Bachelet. CARICOM-Chile relations were formalised in 1996 with the signing of an Agreement on Scientific and Technical Cooperation that paved the way for cooperation in agriculture, health and nutrition, and foreign language training. Cooperation has also been deepened by two Joint Commissions in 2003 and 2012 which reaffirmed commonalities and interests the two parties share.

Heads are expected to use the presence of President Bachelet to discuss a number of hemispheric and international issues, as Chile is  a strong voice on important issues of concern to CARICOM, in the both in the hemisphere and other international fora. 


Recently in April this year, on the occasion of the accreditation of Chile’s new Ambassador to CARICOM, Ambassador LaRocque drew attention to the  “considerable visibility” Chile has earned at the regional and international levels, particularly in the OECD and G20. He said that CARICOM was looking forward to its support on the issue of graduationwhich removed access to concessionary development financing by Member States, based principally on the criteria of per capita income.


The foregoing among other issues, including  CARICOM-Cuba Relations – as the  Region seeks to advance the finalization of the process for an expanded trade agreement with Cuba; and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, particularly the issue of travel  facilitation, will engage  the full complement of Heads of Government expected  for the Conference, as well as the wider CARICOM architecture which includes Community Institutions and Associate Institutions. 

This 37th Meeting Heads of Government, on CARICOM’s 43rd anniversary, will be officially opened at 5 p.m. on 4 July 2016, at the National Cultural Centre.

Current Chair of the Conference, Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit,  is one of seven Heads that will address the gathering which includes Community Ambassadors, the Diplomatic Corps in Guyana, regional and international media, school children and the general public, setting the tone for the next two days of business.

Both Guyana’s President, H.E. David Arthur Granger, and CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, are Hosts of the 37th meeting, given Dominica’s inability to hold the meeting as a result of its recent natural disaster. They too will address the audience.


CARICOM is one of the longest surviving integration movements among developing countries.  The original Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed on 4 July 1973, in honour of the birthday of Norman Washington Manley, a leading advocate of the West Indies Federation and one of Jamaica's national heroes.  The Treaty and its Annex (setting out the details of the Common Market Arrangements) came into effect on 1 August 1973.  Since 2001, the Community has been functioning within the framework of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas including the Establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).  


CARICOM has made great strides, particularly through functional cooperation in, education, in health, in culture, in security.  And despite some challenges, its Single Market functions and it is a respected voice in  international affairs.

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