Conference of Heads of GovernmentMemberPress ReleasesStatements and DeclarationsSuriname


His Excellency Drs. Runaldo Venetiaan, President of the Republic Of Suriname and Chairman of the Caribbean Community;
Other Distinguished Heads of State and Government of Member States of the Caribbean Community;
His Excellency Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of the Federative Republic of Brazil;
Honourable Ministers of Government;
Speaker and Members of Parliament;
Heads of International and Regional Organisations;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Delegates;
Distinguished Guests;
CARICOM Youth Ambassadors;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Welcome to Suriname in this the Year of the CARICOM Single Market. Welkome in het jaar van the Single Market.

This is the second time that Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community are meeting in Suriname since this country became a member of CARICOM in 1995. The memory of that first Meeting here in 1999 remains vivid in my mind not only for the important decisions taken, but also for the memorable retreat at Saramacca.

A particularly relevant incident that stands out in my mind is a small but important exchange between a CARICOM Head of Government and a journalist who, arguing that Suriname being a non-English speaking country, etc, doubted that this country was indeed a member of CARICOM. Confident of his position he asked the particular Head of Government if Suriname was really a member of CARICOM, to which the Prime Minister replied: “No”, And just as the journalist was about to depart triumphantly with what he thought was a confirmation of his position, the then Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Tobago, continued: “Not just in, but in charge of CARICOM!”

For at that time Suriname was also the Chair of the Heads of Government of The Conference – the Supreme Organ of the Community, the Chair of the Community Council of Ministers – the second highest Organ, and the Chair of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. It was the first time that one country was in the chair of these three important Bodies simultaneously.

Suriname is now in charge of CARICOM once again, and it is with great pleasure that I welcome you President Venetiaan to the Chairmanship, which you commenced on 1 January 2005 with such vigour and foresight.

I must also congratulate you Mr. Chairman, for the leadership your country has already displayed in taking the historic step of being the first to issue the CARICOM Passport, based on the specifications agreed on by Heads of Government at their Meeting in Grenada last July. Suriname has by this act led the way in realising what has been one of the most cherished hopes of the Community.

We thank you for this demonstrable show of leadership as well as for the warm hospitality and the excellent arrangements they have been made for this meeting.

Distinguished Heads of Government, a review of the relevant agenda will show that when you met here in Suriname in 1999, many of the challenges the Community faces today were already with us – Bananas, the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the Political Situation in Haiti, the future of West Indies Cricket and most importantly, the challenge of constructing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). The problems may have mutated, but have not been resolved. Some have however been the subject of significant advancement. For today, we are on the cusp of entering a new and exciting phase of a more mature regionalism – a Community embodying a Single Market and Economy. When the decision to so deepen the integration process was taken sixteen years ago at Grand Anse, many who understood its far-reaching nature, did not believe that it would happen and many others most likely did not understand what it implied.

Some years later, after I had assumed the responsibility of Secretary-General of the Community, one of the key advisors to that Grand Anse decision said to me: “Boy that's a hell of a goal!” I said, “yes, I know, but I'm sure you were deeply involved in that recommendation.” He admitted “mea culpa”. Well today, sixteen years later, William Demas will no doubt be pleased to know that we are not only on the cusp of the Single Market, but also at the beginning of the race towards the Single Economy. No longer is the position, “can the Single Market be achieved?” or even “will it be achieved?” It is now “when”, not “if”.

This is why despite the recent ruling of the Privy Council, the Inauguration of the Caribbean Court of Justice – an important pillar of the CSME – must remain on course. I am confident that the proper modalities will be worked out to enable its successful Inauguration on schedule.

The changes in the world since 1989 have confirmed the wisdom and far sightedness of those Heads of Government who met in Grand Anse and took that historic decision. Today, the task of our generation is to see the implementation through to finality, and we can afford no slippage.

As we meet today new and critical challenges confront the Community. Most important among these is the spate of natural disasters which has recently afflicted the Region. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, name them we have had them. And we have not been unique as the horrendous Tsunami of South East Asia has so painfully demonstrated.

The unprecedented flooding in Guyana is but the most recent in this spate of natural disasters. But Grenada, Jamaica, The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago have also all been touched in varying degrees.

These disasters, apart from the loss of lives, have caused in their wake, major infrastructure damage, social dislocations of profound proportions and economic devastation.

These eruptions would seem to portend permanent fundamental changes in weather and climate patterns. This no doubt calls for the Region to mainstream into national and regional development plans, a comprehensive disaster management strategy. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), has already spearheaded the elaboration of such a strategy aimed at ensuring minimal losses and speedy, sustained recovery. On this very day, February 16, when the Koyoto Protocol is due to come into force, we in this Region must reaffirm our commitment to the objectives of that international instrument and appeal for the greatest international support to be given to this important initiative which is designed to lessen the threat of global natural disaster.

The regional institutions we are building in the context of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy are designed to enhance our resilience and to mitigate the profound political and socio-economic consequences not only to natural disasters but also to the many other challenges which confront the Region. The roots of several such challenges stretch from increased militarism to the vastly changed global economic arrangements, including the WTO. Even our special relationships with other regional blocs such as the European Union, have not been spared.

As we seek to navigate these turbulent waters, it is to our advantage to forge new partnerships with nations with which we share common values, interests, aspirations and concerns.

It is in that context that I extend a special welcome to His Excellency the President of Brazil, our distinguished guest. Your presence here Mr. President symbolises the strong bonds of friendship and mutual respect shared by the peoples and Governments of CARICOM and Brazil and your leadership lends hope not only to your people, but to the hemisphere's, and indeed the world's, economically poor and dispossessed.

Distinguished Heads of Government, Ladies and Gentlemen, when we depart Suriname at the end of this week, many delegations will journey to Georgetown in neighbouring Guyana for the inauguration of the new permanent headquarters of the Secretariat of the Community. The inauguration of the headquarters symbolises the continuing maturing of our Community and its resilience and tremendous prospects for future growth and development. For those of us who work in the Secretariat it symbolizes our own comfortable home at last!


Distinguished Heads of Government, ladies and gentlemen, as we move into the formal discussions at this our Sixteenth Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, the youth of our Community are a constant source of hope, and the boundless talents of our people, a perpetual source of pride.

Let us go forward from here united in the endeavour to achieve our goals of prosperity for our people and a legacy of peace, security and sustainable development for future generations of our peoples.

Show More
Back to top button