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It is with deep regret that I received the news of the death last evening of the Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird Snr., O.C.C., former Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. With his passing, the Caribbean has lost the last surviving member of that illustrious team of visionaries who, more than fifty years ago, in Montego Bay, Jamaica conceived the vision of a United West Indies. From that time, the Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird diligently strove to attain this goal, combining his vision of a united Region with a strong vein of pragmatism.

He will be remembered as a prominent actor on the Caribbean stage, for he did not only lend his voice to the movement toward regional integration; rather he underlined his commitment by becoming – with the late Errol Barrow and Forbes Burnham, then Prime Ministers of Barbados and Guyana – one of the three original signatories to the Dickenson Bay Agreement of 1965, laying the foundation for the establishment of the Caribbean Free Trade Area in 1968. He immediately affixed his signature to the Treaty establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market, on regaining the leadership of his country in 1974.

When CARICOM Heads of Government agreed to meet in November 1982, having not met in a regular session since December 1975, the Honourable Vere Bird Snr. journeyed to Ocho Rios, Jamaica and in a most inspiring address at the opening of that meeting, made it clear that he was the “bridge ” between the earlier generation of West Indian leaders seeking unity and the new generation, and stressed that he would not allow the movement to fail. Heads of Government have met every year since that exhortation.

While maintaining his overarching vision of Caribbean unity, the Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird Snr. recognised the need for the smaller islands of the Eastern Caribbean to establish even greater cohesion through the West Indies Associated States, later to become the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, of which he was the first Chairman, in order to ensure greater equity with the larger States.

His interests and energies encompassed the social, political and economic life of his country and the Region during the pre- and post-Independence periods in West Indian history. This was manifested particularly in his sterling contribution to the growth and development of the labour movement in his beloved Antigua and the wider Region.

Throughout his long life, no matter how tempestuous the storm, choppy the seas, or strong the undertow, the Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird Snr. maintained a steady course toward the realisation of his vision of Caribbean unity.

The Staff of the Secretariat joins me in sharing with his family, his country and all the peoples of the Caribbean Community the profound grief occasioned by his passing. Antigua and Barbuda, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the Caribbean Community and small states everywhere are the poorer for his passing.

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