Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at opening ceremony of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, Venezuela. – Porlamar, Venezuela. September 17th, 2016 (Shutterstock)
We have come to the end of what has been a very challenging year for our Community and its Member States. However, we have used our collective wit, wisdom and strength to combat the adversity with which we have been confronted.
We have endured the shocking assassination of a sitting Head of State and Government, the continuing spectre of COVID-19, an earthquake, tropical storms and a distressing volcanic eruption, which have all tested our mettle in 2021. The disappointment at the outcome of COP26 has also occasioned pause for thought.
We are all still deeply disturbed and saddened at the abhorrent and reprehensible killing of the President of Haiti, His Excellency Jovenel Moise – an action that is not in consonance with the values that we hold dear. To their immense credit, the people of Haiti remained relatively calm despite the tragedy occurring at a time of deep turmoil in the country. We continue to monitor closely the on-going situation in our Member State, and have offered to facilitate a process of national dialogue and negotiation to help the Haitian people, and their institutions, to craft an indigenous solution to the crisis.
We also commiserated with Haiti, as more than 2000 people lost their lives as an earthquake triggered catastrophic damage in the south west of the country, also causing extensive damage to infrastructure.
Another major natural disaster occurred with the eruption of the La Soufrière Volcano on St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It uprooted one-fifth of the population, made one-third of the country uninhabitable and destroyed a significant percentage of its agriculture. Ashfall affected neighbouring islands prompting the shutdown of the Airport in Barbados.
The solidarity of the Community was again in evidence as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada and Saint Lucia all agreed to take in evacuees from the areas made uninhabitable by the volcano.
It was also demonstrated in the efforts to acquire the life-saving vaccines to protect our people and give our countries a chance to begin the urgently needed economic recovery. The sharing of highly appreciated donated vaccines from the Government of India, the dogged persistence led by our Heads of Government, which eventually secured supplies from the United States, and the engagement of the African Medical Supplies Platform for vaccines at discounted costs exemplified the unity which is the heartbeat of Community.
However, we have not been as successful in persuading sufficient of our citizens to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, and to reduce the rate of infections and deaths, as well as the stress on our health systems and personnel. Taking the vaccine is one act of goodwill towards our fellow citizens that resonates with this season of joy.
The past year saw us strengthen our relationship with Africa at the historic first ever CARICOM-Africa Summit. The Summit recalled the spirit and vision of the first Pan-African conference of 1900, and affirmed the commitment of the current African-Caribbean leaders to revive and renew the relationship.
It has also been a landmark year for our Community as Dr. Carla Barnett, a national of Belize, became the first woman to become the Secretary-General of CARICOM. Heads of Government look forward to working with her in continuing the quest for the sustainable development of the Community. Dr. Barnett has replaced Ambassador Irwin LaRocque whose commitment and hard work advanced the regional agenda.
As we come to the end of the year, it brings to a close the two-year term of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the United Nations Security Council. Our CARICOM Member State made excellent use of the opportunity to highlight the issues of importance to small states.
While St. Vincent and the Grenadines ends its term on the Security Council, Antigua and Barbuda took over leadership of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). In that capacity, the country ensured that AOSIS played a key role in the negotiations at the recently concluded COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Those achievements would have made Sir Lester Bryant Bird proud. That giant of integration passed away during the year. A national hero of his country, Antigua and Barbuda Sir Lester’s contribution to the development of his country, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Caribbean Community was immense.
Another stalwart of regional integration, Sir James Mitchell, also passed away during the year. This indomitable champion of Caribbean unity left an indelible mark on his country, the OECS and CARICOM.
The commitment of such men as Sir Lester and Sir James must serve as an inspiration to us all, as we continue to build our Caribbean Community into a resilient Region capable of surmounting whatever obstacles to progress are placed in our path.
Have a happy and safe holiday season.