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Eyes on the future

Yesterday, on the eve of CARICOM’s 40th anniversary today, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart addressed the heads of government of the regional grouping during a summit in Port of Spain. Following is the full text of that address.

Forty years ago four distinguished Heads of Government of this region, summoned by the logic of history to be bold at that time, met here in Trinidad and Tobago and signed what the then Prime Minister of Guyana, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham said should become known as the Treaty of Chaguaramas.

On that auspicious occasion the host Prime Minister was, as is the case today, the distinguished Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, then the late Dr. Eric Eustace Williams. He, in his speech welcoming the “great cloud of witnesses by whom he was compassed about”, delivered the charge which he expected would guide the CARICOM project. He said on that occasion, and I quote:

“There can be no new dispensation which does not mean the integration of the fragmented economies of the people of the Caribbean, by the people of the Caribbean, for the people of the Caribbean.”

Forty years later, we, another generation of Caribbean leaders, have come to Trinidad and Tobago to celebrate 40 years of CARICOM’s existence, to reflect on battles fought and won, and to plan the way forward.

The founding fathers of our regional integration movement all understood that politics, whether local or regional, is ultimately about using power to make the lives of people better socially, politically and economically. They believed that their best chance of making the lives of our people better was by bringing our countries much closer together in a relationship of shared aspirations, shared effort and shared resources.

Their initiative sprang from a deeper and even more important belief — that of the uniqueness and the special importance of our Caribbean region. The speeches on that occasion emphasised the special richness of the regional identity; warned us against being imbued with a sense of our own inadequacy; and challenged us to teach the world a lesson, “a lesson of how people who number their populations in terms of a few million could mobilise their resources for the benefit of their nation, the benefit of their region, and ensure social justice, ban unemployment, (and) remove from their midst discrimination on the basis either of ethnicity or accident of birth”.

It cannot be denied that from time to time on our regional journey we have faced challenges which have tended to make the achievement of our goals more difficult. But, I contend that on any objective evaluation of CARICOM over the last 40 years, it would have to be conceded that the people of the Caribbean whether English-, French-, Spanish- or Dutch-speaking, are more closely knit today than at any other time in the region’s history.

Whether we are talking about trade, transport, education, health, agriculture, the Caribbean Sea and the environment, culture, sport, politics or even marriage, our people across the Caribbean have shown a growing faith in the future of this regional space.

So, Madam Chairman, I am pleased to be here today to celebrate with CARICOM brothers and sisters the achievement of this significant milestone. The discerning electorate of Barbados, faithful stewards of the proud democratic traditions of our Community, have so determined.

I extend warmest congratulations to two other beneficiaries of our democratic traditions: the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie, Prime Minister of the Bahamas and Dr. the Rt. Hon. Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, with whom I share the rostrum this evening.

I acknowledge also the presence of many distinguished leaders of other friendly countries, and regional, hemispheric and international organisations who have come to share this special moment with us.

I should like to recognise and congratulate my friend and colleague, the distinguished Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, on assuming the mantle of leadership from the outgoing chairman, the distinguished President of the Republic of Haiti. Haiti, our newest and largest member of the community, having signed the Treaty on July 4, 2003, has led this region with distinction over the last six months, taking on that responsibility three years after suffering a most destructive earthquake, and amidst the inevitable difficulties and challenges that followed.

From those depths of devastation and dislocation, our first independent republic has brought us to this 40th anniversary, and home to the country that gave us Chaguaramas.

Also celebrating a 40th anniversary this year is the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. We celebrate with the Government and people of the Bahamas not only because we are pleased at their achievements as an independent nation, but also on the basis of their demonstrated commitment to the regional integration process.

This year, 40 years after the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the people of Suriname, who joined us on July 4, 1995 will host the 11th CARIFESTA, the single largest cultural showcase of our region. Nothing better portrays and represents the impressive diversity and harmony of the people of this region. We have much to celebrate!

Our own 40th anniversary celebrations are taking place against the sombre background of the most daunting economic challenges this region has had to face since World War II. The economic downturn which has been haunting the world since the last quarter of 2007 was not of CARICOM’s making but CARICOM must face and deal with the inevitable fall out.

The people of this region are not strangers to daunting challenges. Our history of slavery, indenture and racism, has more than prepared us to deal with the challenges that have come our way. Present problems of debt and deficit, of unemployment and low or no growth are a continuing challenge to the character and resilience of our people. The global crisis is bad enough for the damage which it has done; but it is worse for what its continuation portends.

This region came successfully through the first oil crisis of 1973 -1974; through the recession of 1981-1982; through the recession of 1991-1992; and through the downturn occasioned by 9/11 events in the United States of America in 2001 – 2002. But it has had to face no crisis of the depth and duration of the present one in the 40 years of our integration experience.

It is at a moment like this that the leaders of this region have to be reminded that our people do not live by bread alone, but also by the continued affirmation of faith in the values and the virtues of the civilization which the regional integration movement is intended to reinforce.

Our people must be reminded that it is only in the context of a properly functioning integration movement that we can find that crucible in which our social and economic arrangements can be melted and recast.

As I said to a national consultation in Barbados last Thursday, what our nations and this region require now is perspective, not platitudes; creativity, not commonplaces; innovation, not imitation.

We must tell the Caribbean story again and again. We must beat our drums out loud: the Tassa; the Conga; the Djembe! The path ahead has already been illumined by the likes of Arthur Lewis, V.S Naipaul and Derek Walcott. By Lara, Sobers and Richards — Sparrow, Marley and Rihanna — James, Beckford and Eric Williams! And who could forget Usain Bolt! This list of course is not intended to be exhaustive.

On the highly diversified agenda which we have before us for this 34th Heads of Government Meeting are items which present us with a unique opportunity to ensure that in our 40th anniversary year, at a time of unprecedented challenge, we remain anchored in our determination to make a difference and justify the faith of the founding fathers of our regional integration movement.

On July 4, 1973, in addition to the charge of Dr. Eric Williams, to which I earlier referred, other important observations were made.

Michael Manley said words that have a hauntingly contemporary echo: “Today we are summoned by the logic of history and the needs of the masses to action, to be bold at this time in human and Caribbean affairs.”

Forbes Burnham spoke in terms that have lost none of their relevance and freshness 40 years later: “The unity I dream of , which my people in Guyana dream of, is the unity of the peoples as distinct from the Governments of the region.”

Errol Barrow was not to be outdone in any of this. He said: “It was on the 4th July 1965 one small step for two countries. Today, as a signatory to this Agreement, I should like to paraphrase the words of Mr Neil Armstrong and say it is a giant step for all of us.”

Upon the shoulders of the present generation of the leaders of the Caribbean devolves the awesome responsibility of remaining faithful to the dreams and aspirations of the people of the Caribbean, especially the youth of the Caribbean. While not sacrificing our sense of urgency, we must steer clear of over-ambitious undertakings, manifestly unrealistic deadlines, and the colliding agendas of a fruitless multiplicity of meetings.

To do otherwise is the surest way to set our people up for disappointment — the surest way to open the door for a disturbingly increasing number of Jeremiahs in this region who let slip no opportunity to spread unnecessary alarm, despondency and despair.

The way forward is not going to be easy. But then, life never promised any one of us to be easy. Easter would be a philosophical absurdity if there was nothing called Good Friday! Child birth without labour or caesarean section is an infantile fantasy! Even the European Union knows well the truism that “Rome was not built in a day”! What is important for all human beings is to be able to see that mix of ultimate benefits that give meaning and justification to their sacrifices.

So, Madam Chairman, as we embark on the 34th Conference of the Heads of Government, we look forward not only to fruitful and productive deliberations, but also to basking in the warmth and hospitality of the people of Trinidad and Tobago…

I can think of no more appropriate way in which to conclude my brief remarks than with a caution administered by one of the most renowned and talented artistes of this republic. I speak of Dr. Hollis Liverpool, more familiarly known as the Mighty Chalkdust. In his unforgettable artistic piece entitled Seawater and Sand, he cautioned as follows:

“Some people does play zest

They feel that their country is blessed

‘Cause they have more foreign exchange than the rest

Others walking high and mighty, claiming they have stability

‘Cause their dollar in US is worth plenty

And they meeting regularly, drawing up all kind of treaty

And after they drink their whiskey, the treaty dead already

At their Heads of Government conference is mere shop talk and ignorance

Lots of talk but no action ever commence”.

A word to the wise is enough! I thank you.

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