THE seventh Summit of the 79-nation group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states is scheduled to start tomorrow in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, with a low-level presence of leaders from Caricom for varying political reasons.
For a start no more than three Caricom leaders were expected and that would have constituted a bigger presence from that of merely one at the sixth summit in Accra, Ghana in October 2008.
But by yesterday afternoon the ACP Secretariat was advised of cancellations by two of the expected trio—the presidents of Suriname (Desi Bouterse) and Guyana (Donald Ramotar).
This time around, according to information received yesterday by the summit secretariat in Malabo, Bouterse was advised of the need for his presence in Paramaribo for an urgent meeting with the country's parliament.
It is reported that this development may be related to Bouterse's alleged involvement in the killings of a group of Surinamese in 1982 when he was commander of the country's army and head of government.
Ramotar, who has recently been travelling with Bouterse on shared chartered aircraft to international meetings, found difficulties in making alternative travel arrangements to arrive in time for tomorrow's start of the summit, and cannot be in Malabo before Friday afternoon.
Consequently, the sole regional leader at the summit will be St Lucia's Dr Kenny Anthony, who is also current Caricom Chairman. A few other Caricom Prime Ministers are coping with their own domestic challenges— among them the prime ministers of Barbados, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Leading partner states that once played significant roles in the creation, widening and strengthening of the ACP, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados, will be represented at either ministerial level (Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran in the case of T&T; and his Barbadian counterpart, Maxine McLean); Jamaica's delegation is to be headed by its Brussels-based ambassador to the European Union.
The last ACP summit had coincided with the onset of the global economic and financial crisis in 2008. This crisis poses very serious social, economic and political challenges for the ACP states that together constitute a population of almost one billion but account for merely three per cent of world trade due to historical disadvantages and unequal development.
Contributing factors behind the high absence of Caricom leaders vary. For instance, St Vincent and the Grenadines' prime minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who just recently presented the budget for 2013, continues to cope with the challenges of governing with a one-seat parliamentary majority in the 15-member parliament.
Across in Grenada prime minister Tillman Thomas requested the governor general to prorogue parliament five months ago while his National Democratic Congress continues to govern amid widening divisions at the level of party and cabinet and evidently fearful of the likely success of a "no confidence" motion against his administration.
This past weekend former Vincentian prime minister Sir James Mitchell was having some political fun at Thomas' expense at a convention of the opposition New National Party (NNP) of his colleague, Dr Keith Mitchell, which is currently campaigning for new elections.
Sir James teasingly urged the prime minister to "give Grenadians a Christmas gift" by advising the governor general to dissolve parliament and announce a date for elections". The first-term prime minister Thomas would not have been amused.
In Barbados, prime minister Freundel Stuart continues to weigh his options for announcing a date for new elections for which must be constitutionally held within the first quarter of 2013.
While other Caricom governments face differing challenges, none among them are faced with having to cope with the parliamentary cat-walk politics of either Gonsalves or Thomas.
And although the government of Equatorial Guinea, is covering the entire accommodation costs for three representatives of any participating nation (head of government/state, cabinet minister or ambassador), the count of positive responses, up to the time of writing yesterday, revealed quite a surprising low-level participation in the two-day summit starting tomorrow.
Caricom governments' attitude towards this meeting becomes all the more surprising given the fact that the eighth ACP Summit is due to take place in the Caribbean.
Venue and topics for that summit are among issues expected to be revealed in the communique to be released by Friday, consistent with the central theme chosen for the one in Equatorial Guinea: "The Future of the ACP Group in a Changing World—Challenges and Opportunities".