Welcoming the witnesses
Forty years ago four distinguished heads of government of this region, 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.
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.
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 civilisation 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, VS 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.
version of the speech by
of Barbados The Hon
Freundel J Stuart, QC, MP
at the 34th Conference of the Heads of Government
of the Caribbean
(Caricom) in Port of Spain