Caribbean leaders conclude historic summit in Haiti

Caribbean leaders concluded a two-day summit in Haiti by deciding to progressively introduce French as a second language in their 15-member regional trade bloc and to hone in on the challenges facing their vulnerable economies.

Caribbean Community leaders also pledged to hold a summit with the United States within the year to address deportees and other concerns while also issuing a strongly worded communiqué accusing another super power — the United Kingdom — of trampling on democracy in Turks and Caicos with its “constant infractions of democratic principles.”

In August 2009, the United Kingdom suspended home rule for Turks and Caicos, a British Overseas Territory, for three years after allegations of corruption. The territory was recently admitted back into the bloc as an associate member.

“The overall state of political affairs remained less than desirable and the restoration of true democracy was still a far way off,” the communiqué said of the situation in Turks and Caicos.

Over two days, leaders of the bloc known as Caricom addressed a host of issues. But economics and crime dominated the discussions led by Haitian President Michel Martelly, who is Caricom chairman for the next six months.

A number of studies have warned that spiking violent crime is hampering Caribbean economies. The Caribbean Development Bank also has named seven countries to a watch list because of their debt, which global financial institutions say is slowing down growth.

“We need to have a big conversation about the future of our economies,” St. Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony told fellow leaders. “The biggest challenge right now is restoring growth to these economies; how do we get these economies to grow given the existing scenario of very high debt to [Gross Domestic Product] levels.”

Anthony conceded it’s not easy emerging from the economic crisis. One way in which his nation and five others in the Eastern Caribbean hope to, is by further deepening their economic partnership. They currently share the same currency and allow their combined nearly 700,000 citizens to move and work freely within the six nations.

Hoping that this model will serve as a locomotive for its own effort to create an integration process throughout the larger Caribbean, Caricom agreed to let any of its members join that Eastern Caribbean bloc if they desire.

“It will strengthen our economies,” St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said.

Caricom’s delay in allowing for the free movement of goods, services and skilled labor has raised questions about the future of the bloc, and the issue was discussed at the summit.

Even in Haiti, which is hosting the conference for the first time, some have questioned the benefits of joining the mostly English-speaking bloc.

“The integration of Haiti can only be in the best interest of Haiti and of each and every country that is part of Caricom,” Martelly said.

To that end, Martelly also defended pushing French over Creole, which is spoken by the majority of Haitians, as the bloc’s second language.

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