Forty years after the founding of their regional trade bloc, leaders of the Caribbean Community returned to its birthplace Wednesday to mark the historic occasion and kick off a four-day agenda-packed summit.
The gathering in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad features presidents and prime minister from the 15 mostly English-speaking Caribbean nations that make up the community known as Caricom. In an opening ceremony, leaders paid tribute to the past, while looking ahead.
“As small nations we benefit from sharing our common and not so common experiences,” Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie said. “It is a work in progress, a continuing conversation around common themes and experiences from which we all benefit. In recent years, there has been some marked and open impatience with the pace of the Caricom project, but I am pleased to recognize that the journey continues.”
Caricom was founded July 4, 1973 in Trinidad and Tobago at a gathering of four Caribbean leaders — Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad — who signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas. The signing of the treaty will be re-enacted Thursday.
Christie was among several leaders who spoke, including outgoing chairman, Haiti President Michel Martelly. Before turning the leadership reins over to incoming chair, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, Martelly commended the bloc’s work this year and efforts in furthering Haiti’s integration.
Over the next four days, leaders will address issues ranging from regional transportation to U.S. compliance for foreign bank accounts to the future of the regional body, which has been described as “a talk shop” that has been too slow in creating a European-Union-like market and economy.
Emphasis also will be placed on discussing practical measures to grow the economies of the community and pull them out of the present slump.
Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Manuel Insulza also attended. Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who chairs the African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) group and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, have also been invited to meet with leaders during the summit.