Caribbean community appeals to global leaders for help at U.N. General Assembly

Caribbean leaders are using their spotlight on the global stage at the United Nations General Assembly to call for slavery reparations, an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and to highlight the development challenges impacting vulnerable nations.

Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda on Wednesday also used the moment to seek world support for his tiny Eastern Caribbean nation’s ongoing trade battle with the United States over online gambling. Unable to collect billions on its World Trade Organization victory against the U.S., Antigua is seeking to cash in its winnings by directing payments for American intellectual property, such as music and film, to the government.

The U.S.’s refusal to adhere to the ruling, Spencer said, has “the potential to damage the credibility” of the WTO.

“We call on the United States to correct past wrongs and to come to the table with meaningful proposals that can bring this matter to a just conclusion,” said Spencer, noting that his twin-island nation has lost thousands of jobs as a result of the dispute and had until now employed “strategic patience” with the U.S.

For Spencer and his Caribbean Community counterparts, this year’s annual gathering of leaders in New York isn’t just about dishing out their problems before the world. It’s also a chance to address global concerns like the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, a blueprint to, among other things, alleviate poverty, combat HIV/AIDS, provide universal education and improve child and maternal health. But with the 2015 deadline quickly approaching for achieving the goals, many nations are lagging behind.

“There has been some progress in the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals ... but too many pitfalls,” Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said later in the day.

Persad-Bissessar told fellow leaders that while her oil-rich republic has made tremendous strides in achieving the goals, and in some cases like with universal primary and secondary education, surpassed them, not all developing nations can say the same. She addressed the assembly both on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago and as current chair of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) economic and political bloc. Bloc members include Suriname and Haiti, which will take the podium Thursday.

“Business as usual approaches will not suffice to address and eradicate poverty on a global scale; ensure food, nutrition and energy security; reverse environmental degradation and deal with climate change,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar also added that the global financial crisis coupled with the policies of developed nations, “have negatively impacted the ability of many developing countries to achieve” the goals. She called for “transformative change,” moving forward.

Spencer echoed the call saying it’s time for the international community to consider a refocusing, reshaping and rebranding of the goals post-2015.

“We must concede that the current structure of the internationally agreed development goals does not provide satisfactory remedies to our universal problems,” Spencer said.

These problems, included, “an increase in global warming, the escalating gap between the worlds’ rich and the poor, the further deterioration of the world’s financial system and the uneven roles that developed and developing countries play in responding and addressing issues of universal importance and impacts on our societies.”

Spencer said vulnerable developing societies such as his, have long been victims. There is not just the globalization of crime but the dire impact of global warming and slavery and racism.

“Small-island states contribute the least to the causes of climate change, yet we suffer the most from its effects,” he said. And while the responsibility for mitigating climate change is a common responsibility for all nations, he said, “developed countries should shoulder their moral, ethical and historical responsibilities.”

In that regard, Persad-Bissessar asked global leaders for support on behalf of Caricom nations to get an immediate review of “the very narrow criteria” being used to decide if they qualify for favorable financing. After years of poverty, many Caribbean nations are now regarded as middle-income nations, despite being highly-indebted with a collective debt burden of $19 billion, Persad-Bissessar said.

“It’s almost as if we are being penalized for our relative success in getting ourselves out of the morass of poverty,” she said. “The use of per capita income to determine a country’s level of development and its need for grant and concessional financing, does not provide the true picture.

“Per capita income is, at best, an arithmetic ratio that does not address levels of poverty, distribution of income, levels of indebtedness, vulnerability, and the capacity to self-generate sustainable economic and social development,” she said.

Both Persad-Bissessar’s and Spencer’s appearance Wednesday came more than a week after Caribbean leaders met in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for the first ever Regional Reparations Conference. Both acknowledged the movement with Spencer saying the reparations call, is “an integral element of our development strategy.”

The legacy of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean has severely impaired nations’ development options, Spencer noted.

“Reparations must be directed toward repairing the damage inflicted by slavery and racism,” he said.

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