Caribbean leaders opened their annual July summit in this English-speaking South American nation on Monday with a somber and reflective tone as they mourned the passing of one of their “titans” and welcomed three new leaders into their regional fold.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who launched a Caribbean security and crime-tracking agency during his 13-year involvement with the 15-member Caribbean Community regional economic bloc known as Caricom, died Saturday of acute myeloid leukemia in Port of Spain. Manning, 69, was hailed as “one of the titans of the integration movement” during the opening ceremony at Guyana’s National Cultural Center in Georgetown.
Manning “will be remembered as a visionary, a patriot, and Caribbean man who was committed to excellence and the Caribbean Community,” Trinidad Prime Minister Keith Rowley told fellow leaders.
Seven dignitaries spoke during the opening, including Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit who co-hosted the 37th regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community along with Guyana President David Granger. The meeting was held in Guyana, the headquarters of Caricom, because Dominica is still recovering from last year’s Tropical Storm Erika. Chile President Michelle Bachelet and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland have also been invited to address Caricom leaders during the summit.
Speakers highlighted the region’s ongoing economic challenges and issues they plan to tackle over the next two days. Among them: a pending banking crisis as U.S. banks end corresponding relationships with some Caribbean banks amid tougher U.S. regulations; rising crime and security; ongoing border disputes between Belize and Guatemala and Guyana and Venezuela; and the impact of “Brexit,” Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union.
“The consultations taking place must strive toward striking a balance between U.S. and Europe interests on one hand and the Caribbean interests on the other,” said Suriname President Desire Bouterse.
One matter that isn’t on the agenda but of deep concern to some of the newly elected leaders is the benefits of Caricom.
Last week, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness launched a review of his country’s Caricom involvement, and recently elected St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet on Monday did not dismiss the possibility of his Eastern Caribbean nation doing the same.
“Being part of a regional organization I must see the benefit and the quality and the effectiveness,” said Chastanet, a former tourism minister whose opposition party won general elections in June.
Holness, who is also attending his first meeting since winning his country’s February general elections, said Jamaica wants to see a strong Caricom, but the deeply indebted nation has to “ensure that the systems and protocols within Caricom” work.
“Much more could have been done,” Holiness said. “We are here to make Caricom work; it’s in Jamaica’s interests for Caricom to work.”
But St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, acknowledging the frustrations over the group's slow pace of decision-making, warned leaders not to denounce “all of our immense achievements over the last many years.”
Gonsalves also called on the community not to forget Haiti, which continues to see its citizens deported from the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Haitian Prime Minister Enex Jean-Charles, who is attending his first Caricom summit, will be asked for an update on the deportations, and Jamaica plans to raise concerns about the “guns for drugs” trade between Jamaica and Haiti.
Jean-Charles is stepping in for interim President Jocelerme Privert. His presence gives leaders a chance to get a first-hand update on the situation in Haiti, which is embroiled in a doctors strike that has shut down most of its government-run hosptials for more than three months and increased political uncertainty as the fate of Privert remains in limbo weeks after his 120-day term expired on June 14.
Last week, Haiti’s parliament failed to hold a vote on whether to prolong or end Privert’s term, and on Saturday, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, warned that the international community was losing patience.
“The responsibility is yours,” Ladsous told Haitian lawmakers during a three-day visit to the country. “It is up to you to find a formula to overcome the current blockages.”