Thursday 11th August 2005

The Greater Caribbean this week
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The view from the top

“No prow can slice through a cloud of ideas… Peoples who know not each other must hurry to know each other, as those who ready themselves to fight together.”

—José Martí, Nuestra AméricaA popular cop-out in the debate on our integration has been the old saw that, whilst the people embrace each other, the leaders turn their backs. Dangerous sophistry that, if one truly believes in democracy, denotes either a blind leadership or an indolent electorate.

Though there might be something to the popular criticism of summits and summiteering (too many, too often, too costly, too few results), a more informed analysis yields that great turning points are owed to these events.

Indeed, if democracy is meant to be a bottom-up affair, from that very fact it follows that elected leaders are expected to lead and thus, when even the best intentions stagnate, they can always benefit from the refreshing “view from the top.”

The 4th ACS Summit, held in Panama City on July 29 on the heels of our tenth anniversary, comes when the association has achieved a level of maturity that requires a new vision for the future.

Our leaders have recognised that the time is ripe to move more rapidly toward our objectives through promoting greater consultation and co-operation, taking into account the dynamics of the wider international agenda.

Yes, the Panama Declaration might be a bit lengthy. It did indeed go into a series of issues which might not be entirely germane to our work. It addresses countries’ support for the multilateral system with the UN and its charter at its core.

It talks about energy co-operation, terrorism, drugs, democracy, corruption and effective public administration, sovereignty and non-intervention, the handicapped, HIV/Aids, indigenous peoples and human rights.

I must also point out that the summit went an extra mile in its embracement of democracy by paying special tribute to the former President of T&T, Arthur NR Robinson, for his contribution to the creation of the ACS, his personal courage in the defence of democracy and his important role in the creation of the International Court of Justice.

Though many are driven to despair by the insertion of these supposed “non ACS” issues, it must be acknowledged that, in so doing, leaders underscore that, far from being a think tank or co-operation agency, the ACS is indeed the mechanism envisioned in its 1994 convention, ie that the ACS was and is, from its very inception and the circumstances of its birth, a political forum.

Beyond that, it must also be acknowledged that it would be unthinkable for national leaders to abandon fundamental principles and core commitments from one forum to the next.

None of this is intended to underplay the mandate-specific achievements of the summit, as the political support received from heads was translated to all areas.

The Caribbean Sea is our patrimony and our leaders, as its custodians, pledged to continue seeking its recognition as a special area in the context of sustainable development by the UN.

A lofty aspiration, as it is envisioned to go beyond the merely declaratory, to enable us to obtain the necessary assistance to take on the serious responsibility of effectively assuming the sovereignty over waters which, in the case of some Caribbean nations, can be larger than their land area.

Our vulnerability to natural disasters and their negative impact on efforts to ensure sustainable (socio-economic) development was acknowledged.

Furthermore, heads agreed that the best way to combat vulnerability to natural disasters is to integrate disaster management and risk reduction into development policies and plans and reaffirmed the importance of international and regional co-operation.

Heads also recognised the sad state of affairs posed by an intra-Caribbean trade at only eight per cent of our countries’ global commerce and the need to promote regional investment to cushion our dependency on (often fickle) extra-regional investments.

Talks on an ACS agreement on investment promotion and protection were approved and the work undertaken by the ACS to support the progressive dismantling of obstacles to trade and the mobility of capital also received support, as did the insistence on recognising the special vulnerabilities of the small economies amongst us.

As tourism is one of our most important sources of foreign direct investment and foreign exchange earnings, as well as a significant provider of employment in the region, the ACS was mandated to continue to aim at increasing the number of visitors.

Leaders underscored the fact that the ACS convention establishing the Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Caribbean creates the first such zone in the world, thus paving the way to market a tourism product in a manner consistent with attracting ecologically aware tourism as well as with the development of a environmental and socio-economically conscious tourism industry.

The state of air and maritime transport in the Greater Caribbean was also addressed as transport was acknowledged to be a channel for strengthening regional ties, especially in the areas of trade and tourism.

In that respect, the ACS was recognised as an instrument for addressing the main challenges of maritime and air transport within the framework of the association’s programme: uniting the Caribbean by air and sea.

However, and much to my personal delight, implicit in the language of the declaration and the debate is the recognition that the trade and tourism woes of our region will no longer be laid at the feet of the air and shipping industry.

Getting back to the politics, in both the declaration and the debate, heads drew an unbroken line between the action envisioned and the ultimate goal of the ACS: to work toward the social and economic development of our people, to combat poverty, hunger and social exclusion and to give the Greater Caribbean its rightful place in the world, for:

“The Caribbean regional integration movement will succeed to the extent that…we diligently strive for a New Global Human Order”—Cheddi Jagan, From Montego Bay to Georgetown.

Luis Carpio is the director of natural disasters and transport of the Association of Caribbean States. The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]



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