António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General. (FILE)
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“Let us cooperate ever more closely in fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the people of the Caribbean.”
That was the message of the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to the world, as he addressed the official opening of the 40th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the Royalton Saint Lucia Resort last week.
In a speech in which he highlighted the uniqueness of the Caribbean islands as well as their tremendous vulnerability to a variety of threats, Guterres called on the international community to work with the Caribbean to counter these threats.
He recalled his visit to the region just two years ago to survey the significant damage done by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, noting that in just days these systems can change the course of a country.
This, he added, confirmed the need for nations to “reduce global emissions and work collectively to ensure that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.
At the same time though, the UN chief praised the Caribbean for its strong history of supporting the work of the international organisation.
Incoming CARICOM chairman, Allan Chastanet, Prime Minister of St Lucia, in his address, took a similar tone to the UN chief, but with a message largely directed at his colleagues. He emphasised the need for them to work together on a number of critical issues that range from crime to regional air travel.
He noted that across the Caribbean, for many generations, one of the challenges has been that the features “that bind us” also had traditionally been “the things that speared us”.
But to succeed as a region, he warned, we have to be “all in”, while noting that it did not mean we would always agree.
He referred to the issue of individual countries being targeted and blacklisted, and pointed out that the voice fighting against such injustices would have been much louder had the islands spoken together. An example of how the region could work together to achieve big things, he said, was the election of St Vincent and the Grenadines to the UN Security Council. This, he said, was achieved because the region spoke with one voice.
The St Lucian leader told his colleagues too that the challenges that will be presented by Brexit in the coming months would require the region to come together to strengthen traditionally good relations with the United Kingdom, while at the same time forging new bonds with Europe.
And with a new hurricane season now on, he referred his colleagues to the destruction caused two years ago, pointing out that all indications were that weather systems would become more destructive, while the countries causing the environmental conditions that spawn them were less incline to “compensate us” for the losses suffered. This, Chastanet said, means again that the region would have to work much harder together to achieve greater resilience.
Meanwhile, Chastanet told the opening ceremony he was inspired by the renewed vigour for promoting regional integration that had been brought to the movement by Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley.
He noted that with her “energy and sense of urgency, I believe that we are well on our way to reinvigorating the CARICOM Single Market and Economy”, adding that during the conference he expected meaningful discussion and progress on the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region. (PR)