Calls for Immediate Cessation of Hostilities and Unilateral Withdrawal of Troops
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has condemned “in the strongest terms” Russia’s “unjustified invasion” of Ukraine and calls for “an immediate cessation of hostilities and immediate and unilateral withdrawal of troops.”
This condemnation was declared in the opening statement by Prime Minister of Belize, John Briceño, at the thirty-third Intersessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government held in San Pedro Ambergris Caye, Belize, on Tuesday March 1st, 2022.
“As we meet Russia has invaded Ukraine. This is a flagrant violation of International Law. We condemn in the strongest terms this unjustified invasion… We call for all to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” Mr Briceño urged, adding, “The uncertainties that exist are proof positive that multilateral cooperation and support are indispensable to effectively countering the immense challenges we face.”
The international climate is riddled with crises, conflicts and suffering, the Prime Minister noted. “Every country, every region is managing, they say, unprecedented challenges, with, they say, inadequate resources. The global unraveling is occurring against the backdrop of what appears to be a new cold war.”
Current State of the Region
Across CARICOM, Mr Briceño stated, “we are contending with the worst economic recession in modern history.” He said in 2020, the region saw double digit economic contraction, thousands of its citizens were suddenly unemployed, remittances dried up.
“In Belize we estimate that the poverty rate has increased from 50% in 2018 to 60% in 2021 — two thirds of all Belizeans are poor,” Mr Briceño noted. “That is clearly unacceptable.”
The Prime Minister argued that similar circumstances obtain across the Region. “The robust economic recovery that appeared to be at hand in first part of 2021 is now slowing. In August 2021, ECLAC projected that the Caribbean would grow by 4.1% in 2021; by January 2022, ECLAC revised its projection to 3% and a measly 1.2 % excluding Guyana. For 2022, ECLAC has already revised downward its projections for the Caribbean from 7.8% to 6.1%,” Mr Briceño disclosed.
In addition to these circumstances, many of the regional countries are carrying unsustainable debt loads and have limited fiscal space to mount the necessary economic response, Mr Briceño said.
“Unfortunately, only four CARICOM Member States are participating in the IMF’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative. And in 2020 only five Member States, including Haiti, received concessional financing from the World Bank,” Mr Briceño stated. “This is wrong. It is also unjust, he said.
“While it is imperative that we continue to press our case, which is fair and just; we know from experience that the wheels of international cooperation grind slowly. And we cannot afford to lose further ground; we cannot afford to lose our future. Therefore, we must be more strategic and coordinated in our advocacy. We must demand an immediate reform of the international financial system. Demand urgent climate action, and immediate access to vaccines,” Mr Briceño said.
Returning to Our Roots
The foundational Georgetown Accord of 1973 eloquently articulated the ambition of Heads to unify the Region around the common purpose of regional development, Mr Briceño noted.
“The Accord,” he said, “conveys a breathless urgency and need for unrelenting speed to achieve Regional Integration. Heads expressed a shared ‘common determination to fulfil within the shortest possible time the hopes and aspirations of the Caribbean Territories for industrial and agricultural development, full employment and improved living standards’.”
In 1973, at the height of the Cold War and the waning days of colonialism, Heads had the vision and foresight to embark on the path of Regional Integration aspiring to achieve development of our Region, Mr Briceño pointed out. He added, “They looked inward for the solutions to satisfy the development aspirations of Caribbean people and for the strength to engage externally.”
He said, “I turn to 1973 not out of any romantic nostalgia, but to remind us of our roots. And more importantly, to suggest that we need to rekindle that founding vision. Both as to the scale of its ambition for our integration, and the speed with which we need to achieve its consolidation. Integration is the instrument by which we have committed to advance our development and quite frankly, for our small states, integration is really the only modality we have.”
Mr Briceño acknowledged criticisms in many quarters about the state of regional integration, noting that they are perhaps well founded. “For many we are not moving fast enough or going deep enough; others feel their fledging national identities at risk. But none have challenged the inevitability of integration for our small Caribbean States.”
Integration, he contended, is not only a “sine qua non for our development; it is also imperative for our recovery.”
The spirt of solidarity and cooperation and the steely commitment to integration which animates the seminal undertakings of the Grand Anse and Rose Hall Declarations “must inspire us now to lay out a new framework of action for the next decade.”
Next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of CARICOM, of the conclusion of the Georgetown Accord.
“This is an auspicious milestone,” Mr Briceño stated, proposing to his colleagues, that during 2022 they embark “on a journey of regional consultation so that we can mark the anniversary of the Accord with the adoption of a re-purposed, re-imagined, revitalized accord that presents an irreversible prescription designed to achieve our Region’s just objectives.”
He added, “The future holds few guarantees, but our common destiny compels us to walk boldly into the future together. Secure in the belief that promise of a greater tomorrow is ours.”
A New Development Path — Regional Agenda
Mr Briceño told his fellow regional heads that recovery should be aligned to “a new regional agenda that is centered around creating prosperity for our people.” He said they must continue, more intensely, to harness the resource endowments whilst building sustainability and resilience across our development interventions. That would naturally include digital transformation, transformation of agri-food systems, and empowering the CSME to deliver on its objectives.
Already, Mr Briceño said, the elements of a new regional agenda are taking shape. “The COVID 19 pandemic has underscored the urgency of advancing our Single ICT Space. All our countries have begun integrating digital technologies into our economic, social and governance structures. We need an expansion and acceleration of this effort together with investments to increase connectivity, ICT education and to guard against cybercrime. And yes, we will achieve regional roaming freedom!” Mr Briceño said.
Mr Briceño commended President of Guyana, Mr Irfaan Ali, “for his leadership and personal commitment to transforming the regional agri-food system.”
He added, “The Special Ministerial Task Force on Food Production and Food Security has already made substantial progress to identify priority commodities, levels of investment required, and policy reforms needed against a timeline.”
The CSME, he said, is at the center of Regional Integration. “Reflecting on our undertakings in the St. Ann Declaration of 2018, we need to re-double our efforts to complete the removal of the remaining barriers to intra-regional trade, empower our private sector and give full effect to the regime for free movement, including by addressing administrative obstacles,” Mr Briceño urged.
He added, “The CSME is the answer to the questions of how do we reduce the region’s food import bill? Of how do we generate economic growth? How we improve and benefit more from trade with extra-regional partners? A robust CSME is indispensable to building resilient economies; it is central to our economic recovery.”
He noted, “Integration binds together our Community; and this Community is at its core family.”
Mr Briceño turned to the situation of Haiti calling it a state of “despair for all of us.”
He said, “We have devoted significant time over the past year in considering how the Community can best support Haiti in grappling with a multitude of crises on top of which is now a constitutional crisis. We do not have any easy or quick fixes. But what we know for sure, is that the Community will continue to walk alongside Haiti; we will continue to offer our support, solidarity and cooperation; and we will continue to advocate for an international response that is commensurate with the needs of Haiti.”
It is time to live with COVID!
“As we seek to fortify our Region, we do so in the context of profound global crises. We are entering the third year of a global pandemic that has permanently changed the way we live and work,” Mr Briceño noted. “Whether our Region transitions to the endemic phase of COVID19 will depend on accessibility to vaccines, COVID-19 specific treatments and other therapeutics.”
He added, “Unfortunately, vaccine access and hesitancy remain challenges for several of our Member States; we will discuss during our meeting how to overcome these setbacks. It is time to live with COVID!”
Beauty and leisure
Offering a warm welcome to Belize, Mr Briceño said, “I am especially happy to welcome you all to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye better known as La Isla Bonita. San Pedro is a destination which attracts many foreign and local tourists. It epitomizes beauty and leisure — which unfortunately many of us will not get to fully enjoy this week! ”
But San Pedro, he adde, “is truly a microcosm of the challenges we are all facing as small islands and low lying coastal developing states. Beaches here are eroding because of rising sea levels; the Belize Barrier Reef, a World heritage Site, is struggling due to coral bleaching; a growing population is testing the limits of the island’s capacity.
“More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a devastating blow to San Pedro’s lucrative tourism industry. But the resilient people of San Pedro did not succumb. When tourism ebbed, they pivoted to fishing. Pioneering coral transplantation is restoring the reef. And a herculean beach reclamation project is underway. Yes, we are adapting and mitigating.”
The Prime Minister said, “This 33rd Intersessional Meeting is a particularly consequential meeting. We meet at a time when unprecedented and existential challenges coincide with our citizens expectations for relief and prosperity.”