By the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas
As outgoing Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government, it gives me great pleasure to wish the people of the Caribbean Community a blessed and peaceful Christmas.
During our celebration of this season of goodwill, let us, as a Community, reflect on our achievements over the year that is fast ending, a reflection that will no doubt be coloured by the challenges spawned by the current period of global uncertainties.
Those external upheavals have served to strengthen our resolve to drive the integration movement forward, a stance for which there has been firm support and commitment from you, the regional populace. I wish to reiterate my commendation to you for your resilience and for the outstanding qualities that have enabled our Community to remain a symbol of stability and good governance, reflected in our embrace of democratic processes.
The challenges, including those directly related to the global economic and financial crises have honed our attention particularly on finding creative ways to confront them. We have sought, for example, to encourage foreign investment from new areas and welcomed the interest shown by India, China and Japan, all of whom mounted trade and investment missions to the Region seeking opportunities.
The continuing increases in the prices of food and the search for food sovereignty have engaged our attention as a Community. Our stakeholders in the agriculture sector, as evinced most recently in Dominica where they participated in the Caribbean Week of Agriculture, are working assiduously to find a solution to those particular challenges. We must continue to encourage them by buying and consuming locally grown food – which we are by no means short of – so that we could lower our very high food import bill, and at the same time, maintain healthy lifestyles.
In advancing the latter ideal, our Community can take pride in the fact that we provided the leadership to appropriately position on the international stage, the threat of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). As a result of the Community’s tireless advocacy, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly agreed to convene a High Level Meeting (HLM) on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) which was held in September in New York, although the outcome may not have been as ambitious as we had envisaged.
Regionally, we have made great strides in initiating operations of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), a consolidation of five regional health institutions. The Agency, I am pleased to announce, will come on stream early in the New Year.
Our solid achievements in health have extended also to successes recorded by the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP).
People of the Community, securing your livelihood and well-being have been at the forefront of our activities; however, given their importance to our Community, we have placed much emphasis on youth development. In the last quarter of this year, we boosted our campaign against youth gangs and gang violence with interventions across the Region that have yielded encouraging results and which will determine our response going forward.
A major factor in ensuring that well-being and indeed our existence is our commitment to the adaptation and mitigation of Climate Change. Earlier this month, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, we continued our advocacy for attention to be paid to the deleterious effects of climate change on the natural environments and economies of our small states. One of the outcomes of the Durban Conference was a decision by Parties to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015. The Community, in particular, through Grenada’s leadership of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), ensured that a number of our concerns was addressed in the outcome document.
We continued our quest to cement relations with Third States and Groups of States with some emphasis on those in our Hemisphere. A plan of action for closer co-operation and joint initiatives was drawn up with the Integration System of Central America (SICA) in a range of areas and work has begun through the two regional Secretariats to ensure that these initiatives make an impact on the lives of the people of both Regions. I was particularly pleased to participate in the Fourth CARICOM-Cuba Summit held in Trinidad and Tobago earlier in December, where the Community renewed and advanced its longstanding relationship with Cuba. There are also meaningful people-centered activities arising out of that encounter in health, agriculture, infrastructure building and culture, which would doubtlessly improve the well-being of our citizens.
As we look back on 2011, we can do so with a measure of comfort that we have fulfilled the charge delivered at the beginning of the year by my predecessor, the Hon. Tillman Thomas, Prime Minister of Grenada, to make 2011 a “watershed year”, a year when a new generation of leaders would take their place in the Community. At that time, we were confident that we would weather the multiple storms that were facing us by dint of strengthening community bonds, cooperating with each other and utilising all the skills available to us.
In our era of new beginnings, one of my first tasks as Chairman of the Community was to install Ambassador Irwin LaRocque as the new Secretary-General of CARICOM, an occasion which, for me, heralded a turning point in the history of our Community. He has begun the task of finding creative ways to chart the Community’s course in the current global environment.
As we contemplate our resolutions for the new year, let us collectively pledge to work together to build on our founding fathers’ dreams of regional integration, securing a community for all for generations to come.
Season’s greetings to you all!