Caricom leaders head to Suriname
BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 12/20/2012, 3:56 p.m.
Caribbean Community presidents and prime ministers fly to Dutch-speaking Suriname this week for their annual midyear summit with little else on their plates but complaints from the smaller Eastern Caribbean subgroup about disappearing concession aid, unfair trade by some of the larger nations and the need to restructure the Guyana-based executive secretariat to better serve the region.
The summit, which is likely to attract most of the leaders of the 15 member countries and others with associate membership, will run for two days starting Thursday. Unless there are some major political developments this week, much of the time is likely to be spent discussing a review report leaders commissioned in recent months and complaints from the Eastern Caribbean about the state of play.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent, never shy about calling it as he sees it, has already signaled his intention to highlight a string of "grouses" he and the nine-nation OECS, the Caricom subgroup, have about the regional integration movement. Not the least among them is limited development aid available to the smaller island nations.
In his most recent letter to colleague prime ministers and presidents, Gonsalves said that he has some "specific grouses" linked mostly to what he called the "limited capitalization of the Caricom Development Fund" and "the veritable collapse" of the petroleum fund that Trinidad, under the Patrick Manning administration, had offered to sister bloc nations.
Since Kamla Persad-Bissessar became the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago nearly two years ago, she has signaled that millions in grant aid from the petroleum fund would dry up because her country is not the "ATM of the Caribbean." And judging by Gonsalves' interpretation of the state of play, it appears that Port of Spain has carried through with threats to wither up the fund, with virtually no releases at all in recent months.
Railing against alleged unfair competition and the inability of regional powers to level the playing field, the second-term prime minister argued that manufacturing is on the decline in the OECS and fingered Trinidad as one of the main culprits of unfair trade and competition.
Trinidad also came into Gonsalves' sights for offering its own carrier, Caribbean Airlines, a fuel subsidy that makes it profitable and harder for Antigua-based commuter airline LIAT to continue its lifeline services to islands across the region. LIAT, he said, might well approach the regional trade court to resolve the issue.
There is a "prevailing sentiment" in the OECS that "Caricom's service to,and sensibility toward, the OECS member-states are less than desirable," he noted, contending, "Some of these complaints are more easily addressed than others, but they are all evidently soluble, if we are committed, on an ongoing basis, to solving them.
"If not satisfactorily alleviated, these problems or limitations would fester further; in time, they are likely to become septic and debilitating," Gonsalves said.
Other agenda items will, as usual, include a review of the functioning of the single trading market, the debilitating turmoil in West Indies and Guyanese cricket, the visit of the president of Chile and Haiti's continuing struggle to get back on its feet after the January 2011 earthquake that reportedly killed more than 300,000. All roads lead this week to Paramaribo, the Surinamese capital.