CARICOM (53003)

The outgoing chairman of the 15-nation Caribbean Community has praised the region for the way it collectively responded to Haiti and other islands hit by Hurricane Matthew in early October, saying it has become clear to all that there is no other way for the string of mostly island nations to survive other than through collective efforts.

Roosevelt Skerrit, who is also the prime minister of the tiny Eastern Caribbean nation of Dominica, said he and other regional leaders are now convinced more than ever that people in the region fully believe that collective rather than individual action is the way forward after 43 years as a bloc of nations. The grouping was founded in July 1973.

He said many in the community of mostly former British colonies have accepted that each one is too small and under resourced to go it alone, so coordination of policies and efforts is the way to go.

“We demonstrated once again the strength and value of our togetherness when Hurricane Matthew wrought severe devastation with Haiti and the Bahamas, particularly hard hit, and other countries such as Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines being affected,” he said. “The outpouring of assistance from the governments and peoples of the community certainly brought comfort to those in distress.”

More than 200,000 homes were destroyed by the storm, exposing more than 1.4 million people to hardship. Damage was estimated at about $1.8 billion.

Skerrit said, “2016 has seen studied and deliberate progress in our integration movement. We continue to work to ensure that the people of the community realizes the benefit of our coordinated actions. The advancement of our reform process is a key element toward achieving that goal, and I applaud the headway being made in that regard.”

He highlighted the 50th Anniversary Independence celebrations in Guyana and Barbados, which he said “allowed us to reflect on an era when such co-operation was manifested by the two countries having a joint diplomatic mission in London.”

He also touched on financial issues, noting, “It is becoming more and more evident that the social, political and economic challenges that we all face are best overcome by our collective actions.” He cited the regional response to American banks cutting ties with indigenous banks earlier this year in the Caribbean as an example.

The issue, he said, “threatens our economic, financial and trading stability.”

He added, “This includes its effect on remittances from our relatives abroad. Having brought all the stakeholders together last October in Antigua, leaders engaged in constructive dialogue toward a permanent solution.” They continue to do so, he said.

American financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of American have cut ties with indigenous commercial banks in the Caribbean, contending that it is too costly to monitor and police transactions from the region for illegal activity.

The U.S. banks say they simply do not have the time and resources to comply with new edicts from federal agencies, so it is simply easier to end correspondent banking relations with the smaller banks in the Caribbean. Some of these banks have switched to British Crown Agents Bank to process checks, wire transfers and other transactions and at much higher costs than before.

Guyanese President David Granger will replace Skerrit as rotating chairman in January.