Caribbean Community leaders will next week head to Belize for their first in person summit in two years in the clearest signal yet that the region is slowly but surely moving to the post pandemic recovery phase.
And as widely expected, the main agenda item of the two-day meeting starting on March 1 will be discussions centered around strategies for economic recovery for most of the 15 member nations, as the majority of them are dependent on tourism and related services.
Once the Caricom summit ends, regional leaders will meet with their Central American counterparts on March 3 for a day of talks regarding multilateral cooperation, including exchanging notes on strategies to recover from two tough years. Caricom and the Central American Integration System (SICA) have not met in recent years. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres will attend that conference. Despite being in Central America,
Belize’s British colonial past ensures it is both in Caricom and in SICA. Prime Minister John Brecino is the current bloc chair.
The travel, tourism and entertainment sectors were among the worst affected globally once the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a world pandemic back in early 2020.
Governments across the world shuttered airports, cruise and other commercial ships headed to berthing ports, airports closed and streets emptied as authorities struggled to cope with alarming infection rates, rising fatality levels and vastly reduced revenues streams.
The shutdown permanently closed some hotels and entertainment spots across the region, forced others to let go of thousands of workers—some of whom have not returned to stations—and pushed others into offering early retirement packages to eligible staff.
And while key revenue streams dried up or reduced to a trickle, governments were still forced to find millions in grant aid schemes to help people in affected sectors to cope with temporary unemployment while still being under pressure to fund COVID test kits, acquire expensive vaccines and other medical supplies.
The in person summit comes as governments across the bloc are relaxing some of the stringent pandemic protocol rules which have been in place in the past two years.
For example, Suriname, Barbados, Guyana, The Bahamas and other member nations have either abandoned night-time curfews altogether or have allowed social activities up to midnight in gradual moves to restore some semblance of normalcy.
Just this week, schools in Barbados moved to a phased reopening, while some like Guyana and the Eastern Caribbean have already done so. Officials like Education Minister Kay McConney in Barbados say the time has come for a resumption even as daily infection rates continue to worry officials.
“The ministry is mindful that some of our Barbadian students have to take the same external exams at the same time as others in the region. Their counterparts in the region are already in significant part back to face-to-face-school, benefitting and advancing in ways that our Barbadian students would also like to benefit and advance. My informal conversations with students bear out their concern. And, their perspective must also be taken into consideration,” the minister stated.
Other key agenda items including the situation in Haiti as the region’s most populous country tries to recover from the early July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the pandemic and its extremely low vaccine availability and inoculation rates, an earthquake that killed hundreds in August, and a hit by a storm during last year’s season.
This is in addition to continuing squabbles as to who should lead the country, when to have elections, and the growing strength of armed gangs as was seen in the bold abduction of more than 20 Americans last year and ransom demands for their release.