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Dr. Douglas Slater.
Dr. Douglas Slater.
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Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Health, Dr. Douglas Slater will head the CELAC secretariat in Kingstown, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has announced, reiterating that his government will approach the pro tempore presidency “in an inclusive manner” involving other CARICOM nations.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has become the first CARICOM nation to be elected president of the 33-hemispheric body, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and Gonsalves said he would ask regional capitals to help to staff the secretariat.

He said on NBC Radio this week, that the cabinet will meet with all permanent secretaries in Kingstown, “because the work has to be across the board”.

Gonsalves said the Cabinet was finalizing with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs all the staff issues.

“We have to shift people around, bring some people in …”

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The prime minister said that since being elected on Jan. 24, Kingstown has been “in touch with countries in the region and Latin America, the Caribbean have been in touch with me. I’ve spoken to several entities, individuals.

He said that Slater, a physician who was MP For South Leeward from 2001 to 2010 and was, until recently, assistant secretary general in charge of human and social development at the CARICOM, will head the CELAC coordinating Secretariat in Kingstown.

The deputy director would be Ambassador Andres Wickham, Kingstown’s former envoy to Caracas.

The prime minister said that the secretariat would be located in Frenches in a building that the government has already rented to house the Higher Education Accreditation unit.

“We’ll have enough space for them for the Secretariat in that building up in the Frenches area. We were renting the whole building in any event so there’s no additional cost in that sense,” Gonsalves said.

He continued:

“The other countries are reaching out to work with us to help to carry the weight, so to speak, which is the way in which I had told them we’ll do it in an inclusive manner, in a collegial manner…”

He said SVG’s election as the pro tempore president of CELAC for one year “is a big one”.

He said that under Kingstown’s presidency, CELAC has to make preparations for the encounters with the European Union, the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Arab League and BRICS – the five leading emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

Brazil re-joined CELAC in January after a four-year hiatus.

Gonsalves said a lot of preparatory work had to be done ahead of the various summits involving CELAC this year.

 “But these are defining moments,” Gonsalves said and spoke of the CELAC Disaster Fund, of which SVG is chair, as one of the ways in which SVG would benefit from its CELAC presidency.

The prime minister said that Kingstown and Argentina have already paid their subscription to the fund.

He contrasted the CELAC Disaster Fund to the one set up by the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, but which has “no money in it.

“A fund without money in it is an oxymoron. A fund without money is fun — f-u-n. It’s not a fund. You are making fun,” Gonsalves said.

“So, we can then go to the international …  and I want before we go to Spain where we are going to have the European Union-CELAC meeting to say, ‘We have a fund, you know’,” Gonsalves said, adding that there are “several important items on the agenda” for CELAC during SVG’s presidency.