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By Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Heavy rains as a result of isolated thunderstorms failed to put a damper on the excitement as CARICOM leaders, on Tuesday, planted six poui trees as part of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the regional integration movement.

In addition, the leaders from the 15-member regional grouping affixed their signatures to a letter placed in a time capsule that will be unsealed 50 years from now. The leaders also joined in the ceremonial flag raising ceremony that was held at the Convention Centre in Chaguaramas, west of there, the venue where the then leaders of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas, on July 4, 1973, heralding the birth of CARICOM.

Dominica’s Prime Minister and CARICOM chairman, Roosevelt Skerrit said while he wanted to remind the region’s population that “we are living in a more different world than in the last 50 years”, it is still important for the Caribbean countries to remain united in their stance to issues affecting the Community.

“I suggested to the Prime Minister of Trinidad Tobago, that we should come here to celebrate the 50th  anniversary of CARICOM. And one of the reasons I wanted this to happen was for us to have some introspection and some reflection, and quite possibly to invoke the spirits of the founding fathers, to ask whether we are on the right track, or we are on the wrong track.

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“I believe in large measure we are on the right track. But there are some things which we need to do…I will say to us in the Caribbean, I believe we’re living in a more difficult world now than 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, and this requires us to be even more united in purpose. ”

Skerrit said there are too many injustices that have been meted to the region over the years, such as “ the issue of climate change, and kicking down the bucket of firm decisions to address our concerns in the Caribbean community.

“And sometimes we feel like giving up, we feel like not going to any of the COP conferences. But we must never relent on our fight against injustice. Like our forebears who fought for our emancipation, they never give up. And therefore we have to look even deeper within ourselves to continue that noble fight of ensuring that the developed world does what is just and right where we are concerned in regards to climate change.”

He said the issue of correspondent banking and de-risking was also another major issue confronting the region.
”I do not believe that the average Caribbean national understands the implications of this on their own individual household and circumstance. I would say to us in the Caribbean Community, this is not a government fight, this must be our fight in the Caribbean Community, every one of us must be apart. Because this poses an existential threat to our very survival and ability to trade with the rest of the world.”

Skerrit spoke of the whole international financial architecture and how it is skewed against the Caribbeans.

“I am happy that we are pushing out with the Bridgetown initiative where we articulated a very clear view of what the problem is, and what are the solutions to the problem. And so it is a very simple solution.

“Because when we speak to those who have the opportunity to make those decisions, they give us the impression that it is impossible. But we make laws and we go to Parliament to amend them. We go to Parliament to repeal laws. And as far as I understand it, outside of the Ten Commandments, we can change anything we wish to change in this world.”

Skerrit said that he remains “confident and comforted to know that we are united within this CARICOM community.

“We’re united in our vision, we are united in our mission and we’re united in our commitment to fight the good fight. And so this 50 years is really a time for us to reflect and to look forward to the next 50 years to secure a proper and solid future for our young people”

“And within the Caribbean space, I am also comforted to know that our young people understand their role and their commitment, and their need to rise to the occasion. This notion of young people are the leaders of tomorrow, I don’t subscribe to. Our young people are leaders today, and tomorrow and we have to ensure that they play their part today.”

Skerrit said he was welcoming “all of our friends from far and near who have come to celebrate with us, and to say to you, that you have in the Caribbean Community, true and trusted friends.

“There’s no way in the world where you will have more true and trusted friends than those of us who reside in this Caribbean community,” he said, adding “it is left to us now the current and future generations to continue on these efforts towards true integration and creating the single domestic space so that we can truly realise our true potential as a Caribbean community.

“We’re here in the hurricane season. As we speak, there is a tropical wave affecting the Eastern Caribbean. It’s always a discomforting and unnerving time for all of us. And this is why it’s so critical that action be taken where climate change is concerned.

“We have no choice in this matter. And we have to go back to the commitments that were made to us. You know, every time there’s a COP summit, COP conference, there is a new offering on the table. I do not believe that we need new offerings. We need to go back to the original offering and ensure that that offering is actualised and realised by all of us,” Skerrit said.

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley said Chaguaramas will always be remembered as the venue where an event took place that “changed the course of our recent history.

“Today, we stand in the showers on what we consider to be Caribbean holy ground, Chaguaramas a special place in our hearts because of its role in the creation of the Caribbean Community,

“Undoubtedly, the air was filled then as it is now with expectations , joy and hope for the future,” he told the ceremony, adding “as we retrace our steps, what words of wisdom will our forefathers offer us  had they lived to join us today?”

Rowley said given his penchant for developing our youth, the late former Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, Dr. Eric Williams “would admonished us to invest in our school children, such as these children who are here with us today, understanding as he did, that our future lies in their book bags.

“The late Jamaican statesman, Mr. Michael Manley would challenge us as leaders to transform government, from what he called a reflection of the art of the possible to a  reflection of the pursuit of the impossible, so that we would know our own capabilities. And in so doing, banish self doubt.

“He would be joined by the late Barbadian stalwart, the great orator, Mr. Errol Barrow, who reminded us that we are friends of all and satellites of none,” Rowley said, noting that Barrow would “unashamedly urge us to pursue our collective vision together as masters of our own destinies, as practitioners of the diplomacy of peace and prosperity.

“And the later Guyanese founding father, Mr. Forbes Burnham will, of course, call on us to take stock of our achievements, and our failures and note what we have accomplished successfully, and where we can improve.

“He also spoke about the Caribbean unity, involving not just the governments, but also the people, even as he reminded us, of the need for the region’s resources to benefit all these people.”

Rowley said that a common theme to all these messages was the notion of the Caribbean as representing more than Anglophone Caribbean, adding “today, we look forward towards greeting Martinique and the Dutch Antilles.

“The community should be outward looking. This started on the Fourth day of July 1973 and continues to this day. But I think we should make an observation here. Dr. Williams was no mean historian. And it is not by accident, not the CARICOM  seed was sown on July the fourth on this old American naval base, and the Independence Day of the United States,” Rowley said, wishing the North American country “Happy Independence”.

The Trinidad and Tobago prime minister said CARICOM must use the foundation laid by the four pillars of regional integration, namely, functional cooperation, the coordination of foreign policy, security, collaboration, and economic integration, “to build a home where we can find refuge, where all of us can find refuge and purpose.

“Yet, CARICOM has had to contend with its own limitations, limitations that are built into its design. Given that we are sovereign states, free to choose our own policies and pursue our own goals.

“There have been times when, in the last 50 years, these limitations have challenged us. And still, here we are today, a family of nations replete with the wisdom that comes from facing those challenges head on, we are stronger together,” he told the dignitaries that included the Secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro and the South Korean Prime Minister, Han Duck-soo.