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Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, left, and Central Kingstown MP, opposition lawmaker St. Clair Leacock in Parliament on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, left, and Central Kingstown MP, opposition lawmaker St. Clair Leacock in Parliament on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
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The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) whose eight summit St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will host next week Friday, March 1, is “an inter-governmental mechanism for dialogue and political consultation,” Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves told Parliament on Friday.

He said the hemispheric bloc of 33 Latin American and Caribbean States that was created in December 2011 is not a bank or donor agency from which SVG, which is its pro tempore president, or any other country can benefit directly.

Gonsalves was responding in Parliament on Thursday to questions from Central Kingstown MP, opposition lawmaker, St. Clair Leacock, who asked about the benefit of CELAC to SVG and the cost of hosting the summit.

Leacock asked Gonsalves about the quantum of investment of CELAC as a body in SVG or if by country the breakout.

He told the finance minister that if CELAC invest in SVG, he should say whether the monies are deposited into the Consolidated Fund or some other designated fund, the cost to the people of SVG for hosting the CELAC summit, and if there is a cost, whether it was being paid for by way of special warrant.

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Gonsalves told Parliament that CELAC is “an inter-governmental mechanism for dialogue and political consultation”, noting that the constituent populations collectively comprise over 650 million people.

“The CELAC plays a valuable role in promoting unity cooperation and development among its member countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. It contributes to advancing regional integration by fostering cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, infrastructure, development and energy, with a view to advancing economic growth and development across the region,” he said.

He further said the bloc is well known for his promotion of South-South cooperation and solidarity among developing countries.

CELAC facilitates exchanges of knowledge and expertise in areas such as agriculture, health, education, and technology transfer, with the aim of supporting sustainable development and poverty reduction, Gonsalves told lawmakers.  

However, CELAC is primarily a political and diplomatic forum. It is not a development bank or a multilateral lender,” he said.

He said that while CELAC members member countries may engage in bilateral or multilateral investment agreements and projects with each other mainly through diplomatic channels facilitated by CELAC, CELAC itself does not lend or grant money to governments and has not loaned or granted money to SVG.

Gonsalves said that the prime minister has for years elaborated the seven pillars that undergird his vision of transforming SVG “into a modern competitive post-colonial economy that is at once local, regional and global”.

He said the seven pillars include “our commitment to the deepening of regional integration … and … our international solidarity and activist foreign policy”, which the finance minister said are the critical ones to focus on in recent years.

“That commitment, deepening regional integration and that international solidarity and activist foreign policy have manifested themselves in our election to the United Nations Economic and Social Council for the years 2018 and 2019, our election to the United Nations Security Council for the years 2020 and 2021 and our historic election to the pro tempore presidency of CELAC for 2023.

“We have determined, as many small island developing states before us, that it is a developmental imperative to leverage our sovereignty to give us an outsized voice, influence and convening power to give us greater access to other nations and greater ability to shape the global agenda.”

The finance minister said that over the course of SVG’s presidency of CELAC, “we gained unprecedented access to the leaders of the European Union during our convening of the first CELAC-EU summit in over eight years.

“We gained similar access to the heads of the African continent in a similar engagement on the margins of the United Nations, and we played a central and indispensable role in promoting hemispheric peace during our historic summit with the presidents of Guyana and Venezuela at the Argyle International Airport.”

He said that with over 33 countries attending the CELAC summit in Buccament Bay, and with over 350 participants, “the CELAC summit will be the largest and most significant diplomatic gathering ever hosted in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

We will have priority access to the leaders of many significant regional and global powers, including outside of CELAC, the Secretary General of the United Nations,” Gonsalves said.

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