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Douglas Slater, the national coordinator for CELAC in Kingstown, speaking to the API.
Douglas Slater, the national coordinator for CELAC in Kingstown, speaking to the API.
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National coordinator for Community of States of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC), Douglas Slater, says the 33-member bloc “is not just a talk shop” and St. Vincent and the Grenadines has achieved much during its one-year pro tempore presidency.

“And I think it will be important for persons to understand the feat that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has really achieved in getting the chairmanship and some of the things that we’ve been able to achieve,” he told the Agency for Public Information, a state media outlet.

SVG will hand over the CELAC presidency next Friday and Slater said an achievement that quickly comes to mind is the leadership role that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has played as chair of CELAC “in pulling off what is known as the Argyle declaration”.

He was referring to the talks held at the Argyle International Airport last December as Venezuela threatened to invade Guyana to settle a century-old border dispute.

“Now, we are all aware that there were quite a lot of issues, challenges between Venezuela and Guyana recently,” Slater said.

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During the Argyle talks, the presidents of Venezuela and Guyana committed to settling the dispute through peaceful means and not to use or threaten to use force against each other.

“And with all that is happening in the world with struggles, wars and conflicts, we knew that if this was not properly managed, it could have led to some significant negative impacts in the region. We didn’t want to have any conflicts on our shores.”

Slater said Gonsalves took the lead and demonstrated leadership and offered, as chair of CELAC, to intervene.

‘And because of his strong, very strong, friendly relationships between St. Vincent and Grenadines and both parties, we were able to act as an interlocutor to bring some peace and to simmer things down. And I think that is one of the big achievements.

“I mean, sometimes you just look or think that the tangible more financial aspects are important. But if you don’t have peace, you can suffer economically,” Slater said.

He said the discussion at the one-day summit will focus on the declaration.

“Now, CELAC and these sorts of organisations, because you have so many different countries with varying ideological position, varying philosophical outlook as to how you have integration, economic development, social development, we use the summit to negotiate a declaration, to pull together the thoughts of the community of CELAC, as to how we see our aim of deepening integration, deepening economic development, deepening our cultural aspects. It’s very varied, but there’s a richness in that variety,” Slater said. 

“How when you put all of them together, we can better integrate, as you know, the cliche, unity is strength. And therefore, we are looking for better unity in all these aspects of life.”

‘all of the statements are not implemented’

He noted that a declaration is a statement of intent, adding, “And to be frank, all of the statements are not implemented.

“But you don’t have to have 100% success to be successful.”

He said SVG inherited a declaration from Argentina, the last chair of CELAC.

“And there are lots of things. And you will find that when there’s so many things, you do need to pull back a little and focus on those things that you think are achievable, more achievable, and can be impactful. We think we have done that. And that will be our legacy.”

He said that SVG inherited from Argentina a declaration that had 111 articles.

“We decided ain’t no way, realistically, we can address every aspect of this. And it’s not intended that we will either, but it was for us to pick out. And that was one of the things. We said, ‘We want to finish this one.’”

Slater said that when Kingstown was elected pro tempore president of CELAC, Gonsalves said he wanted the tenure to be inclusive and collaborative.

“And we have been successful in that,” Douglas said, adding that some people had wondered if SVG would have been able to manage the presidency.

“Well, we have managed well. And, in fact, I can tell you, we have been receiving informal and sometimes formal acknowledgement as, ‘Boy, you guys have done a lot, probably better than any country before us.”

Slater said another success of SVG’s presidency was that Kingstown was able to complete the CELAC Food Security and Nutrition Plan that was being worked on since 2015.

He said CELAC, which has a total population of over 600 million people, is a net global food exporter.

“… we have some very big countries — Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico — these countries produce a lot of the world’s food — meats and soya and wheat, etc. But yet we do have a lot of poverty in the region. And this food security and nutrition plan for CELAC, we were able to complete it… Some of our predecessors have worked on it, but it was there and not moving fast.”

He said Minister of Agriculture Saboto and his team worked along with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and some other regional organisations “and pull it and say, ‘Look, we’ve got to finish this before St. Vincent [ends it presidency.]

“And we were very proud just about a few weeks ago, we celebrated that achievement in Chile.”

He further said that under SVG’s presidency, the EU-CELAC summit, which is supposed to take place every two years but had not been held for eight years, was held.

“And it was lauded as a big success,” he said of the Brussels summit. “So, these are things that sometimes I guess, that’s why I want the public to read more about it, because we take these things for granted.

Slater said that two or three countries were yet to confirm that they would attend the summit but said many of the delegation will be headed by their president or prime minister.

“So, you’re gonna have some really big names coming in. And there will be a lot of activities. You will be seeing a lot of different regional and national media for this meeting… It’s quite a challenge and sometimes people just see things happening, but behind the scenes, a lot is happening.”

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