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Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves at the opening of the Eighth CELAC Summit on Friday, March 1, 2024. (Photo: API/FAcebook)
Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves at the opening of the Eighth CELAC Summit on Friday, March 1, 2024. (Photo: API/FAcebook)
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By Kenton X. Chance

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — The outgoing president pro tempore of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, Friday called on the 33-member grouping to establish a permanent headquarters for the hemispheric bloc in order to fulfil its objectives.

Addressing the opening of the eighth CELAC summit here, Gonsalves said that the next year should be used to “fashion a permanent and nimble” secretariat for the integration movement.

CELAC was founded in 2011 but does not have a permanent secretariat, even as its annual summit was not held on a number of occasions. Further, what was intended to be a bi-annual summit with the European Union (EU) was held for the first time last year, after an eight year absence.

Gonsalves told the audience that included the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres that a permanent CELAC secretariat is necessary so as to “ensure that its monumental tasks in this challenging global environment be optimally addressed,” noting that “as in biology, structure follows function.

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“There are functions to be performed by CELAC which cannot adequately be performed with the current structure. I am calling for us to give serious and urgent consideration for a permanent and nimble secretariat for CELAC to carry out his requisite functions,” he said.

The one day-summit is finalising the Declaration of Kingstown, a communique that has “nearly 100 paragraphs” and which Prime Minister Gonsalves said he hopes would be adopted unanimously.

He said that during his presidency of CELAC, which began in January 2023, relevant initiatives were undertaken “within each of the broad frameworks”.

SVG ‘had a very active year’

He spoke of the report by his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Keisal Peters on the initiatives, adding “you would have noticed that this very small country, who many persons doubted our capacity to do this job, we had a very active year, it is up to you to judge whether we did well or not,” mentioning “certain highlights of functional cooperation, advocacy, and mature regionalism”.

Gonsalves said among these included “the platform for food security, the push for enhanced air and sea transport, the elaboration of the health sufficiency plan, the proposal for the establishment of the Latin American and Caribbean centre for the development of science, technology and innovation, the joint promotion of an environment for open, secure, stable, accessible, and peaceful information and communications technologies”.

Gonsalves further spoke of Kingstown’s coordination of efforts to address the issues of climate change and disaster mitigation, including the promotion of the Climate Adaptation and Comprehensive Natural Disaster Response Fund of CELAC.

He said Mexico and Argentina initiated the fund and St. Vincent and the Grenadines has “put some resources and I asked all members to put resources to this particular response fund and the consideration of the Caribbean Sea as a special area in the context of sustainable development”.

Gonsalves  said his Caribbean island initiated the effort to activate the Technical Working Group on Afro descendants of CELAC and enhanced activism for reparatory justice, including the promotion of the CARICOM’s 10-point plan for reparations and the activism in maintaining the Caribbean as a zone of peace.

He said this included “the sterling efforts to reduce tensions on matters consequential to the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela, which resulted in the Argyle declaration of Dec.14 2023”.

CELAC summit opening
From left: United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, outgoing president pro tempore of CELAC, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, and co-ordinator of the CELAC Secretariat in Kingstown, Douglas Slater at the opening ceremony of the 9th CELAC Summit on Friday, March 1, 2024. (Photo: API/Facebook)

Gonsalves said CELAC and CARICOM “without any involvement whatsoever from any foreign source” spearheaded the efforts that lead to the talks between Venezuela and Guyana that led to a lessening of tensions as a result of the century-old border dispute between both countries.

“This homegrown effort by CELAC and CARICOM has had many architects and builders,” he said, mentioning among them, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil as well as the Colombian and Cuban counterparts, Gustavo Petro and Miguel Díaz-Canel.

“However, without the wisdom and maturity of two highly esteemed leaders, my dear friends and brothers, two combatants for peace, President [Irfaan] Ali of Guyana, and President [Nicolas] Maduro of (Venezuela) without them, the Pact of Argyle would not have been possible,” said Gonsalves.

The two countries have an ongoing territorial dispute over the ownership of the Essequibo region, which makes up about two-thirds of Guyana and is home to 125,000 of the country’s 800,000 citizens.

Both Guyana and Venezuela have made presentations to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) relating to the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the border between Venezuela and the then-British Guiana, confirmed as legally enforceable.

In his address, Gonsalves also praised the role played by the UN Secretary General, describing him as “a great man of peace”.

Gonsalves said that over the past year “of our pro tempore presidency, we have come to realise more than ever, that although the shortest distance between two points geometrically, is a straight line, mountains, especially political mountains, cannot be scaled by way of a straight line.

“It is necessary, if not always desirable, to make zigs and zags in the absence of any political mountain while bearing in mind the goal is to arrive at the mountaintop. Thus, the zigs and zags must never restrict us in a cul-de-sac or a dead end. So, compromises in a complex world are required in our pursuit of peace, prosperity, and security for all.

“The understanding of all this is fundamental to life and living in the real world, suffused as it is, with contradictions galore, which are to be resolved, or at least muted,” Gonsalves told the summit.