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Only CARICOM Countries Can Divide CARICOM | Sir Ronald Sanders

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By Sir Ronald Sanders

WASHINGTON, United States, Friday January 24,
2020
– The meeting between US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo,
and the Foreign Ministers of seven Caribbean countries, gave rise to many
questions, but the US seeking to “divide CARICOM” should not be one of them.

External
forces can try as they wish to divide the members of the 15-nation Caribbean
Community (CARICOM), but only those Caribbean nations can cause the division.

So,
there should be no blame attributed to the US government for “dividing CARICOM”
by the invitation to foreign ministers of only six of its 14 independent
member-states to attend a January 22 meeting, hosted by the Jamaica
government.  The US, like every other
government in the world, has the perfect right to invite to a meeting any
governments with which it wants to confer. 

The
issue – if, indeed, there is an issue – is with those CARICOM governments,
particularly the host government, that agreed to the meeting without insisting
that no CARICOM government should have been excluded from a rare opportunity to
consult a US representative as high-level as the Secretary of State.

After
all, the meeting was held in the Caribbean, under the auspices of a CARICOM
government.  It was not held in the US
under the control of the US government as occurred when President Trump invited
five Caribbean leaders to Mar-a-Largo, his estate in Florida.

At
the very least, it was within the Jamaica Prime Minister’s capacity to advise
the US government that it would be both prudent and beneficial for
representatives of all 14 independent CARICOM governments to be invited to what
Mr Pompeo’s own State Department described as “a roundtable discussion” with
the named foreign ministers of the seven Caribbean countries.  It should be noted that, in addition to the
six invited foreign ministers from CARICOM countries, the Dominican Republic
was also an invitee as it was to the Mar-a-largo gathering with President
Trump. 

In
the past, whenever any CARICOM government has hosted a leader of a major
nation, it has been the general practice to invite all CARICOM governments to
be present for discussions. The wider CARICOM meeting with such leaders did not
preclude a bilateral meeting by the host government with the invited
leader.  Indeed, it was the norm that a
bilateral meeting would be held between the host and guest leaders, followed by
the wider consultation with all CARICOM governments.

In
this context, the off-the-cuff remark, made by Jamaica Prime Minister, Andrew
Holness, at a press conference with Mr Pompeo, that, “if any­one wanted to
attend, they just had to signal”, was unfortunate.  Mr Holness is a decent man; undoubtedly, had
he prepared his response, it would have been more considered and less
dismissive than it sounded.

No
CARICOM country should have to ask for an invitation between a representative
of the world’s superpower and representatives of CARICOM countries. From the
inception of the treaty organisation, CARICOM member countries have operated in
recognition that there is strength in their taking common positions on the
crucial issues that affect them jointly.

A
separate collective CARICOM meeting with Mr. Pompeo would not have deprived the
Jamaica government of bilateral discussions of matters of peculiar interest to
Jamaica.  However, apart from specific
national interests, Jamaican concerns that are shared with all other CARICOM
countries would have been bolstered by Mr Pompeo hearing the collective voice
of the 14 independent member states.  
That opportunity was lost at the January 22 meeting.

It
is for the other five CARICOM countries that readily attended the meeting to
consider whether they should have accepted an invitation that excluded eight of
the countries on whose support and solidarity they depend in global affairs.

Would
the arguments that they advanced, not have had greater effect if Mr Pompeo had
heard them from 14 countries rather than 6, especially as among the remaining
eight countries would have been Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname –
three countries that possess resources that are of considerable interest to the
US?

Of
course, at the heart of this matter is that CARICOM countries have never agreed
to harmonise their external relations, as have the (still) 28 countries of the
European Union (EU), which conduct their collective policies through a single
European Commission under the direction of a Council of Ministers of the member
states.  CARICOM governments have clung
to the notion that CARICOM is “a community of sovereign states”.  In affirming this position in their external
relations, they have placed the rights of “sovereignty” over the obligations of
“community”, allowing each of them to pursue short term “benefits” from
external sources at the expense of the longer term gains they would get from
being seen, indeed and in fact, as a solid and unshakeable group. 

But,
there should be no mistake. External forces will always try to break any
solidarity of CARICOM countries if it is in their interest to do so.  No CARICOM government should behave as if
such attempts are an affront – it has always been a fact of international
relations.  Instead, CARICOM countries
should consider what they lose individually and collectively by fragmenting
themselves, instead of acting in solidarity.

As
for the Jamaica meeting, Mr Pompeo had one overriding objective and that was to
secure the support of the seven attending countries to vote for Mr Luis Almagro
to be re-elected as the Secretary-General of the Organization of American
States.

The
US has calculated Mr Almagro’s support and reached the unavoidable conclusion
that he does not now have the 18 votes required to be re-elected. There is
nothing wrong with the US government promoting and advancing a candidate it
favours; many countries in the Lima Group and in the Caribbean are also promoting
the candidates they back.

The more fundamental issue is not whether external forces are trying to divide CARICOM, but whether CARICOM will allow itself to be divided. Maybe, at the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in February in Barbados, the 14 Heads of independent member states should lock themselves in a room, without anyone else, and thrash out this issue.

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Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS.  He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own.

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Rihanna Calls for Unity and for Friends of People of Colour to “Pull Up”, After Winning NAACP Award

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Rihanna after accepting her President’s Award at the NAACP Image Awards on Saturday.

CALIFORNIA, United States, Monday February 24, 2020 – Barbadian superstar Rihanna made a call for unity in a powerful
speech on Saturday, after accepting the prestigious President’s Award at the 51st
NAACP Image Awards for her philanthropic efforts.

In a three-minute speech that earned
her thunderous applause at Pasadena the Civic Centre Auditorium in California, the
singer/ business mogul/actress/philanthropist – who, in
2012, founded the Clara Lionel Foundation, a non-profit organization named
after her grandparents that funds ground-breaking education and emergency
preparedness and response programmes worldwide – insisted that people needed to
be united to fix the world’s problems.

Rihanna spoke of the importance of
unifying communities and encouraged people of colour to tell friends of
different races to “pull up”.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned,
it’s that we can only fix this world together. We can’t do it divided. I cannot
emphasize that enough. We can’t let the de-sensitivity seep in. The ‘if it’s your
problem, then it’s not mine’; ‘it’s a woman’s problem’; ‘it’s a black people
problem’; ‘it’s a poor people problem’,” she said.

Posing a question and asking for a show of hands
from the audience, the 32-year-old global music and fashion icon continued: “How
many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other
races, sexes, religions? They want to break bread with you, right? They like
you? Well then, this is their problem too.”

“So when we’re marching and protesting and posting about the Michael Brown Jrs and the Atatiana Jeffersons of the world, tell your friends to pull up,” she added, referring to an unarmed 18-year-old man who was fatally shot by a white policeman and a 28-year-old woman who was shot to death in her mother’s Dallas home by a police officer.

Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP, the
US’ oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization, said in a
statement that Rihanna had received the award for not only her “ground-breaking
career as an artist and musician”, but also for being a “stellar
public servant”.

“From her business achievements through Fenty,
to her tremendous record as an activist and philanthropist, Rihanna epitomizes
the type of character, grace, and devotion to justice that we seek to highlight
in our President’s Award,” said Johnson who presented Rihanna with the award at
a live show aired on BET.

Alongside her musical achievements which include nine Grammy awards, Rihanna has added more credits to her burgeoning resume: executive producer, fashion designer, actress, business entrepreneur and philanthropist.

In becoming a recipient of the President’s Award, she has joined the join the ranks of other distinguished recipients, including American rapper, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, and record executive Jay-Z; American politician and retired four-star general in the US Army Colin Powell who was the first African American to be appointed Secretary of State; and the late Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all time, activist, and philanthropist.

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Haiti’s Carnival Called Off as Cops and Soldiers Square off in Gun Battle

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Monday February 24, 2020 – Haiti’s annual Carnival, scheduled to be staged from yesterday until Wednesday, has been called off following violent clashes between the country’s soldiers and police.

On what was to be day one of the celebration at the Champ de Mars, members of President Jovenel Moise’s reconstituted Armed Forces of Haiti and off-duty members of the Haiti National Police and their supporters exchanged gunfire a short distance from the presidential palace.

Hours after the afternoon battle, government announced that the festival would be cancelled “in order to avoid the planned bloodshed”.

Reports indicated that at least one
person was fatally shot in the head and more than a dozen other people were
wounded.

The deadly clash came during a protest that was organized by police officers demanding better pay and working conditions and demanding that authorities accept their effort to unionize.

During the unrest, a stand that was built for the festivities was destroyed by the protesters.

While the government says it cannot increase the officers’ salaries, President Moise announced several other measures, including: doubling a monthly police debit card from $51 to $102 for 15,000 members of the police force; and the construction of a new police housing village with two-bedroom apartments that would be sold with a 25 to 30-year mortgage at 7.5 percent interest.

Haiti’s Carnival was also cancelled last year due to unrest.

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CARICOM Development Fund To Be Restructured

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CARICOM Chairman, Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley says the issue of the CDF and its management was one that had “bedevilled the Community for some time”.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday February 24, 2020 – So serious are the issues facing the region that its leaders have
decided to restructure the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) to enable it to raise
additional monies from individuals, companies, institutions, regional countries
and extra regional countries.

CARICOM Chairman, Barbados’ Prime
Minister Mia Mottley, said the issue of the CDF and its management was one that
had “bedevilled the Community for some time”, noting that it was created as a
way to assist disadvantaged countries, sectors, and regions.

“Member states have committed to capitalizing this Fund, but this will never be enough to do what needs to be done, particularly with all of the challenges that the region faces at this point in time…. I outlined a number of them and we keep seeing new challenges as we did with the COVID-19, and to that extent, therefore, we feel strongly that we need to revisit the structure of the CARICOM Development Fund,” she said on the heels of the 31st Inter-sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government which her country hosted.

Mottley added that the restructuring
would be long-term, explaining that the CDF would ultimately drive the development
of regional institutions that had been taken over by technological developments
which made them obsolete or incapable of being competitive.

As a result, she said a transition
period was needed since a middle developed country that was affected by a
climatic or other event would require an injection of capital in order to
stabilize it.

The CARICOM chairman noted that going
forward, once the restructuring was done correctly, the Fund would be one of
the key pillars of the integration movement, allowing leaders to deal with the
disparities that exist as far as size and capacity were concerned, and carrying
all nations from the very large to the very smallest ones on the integration
journey.

She opined that in any Single Market
and Single Economy there would be winners and losers, pointing out that this
decision by heads of government would “make a significant difference” to the
region’s development.

At the end of the two-day summit, a number of agreements were also signed. Dominica signed the Protocol on the Public Procurement and an agreement on the Return or Sharing of Recovered Assets; the British Virgin Islands signed an agreement for the establishment of the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for the Education in Medicine and other Health Professions; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines signed the Protocol on Public Procurement and Declaration of Intent to Provisionally Apply the Protocol on Public Procurement.

CARICOM Heads of Government will meet in St Vincent and the Grenadines for their Regular summit from July 2 to 3, but they have promised to confer before that date by teleconference.

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PAHO Calls for Action to Improve Childhood Cancer Survival in the Caribbean

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Monday February 24, 2020 – Paediatric cancer experts and health authorities convened by the Pan
American Health Organization (PAHO), together with the Hospital for Sick
Children (SickKids) and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, are calling for
stepped-up action to improve the survival rate for children suffering from
cancer in the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean and globally, cancer
is among the leading causes of death in children under age 15.

In high-income countries, more than 8
in 10 children with cancer are able to survive the illness, thanks to early
diagnosis and effective treatment. But in several Caribbean countries, two-year
overall survival is only about 55 per cent. Higher toxicity of cancer
treatments and patients’ abandoning their treatment are the main barriers to
successful outcomes, and experts say that strengthening health systems is the
best way to address these challenges.

“Childhood cancer treatment is very
cost-effective, and many more children’s lives can be saved by ensuring that
the health system is well equipped to diagnose and treat children with cancer
and provide support to their families,’’ said Silvana Luciani, head of PAHO’s non-communicable
diseases unit.

The experts convened by PAHO include paediatricians,
paediatric oncologists, and non-communicable disease programme managers from
nine Caribbean countries and territories, along with representatives of
ministries of health and other collaborating organizations. The group met in
Port of Spain Trinidad recently to map out ways to increase support and
action—at both the country and international levels—to reduce deaths in
children and adolescents with cancer in the Caribbean through strengthened
health systems, focusing on improving diagnosis, treatment, training, and
family support.

The meeting identified priority areas
of action as: earlier detection and diagnosis of childhood cancer in primary
care, with timely referral for specialized treatment; increased access to
essential medicines for childhood cancer; training and continuing
multi-disciplinary medical education for specialists and primary care
providers; improved continuity of care, including for children who live far
from treatment centres to prevent abandonment of treatment; and the production
and sharing of evidence for public health use and to mobilize political and
financial support.

The actions proposed by the experts
in Trinidad build on earlier efforts by the SickKids-Caribbean Initiative
(SCI), established in 2013 to build sustainable local capacity to diagnose,
treat and manage paediatric cancers and blood disorders in six participating
countries – The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the
Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago –, and a regional working group for Latin
America and the Caribbean set up by PAHO in 2017 to develop strategies and
recommendations for health system strengthening for childhood cancer.

The current efforts are also part of the broader Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018 to improve survival rates by addressing barriers to access and quality of care for children with cancer.

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Barbados Government Exploring Possibility of Ferry System for Local and Regional Transportation

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday February 24, 2020 – Government is presently exploring possibilities for investment to
establish a ferry system to move people and cargo from coast to coast and
throughout the island chain.

Minister of Maritime Affairs and the
Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey recently shared his vision to move cargo from
Oistins in Christ Church all the way to the north of the island, as he also spoke
about his desire to see service expand even further.

“We have now an expression of
interest out to encourage those who have the wherewithal to help us build out
those jetties from the north all the way to the south and move cargo along the
coastline, and also think bigger, and move between the islands,” he said.

He added that Government had
determined that there was need for a “nicely built and stabilized” ferry that
could move great containers and people.

Humphrey noted that lessons learnt
from the aftermath of past disasters indicated that getting food into the
island chain was almost impossible.

“The Caribbean should not be in a
position where it is waiting on someone to come and save us.  That is why it is necessary to have the
ferries,” he said, making reference to the difficulties experienced in getting
planes into Dominica after the passage of Hurricane Maria.

Minister Humphrey also pointed out that investing in ferries would also benefit the country, as the costs could be “recouped” in shipping, and assist with reducing export costs.

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