Colombia Asks Caribbean to Look South

«Colombia wants to give special importance and priority to the needs of the Caribbean region,» said President Juan Manuel Santos.

U.S. Defense Department - Wikimedia Commons

Juan Manuel Santos

BASSETERRE, St Kitts, Jul 5, 2011 (IPS) – The 15-member Caribbean Community’s annual summit, which concluded here Monday, reflected here broader trends of south- south cooperation and integration, both within and beyond the region itself.

«Colombia wants to give special importance and priority to the needs of the Caribbean region,» said President Juan Manuel Santos, who was invited to the meeting although his country is not a Caricom member. 

«Historically, for various reasons, the South and the centre of our continent have looked to the North,» he said. «But today this North is facing difficulties derived from the recent financial crisis, whose consequences have affected its ability to cooperate with our regions. Therefore we believe it is time that the Caribbean also looks to the South.» 

Santos added that the South should also «look to the Caribbean». The Sixth Summit of the Americas to be held in Cartagena «will serve this purpose because there we can encourage new forms of hemispheric relations, more in line with the new political realities of economic development, trade and cooperation,» he noted. 

CARICOM’s flagship integration project in the region is the Single Market and Economy (CSME) allowing for the free movement of goods, services, skills and labour across the Caribbean, although the initiative is not without controversy. 
Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said that while his administration remains committed to the goals and ideals of the CSME, it is concerned with the impact on the island’s socioeconomic development. 

«Barbados has been totally frank with our CARICOM colleagues in assessing that while we support the ultimate goal of complete unrestricted freedom of movement, we can only hope to attain it through a phased and managed approach which does not strain the absorptive capacity of those countries which are the principal recipients and produce severe skills deficits in those which are the principal exporters,» he said. 

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Foreign Minister Dr. Douglas Slater said that on the issue of free movement, it is important to note that in accordance with international law, all migrants have a minimum set of rights which must be observed by all countries. 

«Freedom of movement thus, though posited as a long term goal of CARICOM, is currently regulated and is likely to be so in the foreseeable future,» he said, noting that «there are those who persuasively argue that it cannot be reasonable for every Jamaican, Guyanese or Vincentian to have the right freely to migrate, work and reside in Barbados or Trinidad.» 

A 2010 study found that some 4,000 people have been able to move freely under the CSME. A senior CSME Unit official said that «the study proved that persistent fears in member states that they are being flooded under the free movement regime are clearly unfounded. 

«On the contrary, it helped to fill critical vacancies in member states with respect to teachers and nurses, thus proving to be very beneficial to maintain a certain level of social services in these countries,» said specialist on the Movement of Skills/Labour, Steven Mc Andrew. 

Haiti’s new president Michel Martelly marked his inaugural appearance at a CARICOM summit by urging his regional counterparts to remove the visa requirements for Haitians, as well as to adopt French as an official language of the regional grouping. 

Martelly said that the visa situation was «close to my heart» and that «one of the ways to really solve this problem is to bring economic growth to Haiti because the problem is not a visa problem it is an economic problem». 

He also put forward the idea of a common regional agriculture project and systems that would allow business persons to travel to Haiti to sell or buy the produce. 

Assistant CARICOM Secretary General Colin Granderson later told IPS that on the issue of visas, the region has started taking steps to deal with the situation. 

«A lot of work has been done on that. Decisions have been taken to facilitate the travel of Haitian officials, diplomats, businessmen. A number of countries have already taken to facilitate and as you heard the issue was raised by President Martelly so it will encourage those who have not as yet taken the necessary decisions to implement decisions at the level of the Community,» he said. 

The leaders also issued a cautious statement regarding the ongoing war in Libya where rebels supported by NATO have been trying to overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi. 

«Heads of Government deplored the increasing loss of innocent life as the conflict in Libya becomes drawn out. They called for a ceasefire as well as the early convening of negotiations. In this regard, they expressed support for the African Union in their search for a peaceful resolution of the dispute,» the statement said. 

But Guyana’s president Bharrat Jagdeo blasted the West over what he termed «their hypocrisy» over Libya while ignoring similar situations where rulers use the military and other forces to cling to power in the Middle East. 

«As a member of the United Nations we tend to respect resolutions of the U.N. and I am not in favour of anyone shooting at innocent civilians,» said Jagdeo, who was attending his last summit because his country’s constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term in office. 

«But we cannot have double standards. More importantly we cannot have Bahrain or Yemen shoot at innocent people…kill 30 of them in one day and then urge dialogue in those countries because they are allies to Western powers when we have a different position in relation to Syria and to (Colonel Muammar) Gaddafi in Libya,» he told IPS. 

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