As of today, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves assumes the role of Chairman of CARICOM for the next six months under the terms of the rotating arrangement between regional Heads. In normal circumstances, Gonsalves would have assumed the position at a grand regional Summit, held with pomp and ceremony. However this year, because of the COVID pandemic, the Heads will meet virtually and the formal Summit has been postponed until September, should circumstances permit.
While the meetings of the Heads may be virtual, there are virtually some very significant matters before them which have bearing on the health of the region’s peoples, the state of the economies, the integrity of democratic institutions and even on the durability of regional integration itself.
These are very challenging times for the Caribbean and its peoples. A variety of issues will severely test the mettle of the governments and leadership in the CARICOM area as perhaps never before. Chief among them is the shockwave of the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected every single country throughout the region, some more so than others, but which has also created serious uncertainty about its duration and intensity.
More than three months after the initial shocks, which triggered reactions bordering on panic-stricken in some cases, while the region has, in health terms, avoided the fatalities as experienced in larger countries, there looms the threat of a second wave as governments attempt to manage the reopening of their economies. The tourism-dependent region is by its very nature very vulnerable and with no precedents on which to rely, it is largely in uncharted waters.
Already tourism and travel have been hard hit reeling serious body blows on the economies of the region. Now there is another dangerous development which can undermine recovery efforts. The announcement of the liquidation of the only true regional air carrier, LIAT, is a major obstacle to economic recovery, one which calls for immediate and concerted attention.
For a long time now LIAT has been not just a very tangible manifestation of regional integration, but also a burden, shared unequally between the various member states. While it has performed yeoman service, it has for a long-time now also been a source of much frustration to the region’s peoples. This has led to severe criticism and lack of support on the part of several governments.
Many there are who would shed no tears over LIAT’s demise, but this false sense of glee must be tempered by the reality of how to fill that gaping hole in regional air transport. Can we rise above the petty nationalism, the tendency to seek individual solutions and the temptation to sell our souls in the bargain?
Disgraceful attack on Justice Saunders
Another demanding issue before our regional Heads is that concerning the health of electoral democracy in the region. For the umpteenth time, the result of elections in a member-territory, St Kitts/Nevis, has been challenged in the High Court, with grave allegations of fraud and bribery. In addition, four months after the voters of Guyana cast their ballots, there is not yet a declared winner and the matter has reached the region’s highest Court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
In this regard, I must add my voice in the strongest possible condemnation of a reprehensible attack on the Head of the CCJ, the esteemed Justice Adrian Saunders, in the smearing of the integrity of his person and by extension the CCJ itself, in a malicious news report that has become so typical of our abuse of the media in the region in recent times.
A “NETWORK NEWS” Report out of Guyana, June 25, 2020, purporting to be “Breaking News” had this to say:
“Senior members and advisors of the APNU/ANC coalition are reportedly concerned with the close relationship between the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice Adrian Saunders and Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves…..”
The spurious report went on to raise the matter that Justice Saunders, like Dr. Gonsalves, is “Vincentian”, as if nationality has bearing on such matters. But worse was to follow, for in what is perhaps the most scandalous attack ever published against such public figures, it went on to state:
“The duo (Saunders and Gonsalves) is widely known throughout the Eastern Caribbean as ‘drinking buddies’ and longtime political comrades…..”
Not only is this an unforgiveable attack on the character of both men, it is also a false and despicable allegation, having no basis absolutely. It is the kind of political mud-slinging which is becoming all too prevalent in the region and which must be roundly condemned.
When are we going to make an earnest effort to put our houses in order in the region? Whether at the level of CARICOM Heads, political parties, regional private sector investors, respect for democracy and regional institutions, it is our fate, and that of our children and grandchildren at stake. We cannot allow political opportunism, cowardly slander, and lack of courage to face the challenges, deter us from our solemn duties.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.