R. Rose
January 7, 2014
Use CARICOM chairmanship wisely

As if his hands were not full enough with regular matters of State, along with the devastation of the “Christmas storms,” Prime Minister

Dr Ralph Gonsalves, from Wednesday last week, assumed a further responsibility at the regional level. From January 1, 2014 until the end of June, Dr Gonsalves will be Chairman of CARICOM under the arrangements for rotation of the chairmanship on a six-month basis.{{more}}

Our Prime Minister is one of the most experienced and long-serving regional leaders and a pillar of the regional integration movement. He has also distinguished himself and his country during his tenure in office and has become a de facto spokesman for the region and its peoples on a number of issues, at the regional as well as the international levels.

Sometimes, given the cut-and-thrust of local politics, many of us are blinded to the prominence which his presence and articulation of issues has given our tiny country, respect completely out of proportion to its size and economic status. He has not been afraid to speak out in the interests of the citizens of the region, even of issues, that many of his colleagues and aspiring leaders are afraid to touch. His many foreign policy initiatives have brought tangible benefits to our country and people, though it has earned the ire of some in the international community.

It will be enough to mention his defence of the Haitian people, calling on the United Nations to compensate the victims of cholera there because the disease was allegedly introduced by its peace-keeping troops. Dr Gonsalves has also been in the forefront of calling on the government of the Dominican Republic to take measures to redress the virtual deprivation of citizenship of tens of thousands of Dominican-born persons of Haitian origin, after a shameful Constitutional Court ruling there deprived them of such status, going all the way back to 1929. And there is, his promotion of the Reparations claim, an issue with which some persons, including international allies are uncomfortable.

We may not all agree with his manner of raising these issues, but one cannot deny that they all are of fundamental human and political significance and of great importance to Caribbean people as a whole.

It is this record and background the Prime Minister brings with him in assuming the CARICOM chairmanship. His influence has already been demonstrated in getting the regional body to take firm positions, such as those on the matters mentioned previously. However, on the Reparations issue, there needs to be far more clarity, a more effective level of organisation and indication that CARICOM, as a whole, is truly committed to such a monumental task.

Dr Gonsalves steps into the mantle of CARICOM Chairman just as three small-island states are grappling with the tragedy of the Christmas disaster. Given the connection between these events and clear signs that the climate in the region is changing, perhaps irrevocably and with disastrous consequences, he has a golden opportunity to make the climate change issue truly a regional one. Thus far, few governments in the region, Guyana being one of the exceptions, have resolutely been willing to bring home this danger to their people or to adopt appropriate responses.

It has largely been left to a smattering of scientists, environmentalists and dedicated non-governmental organisations, young people being in the forefront, to make the case for serious action at various levels to mitigate the obvious threat. When Dr Gonsalves welcomes his CARICOM colleagues to their Inter-Sessional meeting in February, it is only to be expected that not just the level of storm damage to these islands, but the related issues associated with the changing of our climate, the vicious “mood-swings” of the weather and the implications for all of Caribbean society must be prominent.

Already a prominent Caribbean writer and former diplomat, Sir Ronald Sanders, has come out publicly calling on regional governments not only to take practical steps to deal with what is climatically unfolding before our eyes, but to go even further. He correctly blamed developed, and some rapidly developing countries, like India and China, for virtually relegating the Caribbean to the status of “a kitchen sink for the world’s polluters”.

Sir Ronald urged Prime Minister Gonsalves to take a leaf out of his Reparations book, by getting CARICOM to begin to examine seriously legal action in the International Court Of Justice (ICJ) against the big polluters in the world. There is a precedent in this, he explained, pointing to the threatened low-lying islands in the Pacific, which are exploring this line of action.

This is not any far-fetched idea and CARICOM would do well to examine all its options in this regard. Christmas 2013 tells us that time has run out for us. We must use all the mechanisms and instruments available to help our cause. CARICOM is one of those and our Prime Minister has the challenge of getting it to act wisely.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com- mentator.