Caribbean heads of government met from July 3-5 in Trinidad and Tobago to kick off a year of celebration marking the 50th anniversary of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community). One of the key areas of discussion at the group’s 45th meeting concerned confronting the challenges of climate change.
As per usual, there was almost zero coverage in U.S. legacy media. Frankly, I had no expectations of major reportage, since, as I keep saying, the Caribbean is only of interest to Americans when a hurricane is crossing it and headed toward the U.S. mainland. I know that sounds cynical. But I used to challenge my college students to name any Caribbean head of state, and the usual response rate was zero. Of course, many of those same students couldn’t name more than three or four Caribbean nations on a blank outline map; the majority couldn’t name any.
While I was writing this story, my goddaughter dropped by my house with her adult son; they are of Caribbean descent. I decided to question them for this piece. Neither knew what CARICOM is, and neither could name a Caribbean head of state other than the late Fidel Castro. Be that as it may, and given the fact that many people in the U.S. are finally beginning to pay more attention to climate change (minus right-wing climate deniers), we all should be concerned with the very real situations faced by our Caribbean neighbors on the front lines.
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Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.
With U.S. media lacking, I rely mostly on Caribbean news sources and the CARICOM website to find out what’s going on down there—and the most recent CARICOM event was no exception.
As Antigua and Barbuda’s Observer reported on July 3:
The packed agenda for the Meeting tackles several pressing issues for the Community, including food security concerns, climate change and the climate finance agenda; the ongoing difficulties in Haiti; security issues; external relations matters and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy
The Heads of Government will engage several international guests, including the President of Rwanda, H.E. Paul Kagame; the UN Secretary-General, H.E. Antonio Guterres; President-Designate of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28), H.E. Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jabe; the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea H.E. Han Duck-Soo; US Secretary-of-State, Mr Anthony Blinken, and Minority Leader in the US House of Representatives, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.
One would think that with both Blinken and Jeffries in attendance, more attention would be paid here. Nope.
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I also read about the U.S. delegation on Loop News:
The Members of the delegation are:
- Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Leader, U.S. House of Representatives
- Rep. Amata Coleman Radewagen, Member, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; Member, Natural Resources Committee; Member, Foreign Affairs Committee
- Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, Ranking Member, Foreign Affairs Committee; Member, Committee on Financial Services
- Rep. Steven Horsford, Chair, Congressional Black Caucus; Member, Financial Services Committee; Member, Armed Services Committee
- Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, Member, Committee on Energy and Commerce; Member, Committee on Homeland Security
- Rep. Joyce Beatty, Member, Committee on Financial Services
- Rep. Joaquin Castro, Member, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Member, Foreign Affairs Committee'
The Miami Herald is one of the few major mainland news outlets that reports regularly and consistently on Caribbean doings—and much thanks goes to their award-winning journalist Jacqueline Charles.
Charles’ July 3 report:
It began as a group of former British colonies, led by four of the Caribbean’s fiercest and most independent-thinking leaders of their day when it came to foreign policy. Realizing, however, that their strength as small states lay in their unity, especially during the Cold War, the four pioneers of the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM, joined forces to create the framework for a common market and what integrationists hoped would be a political union to determine the policy of the region. Fifty years later, that alliance, led at the time by prime ministers Errol Barrow of Barbados, Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Norman Manley of Jamaica and Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, is today a regional political and economic grouping of 15 Caribbean countries that includes French-speaking Haiti and Dutch-speaking Suriname. All but one, Montserrat, a British dependent territory in the eastern Caribbean, are independent. The other five British dependent territories of the Caribbean region are associate members.
“Those early steps taken in Chaguaramas have led us far beyond what the naysayers and doomsayers were certain would have been a short lifespan and another disastrous shattering. But here we are, 50 years on, side by side in mutual solidarity,” Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley said Monday as he recalled the signing of the treaty on July 4, 1973, in the Trinidadian city that laid the foundation for CARICOM. “We have faced challenges and we have risen to overcome them.”
Similar to the European Union, CARICOM was formed to promote regional economic integration. But unlike the EU, it has lagged behind the creation of a single currency, the removal of trade barriers and the movement of people and skills across member states.
Charles continued her coverage on Monday, shifting toward the devastation caused by hurricanes.
Patricia Scotland remembers when she first started talking about the connections between climate and debt. The newly elected secretary-general of the Commonwealth of Nations, the political grouping made up mostly of former territories of the British Empire, Scotland had seen firsthand how one external shock like a hurricane could devastate a country, plunging it deeper into debt with no recourse but to borrow money at rates it could not afford.
Her own country, Dominica, lost 226% of its Gross Domestic Product in 2017 when Category 5 Hurricane Maria plowed through before devastating the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Two years later, Hurricane Dorian inflicted losses of about $3.4 billion on The Bahamas, an amount equal to one-quarter of the nation’s GDP, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. The GDP loss was the equivalent of the U.S. losing the combined economic outputs of California, Texas and Florida.
“All of these countries are starting to think, ‘Am I going to be hit this time?’ ” Scotland said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “We know it’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’ And so this reality, which is only present in the Caribbean, is starting to impinge on the consciousness of other countries because no more can they say [you’re crying] wolf, because the wolf is here and he’s eating our lunch.”
And as Gail Alexander, senior political reporter for the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian, wrote of leaders’ frustrations on July 5:
With the Caribbean now in the hurricane season, Caricom chairman Roosevelt Skerrit expressed concern about a lack of firm decisions on climate change.
He admitted that he sometime feels like giving up and not attending COP climate change conferences. Skerrit spoke at a flag raising ceremony marking Caricom’s 50th anniversary which took place in heavy rain yesterday at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre.
He said people are living in a world which is more difficult than it was 50 or even 20 years ago and Caricom has to be united because too many injustices are being inflicted on to it as a Caribbean community. He cited climate change and “kicking down the bucket of firm decisions” to address Caricom’s concerns. “Sometimes we feel like giving up and not going to any of the COP (Conference of the Parties) conferences but we must never relent on our fight against injustice,” he said.
Latin America’s teleSUR English reported on a key decision made at this year’s meeting.
"We could not leave Trinidad and Tobago without discussing the core of the integration movement, which is the ability of people to move freely," Dominica's PM Skerrit said.
On Wednesday, Dominica's Prime Minister and incoming President of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Roosevelt Skerrit, announced that the Caribbean community will allow the free movement of all people by early 2024.
"We have made the decision for the free movement of all categories of people to live and work," he said in his closing speech at the Trinidad and Tobago summit, which was carried out to commemorate the 50th anniversary of CARICOM.
Next year, the free movement of people will be permitted between the 13 member countries of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), and essential services will be provided. This regional policy, however, will not cover the Bahamas and Montserrat because these countries are not CSME members.
Legal experts must present a report to the regional leaders before March 30, 2024, in order to adopt a "definitive position" on the matter.
Skerrit’s remarks on the shift to free movement:
The Jamaica Gleaner posted this editorial on Sunday:
If there is no 11th hour volte-face, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders last week took what will be their most consequential decision in the half a century of the current iteration of the regional integration movement. They agreed at their summit in Port of Spain to, by next March, go the full hog on the right of citizens of the community to live and work in each other’s countries. While this unfettered freedom of movement is already enjoyed by citizens of the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS) (a group of seven countries in the Leeward and Windward Islands that are separately members of the community) it is not an obligation of CARICOM, whose existing arrangement covers only a limited category of skilled workers.
This development is profoundly important on two fronts:
First, it is the second vital pillar upon which CARICOM’s ambition to transition to a genuine single market and economy must stand – the free movement of labour. The other, though still a work in progress, the free movement of capital, is largely in place. For the most part, the member states that are signatories to the agreement on the single market and economy adhere to the unrestricted right of CARICOM nationals to establish firms anywhere in the community.
Second, it underlined the energy of the past three years – unmatched since the early days of the community – to get things done, starting with the 2021 launch of a report on how to reignite CARICOM by a commission chaired by Avinash Persaud, a Barbadian economist who is close adviser to that country’s prime minister, Mia Mottley.
Will Kenton wrote this explainer on CSME for Investopedia:
The Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) is an initiative of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) that would integrate member-states into a single economic unit. The end result would be the free movement of capital, services, technology and skilled professionals within the region.
The broader goal of Caribbean economic unification would be to help member economies—many of which are small and still developing—compete with larger rivals in the global market.
- The Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) is an initiative of the 20 member states and associates that make up Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
- The CSME would would integrate all member-states into a single economic unit.
- The goal is allow for free movement of capital, services, technology and skilled professionals within the region.1
- It is hoped CSME will give member countries a stronger footing in an increasingly competitive and globalized market.
This was the first CARICOM meeting where I had the opportunity to watch the entire three-plus hours of the meeting’s opening ceremony. The broadcast stream was hosted by T&T Guardian journalist Dike Rostant, who conducted several interesting interviews prior to the start of the official program. He opened with a conversation about the issue of freedom of movement throughout the Caribbean with veteran journalist Andy Johnson.
One of the (several) things I found interesting in the ceremony was the diverse representation in the prayers offered; Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Orisha, and Pentecostal faith leaders all participated, representing the broad diversity of the major religions practiced in the region. As an Orisha practitioner here in the States, where my faith is virtually ignored, I was pleased.
The CARICOM Song was also part of the ceremony:
The CARICOM Song is the official, patriotic song of the Caribbean Community, which celebrates the history, culture and identity of the people of the Caribbean. It is to be used primarily at ceremonial and Community events. In celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of CARICOM in 2013, the CARICOM Secretariat launched a Song Competition to encourage the participation of all CARICOM Member States in composing a song that would inspire regional pride and unity, celebrate our diversity and highlight our shared vision and aspirations.
The composition “Celebrating CARICOM” by Ms. Michele Henderson, a highly acclaimed recording artiste from the Commonwealth of Dominica, was selected by a regional panel of judges as the official CARICOM Song. A unique feature of the Song that celebrates our linguistic diversity, is the Kwéyòl spoken in the Lesser Antilles and Suriname’s Sranan Tongo that punctuate the rhythmic bridge
Here’s a performance of the tune, from 2022.
From many distant lands, our fore fathers came
Some seeking adventure, some bound in chains
Through battles waged and fought
Through victory and pain
By test of their courage
Our freedom was gained
In homage to those gone before us
The heroes of lands in the sun
We vow to join hands and to focus
On building one Caribbean
Raise your voices high
Sing of your Caribbean pride
Sing it loud and strong
Feel our hearts beat as one
Celebrate in song
As we rise to heights where we belong
Sound the victory drum
Though great and diverse be our ethnicities
The bonds that unite us are stronger than these
We dine we pray we love, we dance and we play
We relate to each other the West Indian way
Today as people united
Determined and steadfast we stand
We look to a brand new horizon
The future now firmly in our hands
Hélé hélé bwavo (Shout Bravo)
Opo yu stem CARICOM (Raise your voices CARICOM)
Lévé lévé vwa’w (Raise your Voices)
Naki yu dron CARICOM (Beat your drum CARICOM)
Tanbouyé tanbou a wo (Drummer drum woh)
Opo you stem CARICOM (Raise your voices CARICOM)
Lévé lévé vwa’w (Raise your voices)
I’ll close here, and hope you’ll join me in the comments for more on CARICOM, and for the weekly Caribbean News Roundup.
And circling back to my students, I find myself curious to know how many Caribbean countries you are familiar with, and how many Caribbean leaders you can name!