Prime Minister Perry Christie welcomes the Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Caribbean Ministers of Agriculture yesterday at the British Colonial Hilton. Photo: Peter Ramsay/BIS
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
CARIBBEAN leaders begin talks today in Nassau over key regional issues as the regional body moves to strengthen unity among its members as a voting bloc.
Ahead of today’s meetings, CARICOM foreign ministers convened yesterday to discuss recommendations for candidates to lead two international organisations: the Organisation of American States and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
In an interview with The Tribune, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell confirmed that foreign ministers have not reached consensus on regional candidates for Commonwealth Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General of the OAS.
The only candidate for the OAS Secretary General is Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro.
“All of those elections come up this year,” Mr Mitchell said, “so there is a very spirited discussion on how those choices are going to be made and who those choices will be. The difficulty with the assistant secretary general position is that there are two CARICOM countries vying for that position: one is Belize and the other is Guyana.
“Normally what CARICOM tries to do is to get a consensus behind one candidate but it doesn’t look like that has so far been achieved and so that’s a decision the heads of government will have to make when they meet (today).”
Three countries have put forward candidates for the Commonwealth Secretary General: Dominica, Antigua, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The 26th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will open at the Melia Nassau Beach Resort and feature a presentation from former Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson before government leaders go into caucus for the rest of the day.
Mr Patterson’s presentation will focus on investment in human capital in culture and sports industries, according to Mr Mitchell, who said Mr Patterson was invited by Mr Christie to repeat the presentation he made while in The Bahamas last November.
Matters on the agenda for The Bahamas will be the need to leverage CARICOM’s human, cultural and natural assets for the economic development of the community.
Other agenda items for consideration and discussions are: the establishment of the CARICOM Committee of Ambassadors; revision of emoluments and proposed pension rules for judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice; financing of the CARICOM Secretariat and community institutions; reparations for native genocide and slavery; financing and composition of The Marijuana Commission; and relations with Dominica.
Mr Mitchell considered the regional body’s geo-political impact during an interview with The Tribune on the sidelines of the foreign ministers’ meeting yesterday.
“One of the problems that is being discussed now, why they’re trying to be sure that we have a unified position on candidacies is because the potency of the organisation has to do with its unity,” he said. “If there is a perception that there is a split in the organisation then it affects people’s perception of how important and how strong it is.
“But from The Bahamas point of view if CARICOM didn’t exist we would have to invent it because it’s just a natural aggregation of countries who are all in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, and they have common problems, to a large extent a common history, and it’s built on those experiences that you have the relationship with the larger countries.”
The regional body has hosted talks with Japan and China and will engage Germany over the weekend, Mr Mitchell said.
“Everything turns on the votes of the United Nations, that’s what it boils down to. We have no military power, economic heft is not there, so these things turn on the votes of the UN. That’s the importance, in terms of the world geo-politics, is the fact of the number of countries that have votes in the UN.”