It is with great pride and a deep sense of humility that I take this seat as the 8th Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community today.
Let me express my appreciation to you, Mr. Chairman, and your colleague Heads of Government for the trust and confidence you have placed in me by selecting me for this post.
I take up this position today against the backdrop of a devastating earthquake in Haiti, the impact of which will be made worse by the rains associated with Tropical Depression Grace which is already affecting the country. I reiterate the Community’s condolences to the Government and People of Haiti, and to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this terrible disaster. I also wish a speedy and full recovery of those who were injured. Haiti can be assured that the Community will do all it can to assist in this time of national crisis.
Chair, I must also acknowledge the contribution which my predecessor Ambassador Irwin LaRocque has made to the advancement of our integration movement. For the last 16 years, the first six as Assistant Secretary-General and the last 10 as Secretary-General, he devoted himself to the task of making integration work for the benefit of the people of the Community. On behalf of the Community, thank you Ambassador LaRocque. I am certain that the Community will find an appropriate way to honour your contribution.
Chair, I begin my tenure with no misapprehensions about the severity of the challenges that our Community faces economically, socially, environmentally and financially. The thrust to build resilience against the existential threat of climate change in all its dimensions, and the urgency of constructing a recovery from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic demand our continued focused energy.
Even as we address these critical tasks, we cannot afford to neglect youth unemployment, which has led the explosion of the jobless in the wake of COVID-19, a troubling rise in crime, especially violent crime in the home and on the streets, the need to strengthen food security, reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases, and more effectively address the issue of blacklisting by the major industrial countries and the consequential loss of correspondent banking relations.
All of these affect the lives and livelihoods of each and every one in our Community.
It is, therefore, incumbent on all of us to be engaged in finding solutions and taking action to overcome these obstacles in our path to a secure, viable and ultimately sustainably prosperous Community for all.
There is no doubt about the innate sense of community in the people of the Region, which manifests itself in both our brightest and our darkest days. We all enjoy our successes in sport, celebrating across the Region the recent victories in the Olympic Games. We all celebrate our cultural icons, and, with the same spirit of oneness, we do all that we can to help our sisters’ and our brothers’ when disasters strike.
I see that wellspring of unity as a source of strength to be tapped in all areas as I embark on this journey. To build on and maintain that strength, will require that my team and I reach out on a regular basis to explain, to exhort, to inform, to educate so that all will feel a part of the whole that constitutes CARICOM and “I Am CARICOM” will mean much more than a catchy slogan. We will invite Community stakeholders in all sectors, including the media, to reach out to the Secretariat, letting us know their fears, concerns, and vision for the future of the Community and telling us how they feel they can contribute to building our Community.
This must be our mantra as we seek to build a truly “integrated, inclusive and resilient Community that is driven by knowledge, excellence, innovation and productivity; where every citizen is secure with guaranteed human rights and social justice; and contributes to, and shares in, its economic, social and cultural prosperity. A Community which is a unified and competitive in the global arena.”
This vision stated in the Community’s 2015-2019 Strategic Plan, and it is one that continues to be very relevant.
As we approach the 50th Anniversary of our Caribbean Community, the time is right for us to set ourselves achievable goals that would make the celebration truly golden. Much has been achieved in the past 48 years. A lot of it is taken for granted today, to the extent that some are not even associated with the integration movement. The stories of success must be continuously shared across our Community to serve as a constant reminder of what we can achieve with a unity of purpose.
A generation past put in place a solid foundation and institutions relevant to the needs of the Region at that time. It is now the turn of another generation, not only to secure and improve on those gains, but to use the creativity, ingenuity and dynamism that are the signature characteristics of Caribbean people to reimagine the next 50 years of CARICOM.
As we build on the work of those who came before, space has to be created for new thinking, not only to solve the problems of the present but to outline new paths for the future of our integration process.
How can we close the implementation gap?
Is the Single ICT Space or the Blue Economy or both the remedy to our collective economic ills?
How do we participate as effectively as we can in the ongoing efforts to reach agreement globally on containing global warming to 1.5 to stay alive?
How do we use productively, for the benefit of the wider Community, the relatively abundant lands of our continental Member States?
No one has all the answers. No one has all the ideas. That is why all must be involved. I see a Caribbean Community that the average citizens of the Region will feel a part of and not apart from. A Community where all citizens want to contribute to building this sense of “one Caribbean people with one common experience and destiny”.
Chair, I cannot conclude without paying tribute to the late Sir Lester Bird whose contribution to the development of Antigua and Barbuda and the Region will not be forgotten. Sir Lester was a committed regionalist who dedicated significant time and effort towards the advancement of the interests of the Caribbean Community. He may have been a fast bowler, but his innings in life was played very well. Please accept the condolences of the Community, the staff of the Secretariat and my own on his passing.
May I also take this opportunity to extend wishes for a full and speedy recovery to Dr. the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, from his injury following the recent despicable attack. Such violent actions have no place in our political discourse or in society generally and must be condemned unreservedly.
Chair, as I assume this office today, I approach my task with a willingness to listen and to share; with goodwill towards all and malice towards none. I am here to serve, to advance the interests of the Governments and Peoples of the Caribbean Community and I will do so to the best of my ability.
I thank you.