Belize’s own Dr. Carla Barnett took up her new office as the eighth Secretary General of CARICOM, and the first Belizean and female to assume this post at the CARICOM Secretariat on Monday morning, August 16.
She brings a wealth of talent, knowledge and experience to the post, as the CARICOM chairman, Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda noted in his welcome address. He underscored that her leadership qualifications and previous experience as the Assistant Secretary General would enable her to hit the ground running as a worthy replacement for her predecessor, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque of Dominica. He noted that both Barnett and LaRocque came from small territories, and were first to hold such high posts. LaRocque had guided the region through some difficult and challenging times, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when tough decisions had to be made. He welcomed her sage advice, which was most urgently needed in mobilizing resources to meet the humanitarian needs of earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Barnett will also be called on to ensure the adequate access to vaccines, and to overcome CARICOM citizens hesitance to take the vaccines. The region needs to overcome vaccine hesitancy as the percentage of the population which has received the vaccine remains unacceptably low. It is imperative that CARICOM increase its vaccinated population to achieve herd immunity, which may not be reached for many months to come.
Other tasks awaiting Barnett’s attention are the member countries’ need to restore their economies and to put themselves in a position to take advantage of the spike in tourism demand, such as some member states are experiencing. CARICOM also needs to complete and finalize the terms of the CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME) quickly, if the organization is to retain the confidence of the member states, Browne noted. The CSME needs to become operational, and its leaders need to reach peak efficiency for the CSME to be effective, he said, as Climate Change and COVID are not the only challenges confronting the region.
It was a moment of pride and humility for Barnett, she noted as she thanked Ambassador LaRocque for his 16-year effort to unite and integrate the various nations of CARICOM as one community to benefit its people. She recognized that Haiti’s national crisis was the top priority to help their people recover from the double impacts of the recent earthquake and tropical storm Grace.
She recognized the severity of the many challenges that CARICOM faces: economically, socially, environmentally and financially. She pledged to serve the people of CARICOM to her best ability. In her statement, she pledged to make every effort to address the problems of youth unemployment, the explosion of the jobless, the rise of violent crime – especially in the home, food security, to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases, to fight black listing and loss of correspondent banking relationships. She sets out to work to create a sustainable and prosperous community for all.
She urged the CARICOM community to build on the unity they felt as they celebrated the success of the region’s athletes in the recent Olympic Games. They should tap this feeling of oneness as a source of strength to help the members when they need it.
CARICOM is celebrating its 48th anniversary, and it is now time to set achievable goals as the community approaches its 50th anniversary, to make its golden jubilee truly worth celebrating. She encouraged the CARICOM people to build on the achievements of the past and to use the talents of today’s people to re-imagine the next 50 years of CARICOM, to shape new paths for the integration process.