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Caribbean Nations Press for Urgent International Economic Action

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By Tony Best, Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News –

Even before the green shoots of economic recovery have had a chance to blossom the world is threatened with a double dip of recession and what’s needed is a new global financial system, better trade terms and a helping hand would pave the way for a return to economic prosperity in developing countries, especially those in the Caribbean. That’s how the island-nations and coastal states in Caricom want to see done globally. But as they grapple with the fallout from the international financial crisis, there is a another problem: threats to the environment which cry out for a sweeping program designed to reduce, if not eliminate the dangers traceable to climate change, such as sea-level rise, hurricanes, floods and broad threats to the environment.

Add those key crises to the list of major problems such poverty; sky-high energy and food prices; the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases; the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli issue; a need to end the economic embargo against Cuba; the urgency of rebuilding of Haiti after last year’s devastating earthquake; curbing the flood of small arms and ammunition that’s fueling skyrocketing crime rates in developing countries and the Caribbean’s foreign policy priorities would become into sharp focus. Indeed, Caribbean states ranging from Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Vincent and Antigua to Barbados, St. Kitts-Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas used the platform of the United Nations General Assembly to highlight those problems and emphasize the need for the international community to pay more attention to the major hurdles affecting the world’s smaller states.

Whether they were prime ministers, presidents or foreign ministers, Caricom officials argued for immediate action. “We must redouble our efforts to address the growing challenges of poverty and food insecurity, the rising costs of food and energy and climate change,” Dr. Ken Baugh, Jamaica’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs told the UN. “It is not good enough to engage in extensive deliberations, to make commitments and issuing Declarations without providing the means for their implementation, including financing, capacity building and technology transfer.” But of the issues which stand out, causing the most serious pain, the economic problems, plus the threat of increasing poverty stand out head and shoulders. Grenada is a case in point.

“The economic crisis continues to weigh heavily on Grenada; our population is experiencing high food and fuel prices; national revenues have decreased and debt continues to be high,” complained Tillman Thomas, the country’s leader. “The green shoots of recovery which others experience have not reached us. For us the economic crisis of 2009 still rages and we must find a way out of it.” Another Caribbean country which is at the economic crossroads is Suriname and its President Desire’ Delano Bouterse outlined the need for a complete restructuring of the international financial system, with the participation of all nations in the decision-making process. “The time has come to bring an end to the practice of decision-making by only a few countries with disastrous consequences for the majority of the peoples of the world,” was the way he put it. “For countries (such) as Suriname, with small open economies, it remains of vital importance to continue on the path of prudent macro-economic policies and economic diversification.”

Barbados couldn’t agree more.

The current economic downturn, said its Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart, was a “painful reminder” of the inter-connected world in which people live. “When large economies like those of the United States and Europe are reeling, you may imagine the toll the worst crisis since the Great Depression is taking on small vulnerable societies like those that populate the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean,” said Stuart. The solution, he argued was the “urgent need for a new architecture of global finance that will render unlikely the prospect of our lurching from one crisis to another that avoids the massive social dislocations which we are now witnessing.” Jamaica listed a different pressing need, one that would alter the economic fortunes of the world’s developing lands.

It was the ability to “build capacities “through infrastructure development, institution building” while enhancing “productive capacity for competitiveness” and meeting international standards, said Dr. Baugh. For its part, St. Vincent & the Grenadines wants the UN General Assembly to play a more active role in the search for economic revitalization. In essence, said Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the island’s Minister, the world body must “re-assert its role in the response to the international economic crisis,” a debacle that was threatening, vulnerable and highly indebted middle income countries such as those in the Caribbean.

“We cannot afford to wait for the promise of incremental and cyclical upticks in the global economy,” said Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the country’s Prime Minister, now in his third term in office after winning last year’s general election. “Small states need the fiscal and policy space to creatively spur development in ways that comply not with the checklists of discredited economic theorists, but with real-world particularities and people centered policies. International financial institutions have yet to grasp sufficiently this simple fact.” On Haiti, country after country urged donor nations and international institutions to do more to help rebuild the earthquake ravaged nation.

Like many other speakers from Caricom St. Kitts-Nevis’ Deputy Prime Minister, Sam Condor, called on the donor countries to fulfill “many goodwill pledges that have been made for assistance in the reconstruction efforts. Brent Symonette, Bahamas' Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, was equally emphatic in calling on the international community “to be generous in contributing to the Haitian Recovery Fund and very specifically we call on donor states to honor the pledges, some of which remain dishearteningly outstanding.” When the time came for Dr. Surujrattan Rambachan, Foreign Affairs and Communications Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, he spoke at great length about the need pressing regional and global issues to be “settled by peaceful means and for women to be given more opportunities to assume leadership position. He urged the UN to “continue to show leadership and work with the Arab League and other entities to resolve” the Middle East conflict, peacefully.

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