The holiday season is upon us, amidst what has been the most deadly pandemic in a century. Our Caribbean Community (CARICOM), like the rest of the world, has been battered and bruised by the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
However, once again in the face of adversity, the strength of our unity shone forth.
As we relax and reflect during this festive time, we must be thankful that we have been relatively successful in managing the health aspects of the pandemic with 1300 deaths across our Community, a comparatively low figure in the global context. I extend my deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones and wish a speedy and full recovery to those afflicted by the virus.
We reaped the benefits of a CARICOM-wide public health approach which was adopted from the very outbreak of the virus, even before a pandemic was declared. Thanks to the hard work of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), our lead Institution in the sector, other Regional Institutions, the CARICOM Secretariat and health officials across the Community, all under the guidance of the Heads of Government, we were able to avoid the worst effects.
We benefitted from the assistance of a number of countries, with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) also being particularly helpful.
The goal was achieving that delicate balance of ensuring the health and safety of the citizens of the Community on the one hand, while facilitating economic activities on the other. This has not been an easy balancing act.
As we celebrate during the season, it is imperative that we adhere to the health protocols and maintain the discipline that will relieve the pressure on both the health and economic sectors.
The determination of our Governments and peoples not to be throttled by the pandemic was exemplified by the fact that seven Member States and one Associate Member held general elections.
Issues arose in the aftermath of the Elections in Guyana and the Community responded to the invitation to assist in providing a resolution. This further underlined the spirit of Community that is the hallmark of our integration.
Our Heads of Government, Ministerial Councils and officials ensured that other priority issues apart from the pandemic engaged their attention. Virtual meetings intra-regionally and internationally provided the platform for advancing and protecting the Community’s interests.
Enhancing the involvement of the major stakeholders in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) received a boost earlier this month when I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the CARICOM Private Sector Organization Inc. (CPSO). The Organisation joined the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) as an Associate Institution of the Community.
These two Organisations along with the representative body for civil society are important voices to be heard in advancing the integration movement, particularly the CSME. Already the CPSO has put forward proposals to boost food security and for economic recovery post COVID-19.
To facilitate that recovery, we have been seeking support from friendly countries for the international financial policy-making bodies to review their eligibility criteria, which bar access to development assistance, grants and concessional financing. At the level of Heads of Government and our Foreign Ministers, we have advocated strongly for a Universal Vulnerability Index to be used in determining access.
These financial resources would be invaluable to assist in recovery from the pandemic, and the continuing battle to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.
As challenging as 2020 has been, we have not lost the vision of what the future can be, as demonstrated by the unity on which our Community has drawn to manage the pandemic.
There is much to celebrate in this joyous season. Let us make it a truly special and safe holiday season, while looking towards a brighter 2021.
Season’s Greetings to all.