Disasters drive regional solidarity – Caricom must work together in good times too

President Irfaan Ali has called for solidarity among Caricom States in times of disaster and in times of no disaster. Before him, another Guyanese President spoke of that continuous solidarity when he led what became popularly known as the Jagdeo Initiative. Other initiatives that support solidarity, such as the Common Market and free movement, unfortunately suffered the same fate – we do not ever seem to be able to work together to make these dreams a reality.
President Irfaan Ali, in pledging full and unconditional support to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has appealed to sister States in CARICOM that we must work together in bad times and in good times. In recognising the full solidarity of CARICOM States with St. Vincent and the Grenadines, President Irfaan Ali has called on CARICOM States to let the solidarity with each other not only bloom in times of disaster, but at all times. We are all small States with small populations, but one thing is certain: we carry a heavy punch when we work together. Together, we can be a leading force in the world, when we work together. Caricom States have shown they have the capacity to work together. But, too often, we only show that willingness when faced with a disaster.
President Irfaan Ali is personally leading Guyanese support for our sisters and brothers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This week, a third shipment of goods and supplies will leave Guyana for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is not an option for Guyana. As our President has insisted, this is an imperative for our country. Guyana has proudly stood tall any time any of our CARICOM sister States faced a disaster. In times of need, such as the 2005 big flood, and in most recent times with the attempted theft of Guyana’s democracy, Caricom sister States have been there, standing shoulder to shoulder with us. Guyana has always benefited from the generosity of Caricom States.
But no one should ever doubt Guyana’s commitment to our sisters and brothers in Caricom. We have always, no matter what the circumstances, stood tall when it comes to supporting sister States in Caricom. St. Vincent and the Grenadines needs our support, and Guyana is not about to be a bystander. Guyana has never watched what others do; we always are ready, at the first sign of disaster, to stand in solidarity with sister States.
President Ali is leading a combined Public and Private Sector effort to assist our sisters and brothers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The disaster that has struck St. Vincent and the Grenadines has again demonstrated that, in times of disasters, in times when any Caricom member faces difficult times, Caricom members stand solidly with each other. In disasters as in the present volcano eruption on Mount Soufriere, Caricom members rush to each other’s aid.
Guyana has been both a beneficiary and a supporter in times of disaster. One thing is for certain: in the present disaster that has struck St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and perhaps other States, the Government of Guyana, the Guyanese Private Sector, Guyanese families rich and poor, will come together and give whatever we can.
The solidarity that is so pronounced in times of disaster, however, does not carry over when no disaster is on the horizon. Caricom is a collection of Caribbean States intended to pool our resources and talents so that we can maximise our development. But most times we forget we work together for all our people. Our countries import almost US$5B of food from outside of the Region. The sweat and blood of our farmers are allowed to be squandered as Caricom States import, with great enthusiasm, goods and services from outside the region. Every supermarket or community shop in Caricom States is filled with food items that have been imported from developed countries.
Not only have Caricom States showed a preference for trade with our big, developed neighbours, we institute non-tariff barriers to prevent Caricom products from circulating widely within the Caribbean. As a Minister of Agriculture, I experienced the resistance to allowing Guyanese agricultural products in markets of Caribbean countries. Guyanese agricultural products are no less healthy or any more toxic than fresh products that come from countries outside of Caricom. Guyanese-manufactured food items are no less healthy than the ones we allow from other Caribbean States into our country.
In Guyana’s case, our large agriculture land availability can be used to supply all the corn and soya that the Caribbean buys from outside the region. Guyana’s rice does make it to certain Caribbean States, but we compete with rice from outside the Region. Guyana’s sugar should be in every supermarket in the Caribbean, as do our pineapples, sweet potatoes, peppers, meat etc.
There are problems that we will have to overcome. With solidarity we can overcome these problems. The Jagdeo Initiative called for such solidarity to resolve and eliminate the barriers. We need a new Jagdeo Initiative, so that we can make the dream of continuous solidarity, in good times and in bad times, a reality. President Irfaan Ali is taking up the challenge.