The `ayes' have it in the great Caricom debate

Bermuda will push ahead with its plans to become an associate member of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) after Government MPs voted in favour of the proposal following a long debate in Parliament.

Members of the House of Assembly argued into the early hours on Saturday over whether or not the Island should formalise its links with the Caribbean by joining Caricom. And, despite protests from the Opposition United Bermuda Party, the ruling Progressive Labour Party won the vote.


Bermuda will push ahead with its plans to become an associate member of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) after Government MPs voted in favour of the proposal following a long debate in Parliament.

Members of the House of Assembly argued into the early hours on Saturday over whether or not the Island should formalise its links with the Caribbean by joining Caricom. And, despite protests from the Opposition United Bermuda Party, the ruling Progressive Labour Party won the vote.

Speaking on the issue, Health Minister Nelson Bascome said: "Bermuda is a carpetbagger, when it comes to the Caribbean. We enjoy all the benefits in the business sense, but on a cultural sense, we have a problem inter-acting with the people. What is the problem? Is it to do with the colour of the skin of the governments there?" he asked.

Turning to associate membership benefits, he said Bermuda could save more than the $100,000 in annual fees on the cost of anti-retroviral drugs.

He said Bermuda "could only benefit" from joining. The Island was linked by blood, climate and similar problems, he said.

Shadow Tourism Minister David Dodwell said he enjoyed the cultural ties with the Caribbean.

Clear majorities in opinion polls in The Royal Gazette and Bermuda Sun had shown opposition to joining Caricom.

He said the Caribbean Tourism Organisation was not a member of Caricom and said the Caribbean media had also reported businesses and tourism leaders as criticising Caricom for failing to have an economic plan.

He said: "What are we going to get that we don't have now."

But Government whip Ottiwell Simmons accused the UBP of being "deceitful" and said leader Dr. Gibbons had claimed the Opposition was very proud of its current ties with the Caribbean, yet it did not want to strengthen them by joining Caricom.

"It's really sad to see how members of the other side, who themselves have personal business interests in the Caribbean, and one of them said we should wear our Caribbean connections with pride," he said.

"What is the difficulty with the same people wearing an associate membership of this country with Caricom with pride? What's the difference? It's a step up."

Mr. Simmons said the UK had even endorsed Government's wish to join Caricom, and urged the "nit-picking" UBP to get on board the idea.

The Opposition's Cole Simons said he viewed the Caricom issue like a man who was deciding whether or not to marry his girlfriend. And while he admitted, joining Caricom had many advantages, he said the economic instability of many of the Caribbean countries gave him grave concerns.

He praised the Caribbean for producing so many inspirational people, said Bermuda had learned a great deal from the countries to the south, and said he endorsed Caricom's single market objective.

He said: "There are positive attributes that I'm comfortable with. I have not said I'm against Caricom, all I said was that I wanted more information to make a comfortable decision.

"We can't afford to have a bad reputation in the international arena. When I'm satisfied that I can face my people with these answers, I will endorse Caricom."

Government Minister without Portfolio Neletha Butterfield said she had attended many meetings in the Caribbean and had also learned a great deal from people there.

She said: "People in the Caribbean have a wealth of information and knowledge that we can all share. I'm in full support of Caricom. I think it's time that we came together. We must embrace this initiative to development closer links with the Caribbean to reap the benefits."

Government newcomer Ashfield DeVent said it was important for Bermuda to have vision, otherwise it would never progress.

Without vision, he said, Bermudians would still be living in caves and swinging clubs at each other.

Continued on Page 7

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