A time for Caribbean unity
Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, and I travelled to Bridgetown, Barbados to attend the 31st Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads of Government of Caricom between February 17 and 19.
The significant items of discussion were as follows:
• Regional plans for prevention of spreading of Covid-19
• Fighting blacklisting
• Fighting bank derisking
• Fintech solutions
• Private-sector growth
• Climate resilience
• Caribbean African Union Summit
• Eradication of colonialism
• Development of youth
• Protection of workers
• Inter-regional transportation
Of particular importance to Bermuda and other Overseas Territories, were the following items:
Protocols for handling Covid-19
With most if not all Caribbean Islands dependent on tourism, the regional health organisation Caribbean Public Health Agency gave a presentation on protocols that would be activated and followed throughout the region to ensure uniformity.
Carpha also spoke of the increased threat as cruise ships moved from one island to the next — Bermuda, owing to geographical location, being the exception to that norm.
Subsequent to this meeting, there have been about one hundred Covid-19 cases in the Caribbean, with four deaths. Of important note, the majority of these cases have been found in persons travelling into the Caribbean via airlines or cruise ships.
The cruise ship industry has effectively cancelled cruises to the Caribbean for the next two months.
As of Wednesday, a number of islands suspended international flights. These countries include: Aruba,
Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Cayman Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, Surinam and Guyana.
With no cruise or international air visitors, there has been a knock-on effect in the hospitality industries around the Caribbean, including Bermuda. Regional governments have had to now implement contingency plans to ensure their people do not face increased hardships.
Other key issues
Meetings were also held with François-Phillipe Champagne, Canada's foreign affairs minister. Discussions centred on strengthening business ties and tourism development between Canada and all Overseas Territories.
Other key set of issues discussed were the following:
• Regional healthcare costs and reform
• Increased agricultural development/food security and subsequent lowering of grocery costs, within the Caribbean region
• Regional rethink on the approach to gangs and gun violence.
The Deputy Premier was able to relay to regional leaders that Bermuda has taken a multiprong, front-end approach to reducing violent crime; in particular, the work of Minister of National Security Wayne Caines and pastor Leroy Bean, the gang violence reduction co-ordinator.
The caucus took great note in this and subsequently invited Mr Caines to attend a regional summit in Trinidad
• On the final day of the meeting, the British Virgin Islands presented a motion to extend the United Nations mandate for decolonisation for another ten years.
Mr Roban voiced Bermuda's support of this motion. Subsequently, Roosevelt Skerritt, the Prime Minister of Dominica, approached the OTs to voice his support of the motion
• The Deputy Premier extended an invitation to all Caricom members to attend the upcoming Carifta Games and Bermuda Day activities.
The invite was accepted by chairwoman Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, and Erwin Larouque, the Secretary-General. Carifta was subsequently postponed because of the Covid-19 outbreak
• Discussions were also held to have OTs participate as election observers in upcoming regional general elections
• The Deputy Premier spoke of the commitment of Bermuda to foster and grow closer ties to Caricom and all regional members
• Courtesy calls were made to the House of Parliament in Barbados, and contact was made with several Bermudians residing on the island
Time for unity
Without a doubt, our tourism industries will suffer as never before seen. Hotels will lay off staff, taxi drivers will go without the usual volume of work, and restaurants will have fewer and fewer customers.
For those islands such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Virgin Islands, which have financial services as a core part of their economies, the lack of business visitors will be an additional hard blow.
Yet, through it all, our respective governments and the collective regional body of Caricom have made these hard decisions with one singular end: the preservation of life.
Now, more than ever, we must look out for our elderly, who need a call and/or assistance. It is they who, through hard work and sacrifice, have provided us with the lifestyles that we enjoy today.
Take this time to reinforce the timeless values of love, community unity, island heritage and regional pride in our young people who are home from school
Landlords, who can afford to do so, please be understanding of the plight of those who work in the hospitality industries.
Where and whenever possible, please support the small retail stores and service providers, as they are an integral part of our economies.
We will survive Covid-19 together, as families, as communities, as islands and as a region.
• Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at email@example.com