Caricom is an important bulwark in preserving, maintaining Guyana’s territorial integrity – Pres Ali

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As the Caribbean Community (Caricom) celebrates its 48th anniversary today, President Dr Irfaan Ali has lauded the 15-member body for its critical and unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in relation to the ongoing border controversy case with Venezuela.

“The Community is an important bulwark in the preservation and maintenance of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We are indebted to Caricom for its unstinting support in this regard,” the Guyanese Head of State said in his message to commemorate Caricom Day.

Venezuela has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region and a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which more than nine billion barrels of oil have been discovered.

Guyana has since approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018 seeking a final and binding judgement to reinforce that the 1899 Arbitral Award remains valid and binding on all parties as well as legal affirmation that Guyana’s Essequibo region, which contains much of the country’s natural resources, belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela. That matter is engaging the World Court.

However, the Nicolás Maduro regime in the Spanish-speaking country renewed these claims when it issued a decree in January 2021 claiming sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights to the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River – a move which has been staunchly rejected by local and overseas stakeholders including Caricom.

In a statement on the issue in January, the Caricom Secretariat firmly repudiated any acts of aggression by Venezuela against Guyana.

This position was reiterated by regional Leaders during the 32nd Intersessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of Caricom held in February this year. Heads of Government remained very concerned about the threatening posture of Venezuela and reaffirmed their consistent support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana.

At this week’s 42nd Regular Meeting of the Caricom Heads of Government this position of the regional body is expected to renewed.

The meeting is being held on the heels of the 48th anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty establishing the Caribbean Community. This year also marks 20 years since the adoption of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, establishing the Caribbean Community including the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).

However, according to the Guyanese Head of State, in the decades that ensued since 1973, the Community has grown in several ways, noting that the membership has multiplied from the original four – Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – to now 15 Member States and five Associate Members. Consequently, the combined population of the Community has increased several folds, from less than five million in 1973 to almost 20 million today, albeit still relatively small by most measures.

“As small as we are, we harbour a rich diversity: ethnocultural, demographic, linguistic, socio-economic, political and legal. Not surprisingly, therefore, the expansion of Caricom has posed additional challenges to the integration process even as it has presented new opportunities. The integration process is, of necessity, a work-in-progress, marked by imperfections but always aspiring to a stronger community of sovereign States. The Community remains buoyed by the political commitment of Member States to make it work, and indeed, by significant achievements, much of which are often unacknowledged,” the Guyanese Head of State contended.

President Ali went on to outline that one of those achievements is being witnessed amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said that despite being the region worst affected economically by the pandemic, Caricom has fared better in managing its impacts than many nations more amply endowed in terms of economic and human resources. For instance, the incidence of cases and deaths in the Community, he added, is well below hemispheric averages but warned in the same breath that this is no reason for complacency.

Further, the Head of State asserted that they are a Community committed to the rule of law, democratic values, and the promotion and protection of human rights. He added that nationals of the Community have rights that can be legally protected and enforced through the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Recognising that Guyana is a founding member of Caricom and currently hosts the seat of the Community’s headquarters in Georgetown, President Ali recommitted to the progress of the regional bloc.

“Guyana currently holds lead responsibility for agriculture within the Community. We have embarked on a process to transform the regional agri-food sector in order to enhance food and nutrition security… Caricom is Guyana’s third largest trading partner and possesses the potential to become an even larger market for our exports… Guyana’s commitment to Caricom remains strong and unwavering. Guyana is prepared to play its part in the transformation of our Community for the benefit of its peoples. May Caricom grow ever stronger! I Am Caricom,” he posited.

Meanwhile, President Ali pointed out Guyana joins with the rest of the Community in observing Caricom Day today, at a time when the Secretariat of the Community is undergoing a process of transition.

He once again extended welcome to Dr Carla Barnett of Belize as the first woman and the first person from a continental Caricom country to be Secretary General of the Caribbean Community and pledged Guyana’s strong support for the success of her tenure.

Further, the Guyanese Leader also used the opportunity to salute the incumbent Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, whom he said has led the Organisation with a wise head and a steady hand. President Ali applaud Ambassador LaRocque’s sterling contributions to regional integration and wished him success in the future. [Guyana Times]