GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Belizean diplomat, Dr Carla Barnett, was on Monday installed as the eighth Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) indicating that she has no misapprehensions about the severity of the challenges that the 15-member grouping faces economically, socially, environmentally and financially.
“As I assume this office today, I approach my task with a willingness to listen and to share; with goodwill towards all and malice towards none. I am here to serve, to advance the interests of the governments and peoples of the Caribbean Community and I will do so to the best of my ability.”
She told the virtual ceremony the thrust to build resilience against the existential threat of climate change in all its dimensions, and the urgency of constructing a recovery from the adverse effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic demand the continued focused energy of the entire region.
“Even as we address these critical tasks, we cannot afford to neglect youth unemployment, which has led the explosion of the jobless in the wake of COVID-19, a troubling rise in crime, especially violent crime in the home and on the streets, the need to strengthen food security, reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases, and more effectively address the issue of blacklisting by the major industrial countries and the consequential loss of correspondent banking relations,” she added.
Dr. Barnett, who is the first woman and the first Belizean to be selected for the post, is a former CARICOM Deputy Secretary General, who also served as the vice president of the Belize Senate.
A former government minister in her homeland, she also served as Financial Secretary of Belize and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Belize, as well as Vice-President (Operations) of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
She replaces Dominican-born diplomat, Irwin LaRocque, who had been in the position for the past 10 years.
“For the last 16 years, the first six as Assistant Secretary-General and the last 10 as Secretary-General, he devoted himself to the task of making integration work for the benefit of the people of the Community,” Dr. Barnett said of LaRocque, adding that “I am certain that the Community will find an appropriate way to honor your contribution.
The new regional top public servant acknowledged that she was taking up the position “with great pride and a deep sense of humility,” even as the Caribbean and more particularly Haiti, grapples with the aftermath of last Saturday’s powerful earthquake that killed hundreds of people, left thousands injured and homeless.
She said that the impact of the earthquake is being made worse by the rains associated with the passage of Tropical Depression Grace.
“I reiterate the Community’s condolences to the government and People of Haiti, and to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this terrible disaster. I also wish a speedy and full recovery of those who were injured. Haiti can be assured that the Community will do all it can to assist in this time of national crisis.”
She said that the challenges facing the region were affecting the lives and livelihoods of each and every one in the 15-member Community and “it is, therefore, incumbent on all of us to be engaged in finding solutions and taking action to overcome these obstacles in our path to a secure, viable and ultimately sustainably prosperous Community for all.
“There is no doubt about the innate sense of community in the people of the region, which manifests itself in both our brightest and our darkest days. We all enjoy our successes in sport, celebrating across the region the recent victories in the Olympic Games. We all celebrate our cultural icons, and, with the same spirit of oneness, we do all that we can to help our sisters’ and our brothers’ when disasters strike.”
She told the ceremony that she regards that wellspring of unity as a source of strength to be tapped in all areas as she embarks on her journey.
But she warned that “to build on and maintain that strength, will require that my team and I reach out on a regular basis to explain, to exhort, to inform, to educate so that all will feel a part of the whole that constitutes CARICOM and “I Am CARICOM” will mean much more than a catchy slogan.
“We will invite Community stakeholders in all sectors, including the media, to reach out to the Secretariat, letting us know their fears, concerns, and vision for the future of the Community and telling us how they feel they can contribute to building our Community.
“This must be our mantra as we seek to build a truly “integrated, inclusive and resilient Community that is driven by knowledge, excellence, innovation and productivity; where every citizen is secure with guaranteed human rights and social justice; and contributes to, and shares in, its economic, social and cultural prosperity. A Community which is a unified and competitive in the global arena.”
She said that this vision is stated in the Community’s 2015-2019 Strategic Plan, and it is one that continues to be very relevant”
Dr. Barnett is taking up her position, two years before the 50th anniversary of CARICOM and that while much had been achieved over the past few decades “a lot of it is taken for granted today, to the extent that some are not even associated with the integration movement.
“The stories of success must be continuously shared across our Community to serve as a constant reminder of what we can achieve with a unity of purpose.
“A generation past put in place a solid foundation and institutions relevant to the needs of the region at that time. It is now the turn of another generation, not only to secure and improve on those gains, but to use the creativity, ingenuity and dynamism that are the signature characteristics of Caribbean people to reimagine the next 50 years of CARICOM.”
But she urged that as the region builds on the work of those who came before, “space has to be created for new thinking, not only to solve the problems of the present but to outline new paths for the future of our integration process.
“How can we close the implementation gap? Is the Single ICT Space or the Blue Economy or both the remedy to our collective economic ills? How do we participate as effectively as we can in the ongoing efforts to reach agreement globally on containing global warming to 1.5 to stay alive? How do we use productively, for the benefit of the wider Community, the relatively abundant lands of our continental member states?
Dr. Barnett said that no one has all the answers, nor do they have all the ideas.
“That is why all must be involved. I see a Caribbean Community that the average citizens of the region will feel a part of and not apart from. A Community where all citizens want to contribute to building this sense of “one Caribbean people with one common experience and destiny”.
During her address, Dr. Barnett paid tribute to the late Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, Sir Lester Bird, who died last week, after a prolonged illness at the age of 83.
“Sir Lester was a committed regionalist who dedicated significant time and effort towards the advancement of the interests of the Caribbean Community. He may have been a fast bowler, but his innings in life was played very well. Please accept the condolences of the Community, the staff of the Secretariat and my own on his passing,” she said.
She also condemned what she termed the “despicable attack” on the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who had to be treated in Barbados after he was struck on the head with an object as he walked to the Parliament building last Thursday during a protest by supporters of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and two public sector trade unions.
“Such violent actions have no place in our political discourse or in society generally and must be condemned unreservedly,” she added.