Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, joined Caribbean leaders and eminent guests yesterday to celebrate the 50 years of CARICOM’s leadership, unity and progress, while pledging her continued support to the organisation.
She paid tribute to the organisation at the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Port-of-Spain on 4 July 2023. The conference was hosted by the Rt Hon Keith Christopher Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and chaired by H.E. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica.
On 4 July 1973, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago, which led to the establishment of the Caribbean Community. Today, CARICOM has 15 members – of which 12 are part of the Commonwealth – and five associate members.
Admiration for the Caribbean
Speaking on CARICOM’s 50th anniversary, the Commonwealth Secretary-General expressed her pride and admiration for the Caribbean, adding:
“Today is a great day for the Caribbean and a special day for the Commonwealth, as we come together to celebrate CARICOM’s golden jubilee. The Caribbean, despite its relatively small size, has consistently been at the forefront of tackling the most significant challenges of our time.
“Their contributions have enriched our Commonwealth family in immeasurable ways, and today our partnership, grounded in principled and practical action, on a wide array of initiatives is stronger than ever before.”
During the establishment of CARICOM, Caribbean leaders confronted a period marred by racism, inequality, climate change and economic issues. Secretary-General Scotland, acknowledging their visionary leadership and unwavering dedication, commended their efforts in building a brighter future for generations to come.
She also applauded the Caribbean’s leadership in advocating for the reform of the global financial system, particularly through the Bridgetown Initiative, spearheaded by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, while reiterating the Commonwealth’s full support for the effort.
Commonwealth engagement with the Caribbean
Secretary-General Patricia Scotland went on to speak about the Commonwealth’s longstanding engagement with the Caribbean, highlighting milestones, such as:
- The Nassau Accord, agreed upon at the 1985 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the Bahamas, played a significant role in the international fight against apartheid in South Africa.
- The Caribbean made significant contributions to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative; a major effort led by the Commonwealth that helped many countries achieve debt sustainability.
- Caribbean leaders were powerful advocates for the adoption of the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment at the 1989 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which recognised climate change as an existential threat three years before the first United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP).
- In 1989, Guyana and the Commonwealth established the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development to promote the conservation, and the sustainable and equitable use of tropical rain forests.
- In the 2010s, the former President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, led a Commonwealth expert group on climate finance, resulting in the proposal for the Climate Finance Access Hub.
Secretary-General Scotland highlighted the remarkable impact of the Climate Finance Access Hub, which was launched in 2015 with an investment of US $6 million.
To date, the hub has unlocked over US $276 million in climate finance for 19 Commonwealth member countries, including US $52 million for Caribbean member countries. An additional US $500 million worth of projects are currently in the pipeline.
Recognising the importance of digital skills in a rapidly evolving world, Secretary-General Scotland spoke about the Commonwealth’s efforts to train thousands of young people in digital literacy and bridge the digital divide for small states.
During her address, she pointed out the achievements of the Commonwealth under the leadership of Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal, the first Caribbean and the longest-serving Secretary-General. Under his leadership, Secretary-General Scotland added, the Commonwealth led the charge against racism in Southern Africa, played a pioneering role in sustainable development, and raised awareness of the dangers of climate change.
Noting the challenges ahead, the Secretary-General expressed her unwavering support for CARICOM’s growth and success, affirming her belief in the organisation’s ability to overcome challenges and pursue common goals for the greater good.