Caribbean Community leaders will make history next month when they fly to finance-starved Haiti for their first ever full-fledged of regional leaders on Haitian soil.
President Michel Martelly who won a landslide in general elections in mid 2011 has bitten the bullet and decided that the time is more than ripe for Haiti to both hold a summit, try to sell the idea of regional integration to its people and move to play a more meaningful place in CARICOM. The two-day meeting begins on Feb. 19.
Haiti is the last nation to join the group in 2002 at the summit in Guyana but problems ranging from the effects of devastating annual hurricanes, persistent poverty and the January 2010 earthquake have conspired to undermine previous attempts to hold a summit or key high level meetings on the island of about 10 million.
Haiti is easily the most populous of the CARICOM member states and only Jamaica’s with 2.6 million has a population of any international significance.
Most of Martelly’s colleagues say they will attend the annual mid-year or so-called intersessional summit that precedes the main one normally held in rotating venues in July.
Martelly, incidentally, is also the first Haitian head of state to hold the six-month job as chairman of CARICOM, a position he assumed at the beginning of this month after St. Lucia’s Kenneth Anthony, host of last July’s summit, ended his own half year term at the end of December.
Officials at the Guyana-based secretariat said that apart from the recurring themes like efforts to forge a single market and economy, free travel, a perennial but lame discussion of a common currency and threats to regional industries such as rum, the main agenda item could be the restructuring of CARICOM’s headquarters and its ministerial and other institutions.
The issue was first raised at the mid-year summit in Suriname in March of last year when leaders looked at the report of a consultancy group which was hired to study regional bodies, the secretariat and come up with recommendations for improvement.
Secretary General, Dominica-born Irwin LaRocque, said recently there is little doubt that restructuring is the region’s main focus for this year.
“We have already lined up the necessary resources to get it done and I intend to start in earnest the change process or the transformation process that our heads have mandated. With the assistance of DFLD we have been able to engage a change facilitator who will be advising me on the way forward. But the change process and the leadership of the change process rest with me. So it’s going to occupy a significant amount of time,” he said.