Regional leaders discuss common challenges in Belize

The negative impact of the COVID pandemic, the climate crisis and regional and international disputes are taking centre stage at the Fourth CARICOM/SICA (Central American Integration System) Summit on the Belize resort island of Ambergris Caye.

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley is leading a Barbados delegation that includes Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, The Most Honourable Senator Jerome Walcott.

In welcoming guests to the conference, Prime Minister of Belize, John Briceno, lamented that a full decade had passed since the leaders of the two sub-regions last met, and too much has happened since then for there to be such delays between future gatherings.

He said: “Then, heads made a solid commitment to strengthen cooperation and engagement in areas of mutual interest that were integral to our development. The fact is, our efforts have been less than satisfactory considering the common plight we faced, and the many opportunities for collaboration that we missed.

“This must now change. Clearly much has happened in the world since 2011. The global and regional landscape has changed significantly. Our partnership, therefore, must be strategic. It must deliver more for the peoples of our shared neighbourhood.”

The Costa Rica delegation at the Fourth CARICOM/SICA Summit in Belize. (Picture courtesy PMO Barbados)

He added: “As nations, we are clawing our way back from a sevSICA (Central American Integration System)ere economic downturn occasioned by a devastating COVID 19 pandemic. The pandemic exposed the fragility of the development gains many of our countries had made.

“Too many of our citizens have been pushed into poverty, are facing hunger, or have lost their opportunity for an education.

“Too many of our citizens have lost their lives or their livelihoods with implications for social cohesion.”

He described “the case for closer collaboration” between the two regions as “compelling and urgent”.

At right: President of Guyana Dr Irfaan Ali (Picture courtesy PMO Barbados)

This sentiment was shared by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who addressed the gathering remotely, indicating that his absence from San Pedro was a direct consequence of the current international crises that were commanding his attention.

“Central American and Caribbean countries share many qualities, and like the United Nations, your two organisations need solidarity for life, and today’s challenges demand more than ever this solidarity,” the UN chief said.

Noting that COVID-19 had uncovered many of the hidden challenges of the region, Guterres added: “Our systems are underfunded and understaffed and under-equipped, and vaccine inequity is blocking recovery. Poverty is worsening with widespread job losses. Your tourism industry has lost billions of dollars in revenue, and many of our countries are paralysed by debt and liquidity issues.

He said these and other challenges had increased migration flows, with almost half a million Central American refugees seeking asylum in other parts of the world. (PR/SAT)

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