Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries will use “important meetings” in the United States next week to push the international community to re-think its policies regarding regional countries that are no longer eligible for concessionary loans and other forms of preferential treatment, Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Allan Chastanet said here on Friday.
Chastanet, the chairman of the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), who led a delegation to the hurricane battered island of Dominica and held talks with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, said he also hoped the visit of the United Nation Secretary General António Guterres to the hurricane affected countries this weekend, would help provide an impetus for a change in the policy.
“I am actually assured that he would be emotionally impacted by what he is going to see here and the level of vulnerability, the level of helplessness that we all suffer from because of what is taking place and the power of Mother Nature and what is left in its wrath.
“I believe as a new Secretary General, I am convinced and certainly in the discussions I had with him, that he would become a champion for our cause, and again I am sorry that it is the people of Dominica, who have had to suffer to this extent in order for us to make that message known to everybody”.
Chastanet said that it was important for the region to make sure “it is not in vain” and that the “important high level meetings” in the United States next week to be attended by representatives of the major countries of the world would provide the opportunity to detail ‘what we have been saying for years that the Caribbean cannot be classified by one measurement when it comes to whether we are middle income or high income or low income.
“But most importantly to determine whether we should have access to aid money or have to pay for commercial debt.”
Chastanet said that the regional countries are hoping at that meeting “we have been finally been able to convince everybody that the Caribbean and small states like ours need to be classified on a vulnerability index that the secretary General was talking about.
He said that would go a long way in helping the Caribbean countries help themselves “because I know one thing about us in the Caribbean, nobody is looking for a handout, all we want is a fair chance, a fair opportunity to be able to take care of ourselves and to prosper”.
He said when he saw the extent of the damage caused by the hurricane when it tore through the island on September 18, killing at least 28 people and leaving billions of dollars in damages, he is heartened by the response of the population to the disaster.
“I see people up and around, cutting wood, cleaning up their homes and getting on with life. It makes me proud to say I am from the Caribbean,” Chastanet said, noting earlier the important role played by the Saint Lucia-based OECS Commission in coordinating the relief exercise following the storm.
Earlier, the OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules said that while the storm had caused widespread destruction, it also provided an opportunity for closer trading links between the nine-member grouping in a bid to reduce the three-quarter billion United States dollar food import bill.
He said that while trade in the sub-region was relatively small, Hurricane Maria has “provided an opportunity to do things differently…to trade within ourselves”.
He said he was urging the OECS businesses, and other stakeholders to work together “so we can create a new viability of growth within the OECS”.