Remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, Head of the Guyana delegation, at the meeting of the 13th Ministerial Council of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) - Panama City, Panama, 25 January 2008

Posted February 1st. 2008


Mr. Chairman, Ministers, Secretary General of the ACS, Members of Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen. . . .

I apologise for the absence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana for his absence, due to illness, at this ministerial meeting of the ACS. Nevertheless, he sends his cordial greetings to this thirteenth ministerial and looks forward to its successful deliberations and conclusions.

Mr. Chairman, as we have a political dialogue here at this ministerial, it is necessary for us to examine the challenges confronting the ACS. In the limited time at my disposal, I want to touch on a few areas.

First, there is the challenge of education. For this organisation comprising the nations of the Greater Caribbean to make an impact on the lives of the region's citizens, it is imperative that our governments implement education programmes to enable our young people in particular to understand and appreciate the history, geography, economics and culture of all the member states.

It is a fact that students in the English-speaking Caribbean states know very little - relatively speaking - of the other countries of the Greater Caribbean. The same can be said of students of the non-English-speaking countries who have almost not general knowledge of the English-speaking nations of the same region to which they all belong.

Surely, the curriculum in our schools throughout the Greater Caribbean has to be reoriented to solve this problem. I recently leafed through a general history textbook used in the English-speaking Caribbean schools, and there is almost nothing in it that presents students with even a summarised version of the post-independence history of the non-English-speaking member countries of the ACS.

You will agree with me, that the school books in these countries also provide negligible information to their students about the English-speaking Caribbean as well.

As a note of concern, I still see in some of the history textbooks glorification of the conquests of the Spanish conquistadores - no doubt, because these books are written from the European pro-colonial perspective. It is obviously necessary for our own historians to write the history textbooks for our own students.

This organisation - the ACS - is in an important position to influence change and reorientation in education programmes throughout the Greater Caribbean to influence a positive shift in the direction education in ACS member states should move. I emphasise that it is only when all our people know about all our people will they be in a position to appreciate each other's problems and aspirations. In this way, they will be better able to effectively understand the role of this organisation and render to it the full support it deserves.

Mr. Chairman, we also have to work for greater cooperation among the member states. Undoubtedly, intra-regional cooperation has positively expanded in recent years. This is not to say that differences do not exist in views relating to international trade and in some other areas.

It is obvious that the ACS can continue to influence the bridging of gaps in cooperation existing in the relations between member states and/or between sub-regional groupings.

Mr. Chairman, I note that during the preparatory meeting two days ago, delegates emphasised the importance of special and differential treatment for the smaller economies at the level of the WTO negotiations. This is an objective the ACS must always maintain.

The smaller economies of Caricom and Central America have been carrying out a valiant struggle for the winning of such treatment. It has not been an easy task since the larger world economies do not seem to fully appreciate the serious economic and social problems confronting these smaller economies.

Only recently, the sugar producing countries of the Caribbean (as part of the ACP countries) were forced to re-negotiate their long-standing sugar agreement with the European Union. Even though an agreement was eventually reached, the general view is that the Caribbean sugar producing countries came out at a disadvantage in the end.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to touch on the environmental challenge. In the course of this ministerial, we have heard concerns over problems in protecting coastal eco-systems arising from climate change. In this respect, the Greater Caribbean certainly requires the cooperation of the large industrialised and highly populated countries to adapt and implement energy policies which can alleviate situations that promote climate change and global warming.

We ask for this cooperation since we feel that it will not only assist in environmental protection in our region but also, in the long run, it will also be beneficial to these more developed and highly populated states.

I recall a story of an elephant and a mouse crossing together over an old rickety wooden bridge spanning a deep, fast-flowing river. As they walked slowly over the bridge, it shook and rattled dangerously, and at any time it was expected to collapse. The two animals were in great dread that the bridge would crash into the river and result in their certain death. But fortunately, it held up and with a sigh of relief both of them landed safely on the other side. Looking up to the elephant, the mouse said, "Well, we really shook up that bridge!"

Indeed, some serious shaking up has to be done to get all the main energy users in the more developed world to understand and appreciate the plight of the small nations, especially in the Greater Caribbean. The support of the industrialised countries in alleviating the problems associated with climate change will certainly receive high appreciation from the member states of this organisation. The powerful big countries, marching together with the smaller ones, will undoubtedly shake up the bridge of procrastination over this vital issue.

Thank you.

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