Prime Minister of Belize, Juan Antonio Briceno.
Government of Belize Press Office

Caribbean Community leaders meeting in Belize this week moved to tackle several key items including the Russia-Ukraine war and its implications, a seeming neglect of fellow member nation Haiti and operationalization issues linked to free trade in the 15-nation bloc.

Two keynote speakers at Tuesday’s ceremonial opening session of the two-day conference, made direct references to Haiti its withering and unending problems the region’s poorest and most populous nation faces, calling for greater involvement of the bloc to help the country deal with a slew of major problems.

Conference Chair and Prime Minister of Belize, John Brecino told colleagues that there are no easy or quick fixes to Haiti’s plight, noting that “the situation of Haiti is of despair for all of us. We have devoted significant time over the past year in considering how the community can best support Haiti in grappling with a multitude of crises on top of which is now a constitutional crisis. Community will continue to walk alongside Haiti. We will continue to offer our support, solidarity and cooperation and we will continue to advocate for an international response that is commensurate with the needs of Haiti,” he said.

Former chair and Antiguan Prime Minister, Gaston Browne was even more direct in his reference to Haiti as he pointed to the early July 2021 assassination of Haitian President, Jovenel Moise at his home in suburban Port Au Prince and a slew of other problems which had beset the island nation as the nation was in the height of mourning.

“This was an event almost unheard of in our region,” Browne said, describing his murder as “a tragic reminder that our region is not immune from the forces of instability and criminality swirling around the world. Barely had Haiti come to terms with the tragic loss of her president, then she was struck by an earthquake, followed shortly by the passage of Tropical Storm Grace. We need to work with Haiti in helping to resolve the deteriorating political situation in the country and the deepening public anxiety over citizen security,” he said.

Recurring international media reports seem to indicate that Moise had been on the verge of moving against the nation’s entrenched drug cartels when he was riddled with rifle fire by suspected Colombian mercenaries. More than a dozen of the suspected gunmen are in custody while two have been held by authorities in the US. Haiti is represented at the summit by acting President Ariel Henry.

Police remove stones used to block the road during a protest by garment workers demanding higher wages, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Feb. 24, 2022. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

As expected, leaders made it clear the region cannot ignore the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its implications for the Caribbean.

Brecino said the region regards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “a flagrant violation of International Law. We condemn in the strongest terms this unjustified invasion,” while Browne spoke of the specter of the war bringing “two nuclear-armed superpowers into open conflict.”

On Wednesday, Caricom leaders will switch focus to a one-day session with Central American leaders before heading back home to deal with risking food and fuel prices, supply chain and other issues linked to the ongoing European conflict and the vagaries of the Covid pandemic.

Speaking at home at the weekend, PM Browne warned Antiguans to brace for gasoline increases, noting that “if petroleum prices continue to increase, then there may be a time when we cannot continue to hold the price of whatever it is for gas at the pump,”

“We could have a situation where we are forced to increase the price at the pump,” Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne said on his weekly radio program at the weekend. “If petroleum prices continue to increase, then there may be a time when we cannot continue to hold the price of whatever it is for gas at the pump,” he said.

Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Mottley told journalists that a full assessment of the impact of the war would be done soon as authorities are looking at ways to at least keep food prices down.

“It is not the worst news, but we are prepared to do what has to be done at the macro level and also with respect to cost of living for households as we go forward. The urgency of the moment with the Ukraine crisis is undoubtedly there. But we have been preparing for some time for this unstable world, which has led to increases in food prices,” she said.”

Similar concerns and intended actions to mitigate the crisis for regional citizens have been expressed by officials from Trinidad to The Bahamas.

Trinidad’s trade ministry Monday warned about supply chain disruptions owing to port closures in Eastern Europe resulting in inflation in importing states.

“The ministry will continue to monitor developments in the international trading system and work with all relevant stakeholders as appropriate to ensure food security by mitigating any negative impacts associated with the commodity shortages and price increases.”

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