Headline — 16 February 2016 — by Adele Ramos

PLACENCIA, Stann Creek, Mon. Feb. 15, 2016–The sandy shores of Placencia were the grounds upon which a momentous gathering of leaders of the Caribbean region converged tonight for the official opening of the 27th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of CARICOM.

Captivating entertainment provided by Garifuna, Creole and Maya dancers helped to relax the officials before tense deliberations over the next two days on pressing issues affecting the region.

“Our issues and challenges are particularly pronounced at this time,” said incoming chair of the Caribbean Community, Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow, in remarks to his peers.

The historic session marked the official opening of the 27th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of CARICOM

Whereas there has been much talk about what Barrow described as the “banking Armageddon,” due to the “cataclysmic ramifications” of the decision by US and European banks to cut off indigenous Caribbean banks, he pointed to a potentially compounding factor: the possibility that the world economy may be “sliding back into recession,” as he put it.

Earlier today, CARICOM Finance ministers met to discuss the banking crisis. The recommendations compiled by a Committee of Finance Ministers on Correspondent Banking, chaired by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, should be the subject of deliberations by Heads of Government as they meet in Placencia on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 16 and 17.

Speaking in Placencia tonight, Barrow said that “CARICOM action must be unrelenting.” He called on the region to “size up” with collective action.

Barrow announced tonight that Belize would offer a recommendation at the meeting of Heads: that respective country banks can get together and approach target banks in the US for pooled correspondent banking services. This, Barrow said, should ensure that the Caribbean is able to leverage the critical mass needed for the risk-reward equation, since US banks have decided to cut off small banks because any benefit they get in earnings do not outweigh the large fines they could face from regulators if they run into trouble with transactions that do not meet approval of their regulators.

Barrow called for stocktaking and a hard-headed assessment of where CARICOM is, as well as where it needs to go.

These sentiments were echoed by outgoing CARICOM chairman, Freundel Stuart, QC, who said that this visit to Belize was his first.

“2016 is an important year for all our countries,” as the region proceeds to implement its commitments of 2015, he said.

In this year of “deep and symbolic significance,” Belize, like Antigua and Barbuda, will celebrate its 35th year of Independence, and Barbados, like Guyana, will celebrate its 50th.

As for Barbados, said Stuart, the anniversary will spark a reflection on what they have lost as a nation that they need to reclaim, what they have that they need to retain, and what needs to be discarded with haste. That, he said, should be adapted to the CARICOM context. Stuart urged the region to identify the things that hinder CARICOM, which it needs to urgently discard.

He said that in the two days ahead, CARICOM’s deliberations would be on a variety of important matters, ranging from simple to multifaceted and complex, and they all require their undivided attention, he added.

CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque highlighted some of those issues in his opening remarks: climate change, crime and security, the banking crisis and the Zika virus.

LaRocque urged the CARICOM leaders to use the formula for success in lobbying for the climate change commitments within the context of the COP21 Paris Agreement, to “engage frontally the challenges posed to our security” and fighting the menace of crime, which affects member states to varying degrees.

These are the issues that are high on the agenda of CARICOM Heads as plenary sessions commence at the Club House of the Belize Ocean Club in Placencia on Tuesday.

A press conference is planned for Wednesday, when the CARICOM leaders are expected to report on the outcome of their deliberations.

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