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Caribbean leaders discuss priority issues

In a communiqué issued at the conclusion of the 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community on Tuesday, the region’s leaders—who expressed their continued support for the territorial integrity of Belize—welcomed the latest developments between Belize and Guatemala to activate the Joint Commission to promote cooperative relations between both countries.

According to the communiqué, “They also welcomed their renewed commitment to preserve the Special Agreement of 2008, which commits both parties to resort to the International Court of Justice for a final determination of the Guatemalan claim.”

The Caribbean leaders said that they support the Road Map signed on 24 January 2014 by Belize and Guatemala and by the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS).

That road map is said to be aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and enhancing mutual trust conducive to setting a new date to hold the referendum in both countries.

The referendum in question was to be have been held last October, 2013, but Guatemala aborted the plan, which would have resulted in a simultaneous vote by electors in Belize and Guatemala on whether the territorial dispute should be taken to the International Court of Justice for binding resolution.

The CARICOM heads “…called on the international community to support the efforts of both countries and the OAS in this endeavor and reiterated their support for both countries in their abiding commitment to the Special Agreement.”

Another topic high on the agenda was the revision of the region’s marijuana policy. Whereas Belize has been looking at the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, there is also a similar move on the regional front. Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines – the host country — announced at the conclusion of the meeting on Tuesday that they had considered the medical use of marijuana and the decriminalization of small quantities for recreational use. He explained that the earnings that might be derived from marijuana cultivation was also explored.

“In relation to this issue, we have obviously taken more than baby steps. We want the issue to be addressed in a serious, mature manner,” Dr. Gonsalves said.

However, Gonsalves expressed that there were also concerns raised during deliberations about the repercussions that would come from legalizing or even decriminalizing marijuana, and particular apprehensions were raised regarding potential public and mental health aspects of its use.

The Heads of Government, which included Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow, also recognized the need for careful in-depth research of the various implications of the measures contemplated during the deliberations, and as such, the mandated commission would have to address the issues identified, along with any others deemed relevant in providing clear guidance.

The Conference of Heads of Government is due to hold their regular meeting in July, and the Marijuana Commission is expected to report to the heads at that meeting.

The leaders also talked about advancing a regional Information Communications Technology (ICT) agenda. According to the communiqué, “Heads of Government reaffirmed that ICT is a priority and has a role in developing all sectors and advancing all regional initiatives and imperatives. Heads of Government agreed that developing a CARICOM Digital Economy is key to changing the socio-economic profile of the region and for creating jobs, especially for the Community’s youth, new opportunities and engendering innovation and competitiveness.”

The leaders said that sustained efforts in the years 2014-2015 should be focused on building a Single ICT space as part of the digital layer of the CSME.

“This includes addressing issues related to roaming rates and improved broadband service across the region,” they added.

The leaders said, via their communiqué, that a road-map for the implementation of the Single ICT space is to be presented for consideration at their July 2015 Meeting. Cyber-security should also be a priority, they said.

Reparations for native genocide and slavery was another major item on the agenda.

“Heads of Government examined progress at both national and regional levels with regard to the Region’s efforts to address the issue of reparations for native genocide and slavery,” they said.

Meanwhile, the Regional Reparations Committee, comprising the Chairpersons of National Committees has prepared a Draft Regional Strategic and Operational Plan for a Caribbean Reparatory Justice Programme (CRJP), which was accepted by the Heads of Government as a basis for further action.

“Among the major elements elaborated in the Plan were those related to the request for a Full Formal Apology by the Governments of Europe involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade; the establishment of Caribbean cultural institutions through which the Caribbean experience could be scientifically told; an Indigenous Peoples Development Programme; technology transfer; and debt cancellation,” the leaders said.

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