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Caribbean leaders hold summit in Panama
by Tomás García
The IV Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Association of Caribbean States took place in Panama from July 25 to 30. The summit was created to discuss issues of importance to the members of the Association of Caribbean States and of importance to the Greater Caribbean, a concept created by the ACS to include in the concept countries that are not islands in the Caribbean Sea but have coasts along the Caribbean.
The summit was divided in different work sessions; the first days included preparatory sessions, informing the countries of the issues to be discussed, and in later days, the actual working sessions of the ACS extraordinary meeting where the issues would be ultimately discussed and solution would be found.
Besides these work sessions, the participants in the Summit assisted to different cultural events throughout the week, as well as cocktails, lunches and dinners offered by Martín Torrijos, President of Panama, and Samuel Lewis Navarro, Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Members of the ACS sent delegates from their countries to participate in these events. Some of the prominent figures present in the summit were Presidents Vicente Fox Quesada of Mexico, Enrique Bolaños of Nicaragua and Álvaro Uribe of Colombia. The absence of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro was noticeable throughout all the events.
Many countries participated in the event, including countries that were observers during the whole process. For example, Primrose Sharma, India's ambassador in Panama, went to all the special events and participated in most of the work sessions.
Many cultural events took place during the summit in an effort to stimulate Caribbean spirit among the members of the ACS and introduce Caribbean idiosyncrasies to the delegates of foreign countries.
The first cultural event Panama's tourism minister Rubén Blades gave a brief speech about the importance of history and culture throughout the Caribbean region and how these elements keep the countries in the region together. Afterwards, many performers from different Caribbean countries, including Haiti, Trinidad y Tobago, and Panama, showed various elements of their cultural background. For example, the Panama Canal Authority's Folkloric group presented the public with a repertoire of Panamanian dances, including the Mirror Dance and el Punto. It is important to note that not only the delegates and important political figures were present at this event, but also many schools were invited to watch the show.
Another interesting cultural event was the summit's inauguration, also held in the Anayansi Theater, on July 28. The event was opened by a speech by ACS Secretary General Rubén Silié Valdez.
Silié basically outlined the issues discussed during the initial work sessions held at the Caesar Park Hotel. These issues included the transportation of hazardous materials through the Caribbean, the serious problem with AIDS affecting Caribbean nations, and economic participation of the different members of the ACS.
During the inauguration Arthur Robinson, the former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, received the Association of Caribbean States Scroll from President Fox of Mexico and the Order of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa from President Torrijos of Panama. Robinson received these honors because of his efforts to promote the establishment of the International Criminal Court and his strong advocacy of human rights. Immediately afterwards, Robinson gave a beautiful speech about the ideologies the ACS must maintain and how the sea that divides the countries of the Caribbean is more an obstacle than a bridge, but a breach that can be overcome.
Later, Torrijos and Fox gave their respective speeches, both indicating the importance of maintaining communication and strengthening bonds among the countries of the Caribbean Basin.
There was also a trip to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center for summit delegates.
The Declaration of Panama
The Declaration of Panama was the summary of progress made at the summit, in which many issues addressed at the work sessions were taken into consideration.
The ACS expressed its determination to promote the Caribbean Sea Zone as a special area for sustainable development programs. The United Nations has heard this plea before, but so far has not accepted the Caribbean as such an area, partly because important UN members did not accept the idea.
Economic integration was also discussed throughout the work sessions. The framework for an Agreement of Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments among ACS members was proposed. The intention is to promote stability and reliability for investments in the Greater Caribbean region.
The ACS members also underscored the importance of creating the Business Forum of the Greater Caribbean to promote trade and investment, and the Virtual Market and an Integrated Information System to facilitate and promote the participation of the public and private business sectors of the ACS country members.
Another issue was the cooperation of the ACS members during times of natural disaster. The Declaration expressed their concern about natural disasters and urged the signing the ACS Agreement on Regional Cooperation in Matters of Natural Disasters, which has not yet been accepted by every ACS member.
The idea of Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Caribbean (STZC) was also explored in the Declaration. The summit accepted the importance of tourism as a source of revenue from foreign countries and therefore created the STZC by way of an accord which has been signed by many countries of the Greater Caribbean.
During the first half of 2006 a meeting of ACS member states' tourism authorities will take place, in order to examine proposals and alternatives about public tourism policies, and in particular to explore regional approaches to the important cruise ship industry.
An important factor of the STZC and the economic integration among ACS members is transportation. With this in mind the ACS is promoting an Air Transport Agreement among the ACS member and associate states. However, many of these countries have not signed the agreement.