Caribbean to work toward joint market

NASSAU, Bahamas, AP

Forming a new regional economy, founding a new supreme court and fighting a deadly disease top the list of subjects Caribbean leaders plan to consider this week at their annual summit.

Leaders of the Caribbean Community, which starts its three-day meeting Tuesday in the Bahamas, hope to make new progress in establishing a European-style common market and also discuss dilemmas from Haiti’s political crisis to the spread of AIDS in the region, where the 2 percent HIV infection rate is second only to that of Africa.

The region has been pressing the United Nations for representation on the board that will administer a new global fund created to fight AIDS that is worth at least US$700 million.

Caribbean leaders also say their small islands must integrate into the Caricom Single Market and Economy to stay competitive.

“With globalization, it’s clearly obvious that if the small countries do not form themselves into blocks we’re going to be left behind,” said Ellen Bogle, Jamaica’s Ambassador to Caricom.

The Community also plans to complete preparations to create the Caribbean Court of Justice, which would replace Britain’s Privy Council as the former colonies’ top court. In February, 10 countries agreed to use the new court.

Caribbean nations looking to enforce the death penalty to discourage violent crime are frustrated at what they see as British obstacles to executions, such as a long appeals process and a five-year period in which a government must carry out an execution. Critics say the new system would be a “hanging court.”

The Community, made up largely of former British colonies, also is to consider a dispute over the ownership of tiny Aves Island, located about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of the island of Dominica.

Half of Caricom’s 14 members are seeking the body’s backing in disputing Venezuela’s claim to the island, which would give the South American country fishing and mineral exploration rights approaching the islands of Antigua, Grenada and St. Lucia.

“We cannot allow this to be construed legally or otherwise as part of Venezuela,” Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Bird said last week.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that his country won’t give up its 136-year-old claim. Chavez said his government has plans to build “a scientific-military base” on the island, adding that he would travel there “to ratify our sovereignty.”

Caribbean countries, however, might be reluctant to press Venezuela on the issue because Caricom members such as Jamaica and Grenada buy Venezuelan oil under favorable financial terms as part of a pact established last year.

Haiti’s political problems also may draw particular attention during the summit. The opposition and President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s party were in their third day of negotiations Monday on terms for new elections. They have been in a yearlong impasse since Aristide’s party won 80 percent of local and legislative seats.