**CARICOM** reports that the largest ever contingent of Caribbean Community leaders will gather in Washington DC to participate in the Conference on the Caribbean: A 20/20 Vision. The meetings begin on Monday, June 18, when CARICOM’s Foreign Ministers meet with the United States Secretary of State at the State Department, and end on Thursday, June 21.
Thirteen of the Community’s Heads of Government and the Secretary-General of CARICOM are expected to attend, with two others represented. The Heads of Government will meet with United States President George Bush on Wednesday, 20 June, 2007. The Heads and their Foreign Ministers also will meet with members of both Houses of Congress and participate in various fora involving the private sector, international organisations and the Caribbean diaspora.
The Conference formally starts on Tuesday, June 19 with an opening session theme of ‘CARICOM Development in the 21st Century’. Secretary-General of CARICOM Edwin Carrington will welcome participants to the Conference, and other speakers will include the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Rt. Honourable Owen Arthur; US Commerce Secretary the Hon. Carlos Gutierrez; Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr the Hon Ralph Gonsalves; the Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), His Excellency Jose Miguel Insulza; the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), His Excellency Luis Moreno; and the Deputy Managing Director of the World Bank, Mr Graeme Wheeler.
The opening plenary will be followed by the Joint Private Sector-Experts Session under the theme ‘International Competitiveness of Caribbean Countries’. Other events will include the Diaspora Forum at the OAS Hall of the Americas under the themes ‘The Caribbean Disapora in Perspective’ and ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Caribbean/US Diaspora’ and the opening of the official Art Exhibition at the OAS Hall of Heroes by President of Haiti, His Excellency Rene Preval.
On Wednesday, three fora will be held concurrently: the Experts Forum at the World Bank, the Private Sector Dialogue at the IDB and the Diaspora Forum at the OAS. The Experts Forum will comprise sequential sessions under the themes of ‘Education’, ‘Health & Gender’, ‘Security and Competitiveness in a Global Environment’ and ‘Physical Infrastructure for CARICOM’s Growth and Global Competitiveness’. At the Private Sector Dialogue, the theme for the discussions will be ‘US-Caribbean Trade: Opportunities for Growth’. The Diaspora Forum will examine topics such as ‘Economic and financial empowerment of Caribbean-US Diaspora’, ‘Mobilising Caribbean-US Diaspora Skills Knowledge and Professional Networks’, and ‘Banking on the Future: Engaging the Youth’. Participants will have the opportunity to engage Heads of Government at that forum.
On the final day of the Conference, there will be a joint Wrap-up Session at the OAS, Hall of the Americas under the theme ‘CARICOM Development in the 21st Century: The Way Forward.’ The official closing ceremony will be held at the same venue.
Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State, says President Bush and Secretary of State Rice and their Caribbean counterparts will discuss *”how we can improve our democracies, promote prosperity, invest in our people, and protect the security of our democratic states, not only from transnational threats, but also from ecological and environmental threats. It is our hope to be able at the end of this time to have a vision for the Caribbean that will allow all of our governments to work toward a better region, building a more prosperous and more secure region. “*
Ambassador Ellsworth John of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Coordinator for CARICOM in Washington reports that almost 1,000 persons from the Caribbean are expected to descend on The Capital to discuss the future engagement between the United States and the Caribbean community. *”This is a very important and exciting time for us, and for that reason, there will be almost 150 persons representing our governments who will be here for the official discussions with the President of the United States, Members of Congress, and also with the Secretary of State. We look forward to using this conference and the dialogue that will take place on what is necessary for us to grow as a community, for us to grow as a region. We hope to use this conference as a unique time to start a dialogue that will continue. It will be a process that begins now that we hope will lead to a long-term stability in this region.”*
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon. Brent Symonette will participate in the Conference on the Caribbean. BFSB’s CEO Wendy C. Warren will participate in the IDB-hosted Private Sector Forum.