When he was growing up, Dr. Edwin Wilberforce Carrington remembers there was always a lot of excitement whenever a turtle was spotted in his small village on the island of Tobago.
‘Now and then a fisherman would come ashore with a turtle, grab the poor thing, turn it over on its back, announce to the village that they were going to kill it, and everybody would run down with a bowl to get some meat,’ Carrington recalls.
During his first visit to the Cayman Islands this month, the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community said he was briefly transported back to his early days, albeit without the gore.
‘In school, we always associated the Cayman Islands with turtles,’ said Dr. Carrington. ‘And here, I see this fantastic farm out in West Bay. I’ve never seen so many turtles in my life.’
Dr. Carrington and his staff visited Cayman for three days, from Dec. 11-13, spending much of the time closeted in diplomatic meetings with government officials, including the Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and Cabinet members. But when venturing out, he said he was left with quite a favorable impression.
‘I feel at home here, and I hope you don’t mind. I was just comfortable,’ said Dr. Carrington. ‘And I’ll tell you something, I would have found other words to say if it were not so.’
Caricom’s Secretary-General wasn’t here just for the balmy weather and friendly people. Dr. Carrington said he arrived seeking greater collaboration and a ‘closer link’ between his organization and Cayman.
The Cayman Islands are not a full member of Caricom, but signed on for ‘associate member’ status in 2002. Caricom has 15 full members, and five ‘associates.’ Cayman pays a certain amount each year for that membership.
Dr. Carrington said Caricom is currently trying to draft a set of ‘rights and responsibilities’ for associate member islands, to determine what exactly their role is in the Caribbean organization. He envisions one document as a general guideline for all associate members, with each individual government’s assent. ‘Whatever changes there would be, it would have to be agreed with by the associate members.’
Right now, Caricom officials describe Cayman as a ‘functional’ member, without a voting interest in the areas of economics or foreign policy. Dr. Carrington said his discussions with local officials mainly focused on areas such as education, health care, agriculture and disaster management. ‘What you would call the quality of life issues; that is where the Cayman Islands zeroed in.’
Caricom’s stated goal is to work toward a more united Caribbean, and Dr. Carrington said he found the local leadership willing to listen.
In recent years, this topic has concerned Caymanians who fear their homeland will lose a measure of control over its own affairs if these islands become a full member of Caricom.
Mr. Tibbetts said Cayman’s current position doesn’t require the islands to give any economic guarantees beyond making membership payments each quarter. ‘If there is justifiable reason not to want to continue the association there’s nothing anyone can stop you from doing so.’
Dr. Carrington also called it ‘very unlikely’ that Cayman would fall under Caricom guidelines under a single market economy.
However, Mr. Tibbetts noted several reasons why remaining in the Caribbean organization would be advantageous.
‘There are international ideologies; I would call them threats, that are common to us in the region. Going to battle with them one-by-one makes no sense. It is always best for us to gain perspective among ourselves,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
For example, Mr. Carrington said some law enforcement initiatives being used during the Cricket World Cup next year were coordinated among several Caribbean nations hosting the event, as well as the UK and U.S.
The countries will set up a special VISA base which allows Cup visitors quicker passage through customs once they have passed their first check. Also, Dr. Carrington said authorities will have access to an Advanced Passenger Information System on incoming flights.
‘It gives you information before the flight arrives. Who is on the flight, who may need to be watched, what seat they are sitting in,’ said Dr. Carrington.
Mr. Tibbetts said Cayman would also benefit from keeping current with its Caribbean neighbors.
‘In knowing what other territories face, their challenges; allowing them to know what your challenges are, and working together to bring about common solutions,’ said Mr. Tibbetts. ‘That’s the general basis of the relationship, I think.’
The Secretary-General promised to maintain that relationship by coming back to visit Cayman again, perhaps to see more turtles.