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#4480: Caribbean Leaders Discuss Unity (fwd)


Sunday July 2 12:12 PM ET  Caribbean Leaders Discuss Unity

 By EILEEN McNAMARA, Associated Press Writer 

 CANOUAN, St. Vincent (AP) - Caribbean leaders were supposed to
concentrate this week on jump-starting a decades-old effort to unite
their economies. But the region's divisiveness is again stealing the
show. A long-standing feud between Guyana and Suriname over natural
resources along their border has exploded. And the 15-member Caribbean
Community is being asked to step in on Canouan, St. Vincent and the
Grenadines during its summit. ``The pace is slower than it should have
been,'' Caribbean Community Secretary-General Edwin Carrington said
 of regional unity on the eve of the conference, which was opening
Sunday. ``Some people do not realize how urgent this is.''              
In recent weeks, rich countries have branded a string of Caribbean
offshore banking industries as money-laundering centers and harmful tax
havens, threatening sanctions  against what many tiny island nations see
as one of the few options to poverty in a globalized world.
Caribbean countries have watched, stunned and powerless, as their
textile and other factories shut down and moved to Mexico after it
joined the North American Free Trade Agreement. Then the
 United States won a ruling by the World Trade Organization against
Europe's trade preference for Caribbean banana producers. But one of the
first orders of business will be resolving a dispute between Suriname
and Guyana over a Canadian oil rig that was operating under a concession
granted by Guyana. Suriname, Guyana's neighbor on the northern
 coast of South America, claims the rig crossed into Surinamese waters
and ordered it to move on June 3. Officials from both countries vowed to
try to settle the matter between themselves, but their third round of
talks broke down two weeks ago.

 ``We do not wish to see any escalation of the tension,'' Carrington
said in an interview. Peacemaking is becoming a familiar role for the
Caribbean Community, known as Caricom. It brokered a peace
 agreement in Guyana after disputed elections led to race riots in 1998
and the regional organizations intervened in a trade dispute between
Trinidad and Jamaica last year.
 The elections crisis in Caricom's newest member, Haiti, will also be
discussed. Haiti's biggest opposition parties are calling for an
annulment of May legislative elections, charging the count was rigged to
ensure a massive victory for the party of former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. International organizations and the country's biggest donors,
including the United States, support the charges and some are
threatening to cut aid.

 With so many internal problems, Caribbean leaders fret that they have
made dismally little progress toward their original goal - forging a
common market. All the leaders agree that a common market would help the
region. In 1992, Caricom amended the treaty that created it to include a
single market similar to that of the European Union. But it has stumbled
over the need for free movement of capital and workers. The relatively
richer islands are already beset by illegal immigration and fear an
influx of migrants from poorer nations like Haiti. Getting countries to
agree and change laws and constitutions has also been difficult. ``We
can't afford not to have (a single market),'' Carrington said. ``It's
costing us a lot each day.'' A unified region means more opportunities
for businesses discouraged from regional expansion by the differing
 laws of more than a dozen countries. New laws would try to encourage
skilled workers and entrepreneurs to remain in the region instead of
going to North America and Europe. A major drawback is the diversity of
islands such as oil-rich Trinidad, banana-dependent St. Vincent and
dirt-poor Haiti. Also on the agenda, yet again, are plans to set up a
Caribbean supreme court to replace the faraway Privy Council
 in London, now the island's highest court. The new court had been
projected to become operational this year among members Guyana, Jamaica,
Barbados and Trinidad, but has been delayed while Caricom seeks to
guarantee its financial independence and political neutrality,
Carrington said. Regional leaders and Britain have been at odds over the
death penalty, with former colonies like the Bahamas and Trinidad and
Tobago resuming executions. Death penalty opponents have denounced the
plan to set up what they call a ``hanging court.'' Antigua and Barbuda,
St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Dominica and Belize
make up the remaining Caricom members.