Glitzy opening marks Caricom 30th meeting
…but protesters hold sway
It was a red carpet affair last evening at the National Cultural Centre to mark the opening of the 30th Heads of Government conference, which will continue at the International Conference Centre (GCCI) today and culminate on Sunday.
Representatives from the various Caricom countries along with other special invitees were allured by an elegantly decked venue from which the tantalising sounds of the National Steel Orchestra emanated as they made their arrival. The Heads of Governments arrived in the various motorcades at the venue and were pampered accordingly before they were escorted to the auditorium, along with President Bharrat Jagdeo and other dignitaries.
Among the invitees were Members of Parliament, members of the Diplomatic Corps, members of the business community, members of the religious community, teachers and students.
There were also representatives of the regional financial institutions, the Commonwealth Secretary General and the Secretary General of the organisation of American States.
Masters of Ceremonies, Carlton James, delivered the welcoming remarks after a Police Steel Band rendition of the local National Anthem.
And as the gathering settled into the coolness of the recently overhauled national venue, Secretary General of Caricom, Dr Edwin Carrington, did not fail to comment, though briefly, on the general hospitality of Guyanese during his near 12-minute speech.
He was followed by the outgoing Chairman of the Conference of Heads, Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Oliver Barrow.
Barrow reflected that it was some 20 years ago that he first visited Guyana and was intrigued by this country’s similarity to his homeland. He expressed his pleasure to be back again in the Land of Many Waters.
There were addresses by Prime Minister of Grenada, Tillman Joseph Thomas, and Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Winston Baldwin Spencer, before Chairman of the conference, President Jagdeo, delivered the keynote address. (See other story).
With meticulous detail, the President elaborated on his low carbon initiative even as he underscored the benefits of addressing climate change.
It was following Jagdeo’s speech, which attracted several rounds of applause, that an honorary segment of the event was engaged, allowing for the seventh conferment of the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) to former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Percival J. Patterson.
The OCC is the highest award offered by the Community bestowed to one who has over the years proven to be extremely outstanding.
With pride and humility, Patterson, this year’s only awardee, accepted the auspicious award from President Jagdeo after his achievements and contributions were detailed by Dr Rovin Deodat.
The male winner of the annual 10K road race in the person of Cleveland Forde was also presented with a trophy by the President.
However, the winner of the female segment, a Trinidadian, was unable to attend yesterday thus her trophy was accepted by Prime Minister Patrick Manning.
The ceremonial opening ended some time after 20:00 hours ended with a cultural presentation and a bustle to head to the Princess Buddy’s International Hotel for a cocktail reception for the Heads.
But even before the ceremonial opening the roads leading to the National Cultural Centre yesterday were swarming with police officers. There were barricades at certain strategic points. However this did not prevent several persons bearing placards from venturing as close as possible to the National Cultural Centre to voice their various concerns.
Two sets of protesters gathered on Sheriff Street, just outside of the Chinese Embassy.
One set comprising of two persons were picketing for assistance. Thirty-eight-year-old Nalinie Shivram, of 65 Mon Repos North, East Coast Demerara, and her husband, both bearing placards, highlighted the fact that Nalinie was as a result of from renal failure.
The visibly swollen woman related to this newspaper that she had sold all that she had, including her small home, in order to pay for dialysis.
She said all she has left is a small pair of earrings. She revealed that assistance was afforded her in the form of payment for some treatment by some members of the business community and by the Ministry of Health. However, she has run out of assistance, she said.
Yesterday, she was carrying a placard, which stated “Within Days I will Die, Can’t Afford Dialysis”.
She believes that if her plight is highlighted publicly she could become eligible for some form of assistance. Her husband, Rasheed Mohamed, who stood firmly at her side, also displayed a placard, which frankly stated “Please Save My Wife.”
According to Nalinie she is required to undergo dialysis at least three times a week but has not been able to do so as she has no funds to pay for the service, adding that she even owes for the last treatment she received.
The other group of protesters included some concerned citizens, among them Acting General Secretary of the Guyana Trade Union Congress, Norris Witter; General Secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour, Lincoln Lewis; and Head of the Benschop Foundation, Mark Benschop.
During their protest which saw them flanking the road as the Caricom Heads were transported to the National Cultural Centre, concerns about racial and political discrimination and the need for decent work were highlighted on placards.
Issues such as the deportation of Guyanese from Barbados and the involvement of Minister Leslie Ramsammy in the Roger Khan scenario were also emphasised as a cause for the picketing action.