Yesterday I arrived to the smooth green mountains and humid tropical air of Trinidad.

As you may have read in our April newsletter, I am here in Port of Spain for three momentous occasions: 1) the 1st Assembly of Caribbean Youth 2) the 4th People’s Summit of the Americas and 3) the 5th Summit of the Americas.

Akins, the President of the Trinidad Youth Council picked me up at the airport and filled me in on the local political climate leading up to the summits as we drove across town, windows down, cinderblock houses and palm trees flying by.

The Summits of the Americas, an event organized every four years by the Organization of American States (OAS), is designed to bring together the Heads of State and Government of the Western Hemisphere to discuss common concerns, seek solutions and develop a shared vision for their future development of the region, be it economic, social or political in nature. The focus of this year’s Summit is human prosperity, energy security, climate change and sustainable development. Trinidad is the first Caribbean island to host the summit.

According to the 5th Summit website, “the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, in preparing the Concept Paper on the issues to be considered both in the lead up to and at the Fifth Summit, was mindful of the need to make this Summit more people centred and inclusive. This Summit must be able to deliver tangible and measurable outcomes that will make a real, positive difference to the lives of people in the region.”

Unfortunately, high-level summits of this nature haven’t had such a good reputation for being people-centered and inclusive, despite the incorporation of certain sectors of civil society. Hence the need for the People’s Summit.

Groups like the Hemispheric Social Alliance and the Assembly of Caribbean People have worked hard to ensure that people’s organizations and social movements have a space to come together and provide their analyses and perspectives as well. An original venue for the People’s Summit was booked at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies. But when the government caught wind that the People’s Summit was using a publicly funded university space to discuss an “alternative” and perhaps oppositional agenda, officials pushed the school to revoke the reservation, just two weeks before the People’s Summit.

Fortunately, People’s Summit found allies at the University of the West Indies-a university collectively funded by governments of fifteen Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago-where the T & T government was no longer the final authority. Steve Theodore, administrator of the People’s Summit 2009 Facebook group, posted this message in response: “This change […] clearly stresses the need for independent, liberated spaces where ordinary global citizens can exercise their human right to gather, to challenge authority and to organize in their own interests, and in the process, liberate their own hearts and minds–which should be the goal of a true University.”

Another critique of the 2009 OAS Summit has been its failure to reach out to Caribbean youth. Despite the promotion of an accompanying OAS Pre-Summit Youth Forum, according to Akins, such spaces are rarely representative of Caribbean youth. For example, many Trinibagonian youth–even members of the Trinidad Youth Council–have been denied the civil society accreditation necessary to attend the Youth Forum. Only four of the fifteen CARICOM countries will be represented at the Pre-Summit Youth Forum. I would have to agree with Akins that this set up raises serious questions of representation.

Hence, the Assembly of Caribbean Youth (ACY). The ACY is intended to serve as a space and process by which Caribbean can amplify their voice within international dialogues. Given the relatively small size of Caribbean nations, said Senator Damian Griffith of the Barbados Youth Development Council, it is necessary to build mechanisms of collaboration among youth councils in order to gain the attention of decision-makers and succeed in creating safe and healthy environments in which youth can thrive. Over the next three days, the group hopes to design common objectives and methodologies to pursue in partnership with one another once they return to their home countries.

But first, Akins took the plenary stage, urging youth participants to consider lessons of their past when determining their commitment to justice and the collective trajectory of their movement. I shot 35 minutes of his speech–one of the most articulate and inspirational analyses on colonialism and its impact on development that I have heard in a while now–but technology is not cooperating at the moment, and I will have to try to remedy later.  It aboslutely would not be the same for me to try and convey his message.

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