Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley stands among other regional leaders at the 46th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held last week in Guyana. (Photo: PROVIDED)

The government is considering pursuing full membership in the Caribbean Community under an arrangement that would not require signing on to all the regional organisation’s agreements, according to Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.

Dr. Wheatley made the announcement during a Friday press conference, where he also provided updates on Haiti, tourism and other topics that regional leaders discussed last week in Guyana during the 46th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

In response to a question from the media, Dr. Wheatley said that Caricom has given the VI a “great deal of support” but “we certainly are interested in evolving beyond our present status as associate members.”

If the VI were to become a full member, though, it would not participate in all Caricom programmes, according to Dr. Wheatley.

Instead, it would likely take a similar approach as the Bahamas, a full member that has not signed on to a Caricom agreement to allow free movement of people.

“We would want to be able to participate in programmes based on our uniqu situation here in the Virgin Islands,” he said.

In Guyana, he added, he also met with United Kingdom Overseas Territories Minister David Rutley and discussed “seeking an entrustment to become a full member at Caricom.”

“We know that Montserrat, who is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, is a full member,” he said. “Bermuda has sought an entrustment and received an entrustment from the United Kingdom to become a full member. Turks and Caicos as well has sought an entrustment.”

Haiti situation

The “deteriorating situation in Haiti” was another discussion topic in Guyana, Dr. Wheatley said. In addition to Caricom leaders, representatives for the United States, UK, France, Canada and United Nations took part in those talks, according to Dr. Wheatley.

An “agreement was subsequently found with the prime minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, on holding a general election no later than August 2025,” the premier said Friday.

Recently, the Haitian government declared a state of emergency and gangs staged a jail break in which thousands of prisoners reportedly escaped.

“We must all recognise that until conditions on the ground are stable in Haiti, the Virgin Islands and other places throughout the Caribbean will have to cope with the outflow of Haitians fleeing Haiti for safety, security and a livelihood by which to survive,” Dr. Wheatley added. “Here in the Virgin Islands, we must treat our Haitian brothers and sisters with the humanity they deserve.”

On Feb. 14 and 15, 34 migrants, 32 of whom were Haitian, were apprehended on Cooper Island and in nearby waters, according to police and immigration officials.

More migrants were apprehended last Thursday on Virgin Gorda, though the Immigration Department had not confirmed the number of Haitians among them as of Beacon press time yesterday afternoon. Asked if the government has discussed making any changes to the asylum process for Haitian migrants, the premier replied that asylum claims are under the responsibility of the Governor’s Office.

“We have a Haitian diaspora here, and we encourage persons who come here to come through legal channels if they want to come to the BVI,” he said.

More topics

Other topics addressed at the Caricom meeting included climate change, food insecurity and improvement of regional transportation, Dr. Wheatley said.

The premier also highlighted a session with Caricom heads and Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

“For the Virgin Islands, we are particularly keen on establishing tourism links with Brazil, especially sailing and the wider marine sector,” he added. “Brazil is the biggest market in Latin America, and we need to tap their market as we diversify our tourism source markets.”

National tourism plan

Asked if a consultant will be hired to carry out the national tourism plan he has promised, Dr. Wheatley responded that a request for proposals will be issued for the project. He did not say when, but he promised an update “shortly.”

“We have all the information that will go into the request for proposal already,” he said.

In a Jan. 30 House of Assembly meeting, the premier said he anticipated “the completion” of a national tourism plan in the fourth quarter of this year.

However, in the Friday press conference, he said the plan will be “commenced” this year, rather than completed.