October 1, 2001
STATEMENT BY THE PRIME
ST. VINCENT AND GRENADINES PRIME MINISTER
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph E. Gonsalves addressed the Organization of American States (OAS) today, calling on Latin American countries to stand by the agreement worked out between Europe and the United States to settle a trade dispute with Caribbean bananas at the center.
At a special session of the Permanent Council, called in his honor, Dr. Gonsalves appealed to "those of our brothers and sisters in Latin America who are seeking one way or the other to unravel the transitional banana agreement worked out between the European Union and the USA to reconsider their positions."
Explaining the added burdens since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Vincentian Prime Minister stressed that the small, fragile banana economies of Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines "simply cannot withstand another shock on bananas to overlay the pre-existing difficulties." He said, however, that he remained confident "that they will see that our mutual interests reside in the cessation of their banana war."
The Prime Minister spoke out as well against suggestions that Caribbean offshore financial institutions were facilitating terrorist organizations. Citing "much loose talk about this or that Caribbean country being a money-laundering jurisdiction," Dr. Gonsalves declared that "it is unfair to tar the region or jurisdictions therein, without reliable evidence." He noted too that the region has been redoubling its efforts to prevent its financial institutions being used for money-laundering.
Dr. Gonsalves also explained his government's two-fold priority within the 34-member OAS: hemispheric security and economic and social stability of member nations. He explained that "the maintenance and promotion of regional security from the real threat of terrorism cannot be isolated from day-to-day terrors such as child poverty, HIV/AIDS, natural disasters, illiteracy and the trafficking in illegal drugs."
Prime Minister Gonsalves expressed solidarity with the government and people of the United States in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. He also supported initiatives outlined in a resolution OAS foreign ministers passed recently, and said his government "supports the use of force to counter or repel the terrorist acts of aggression." Describing the attacks as "a massive blow against the poor worldwide," he voiced concern that "much of the resources which were earmarked for poverty-alleviation will inevitably be diverted to national security and law and order."
He also spoke about the OAS' special role in the new order, saying the Organization is well placed to provide substantial leadership in these difficult, troubled times. "Its very purpose demands our nations' and our peoples' immediate focus."
The Prime Minister made a pitch for Caribbean tourism, remarking that just as he and his wife felt safe to travel by air to Washington and New York from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, so too it is for "visitors, tourists, investors and friends from the USA, Canada, Central America and South America to travel to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean."
In his remarks welcoming the Prime Minister, OAS Secretary General CÚsar Gaviria assured him that "the OAS remains committed to continue to work with [Caribbean Community] CARICOM member states, to strengthen the Caribbean economies and to further improve the living standards." Mr. Gaviria suggested the OAS-CARICOM agreement needs revamping because of the changing hemispheric agenda, to include the scope and depth of the Summits of the Americas agenda.
Dominica's Permanent Representative to the OAS, Ambassador Swinburne Lestrade, presided at the protocolary meeting, in his first act a chairman of the OAS Permanent Council. He praised Dr. Gonsalves' contribution to Caribbean development, and hailed the active role St. Vincent and the Grenadines has taken in the OAS, since it joined upon gaining independence in 1979.