GOVERNMENT OF BARBADOS
ADDRESS BY THE RT. HON. OWEN ARTHUR
ON THE OCCASION OF
THE INAUGURAL SESSION OF
THE 32ND GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF
THE ORGANISATION OF AMERICAN STATES
JUNE 02, 2002
Heads of Delegation
Mr. Secretary General
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
Barbados is greatly honored that the people of the Americas have chosen our nation as the place to hold this most important assembly at such a vital stage in the development of our Hemisphere.
I therefore take great pride and pleasure in welcoming all of you to Barbados on the occasion of the Thirty-Second Regular Session of the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States.
I regret only that I cannot offer you the keys to the city of Bridgetown. We have no municipal form of Government in Barbados. Such keys as they are to our capital city are therefore firmly in the grasp of its elected Member of Parliament; the Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Ms. Billie Miller, who will be your Chairperson at this meeting. She stands ready to extend to you every comfort and delight that Bridgetown has to offer to make this meeting held under her Chairmanship, and in her constituency, one of the most memorable in the history of this Organisation.
This General Assembly is being convened in furtherance of one of nature's and history's great causes.
Long before the statesmen of this hemisphere began fashioning instruments for unifying the Americas, the people took practical steps to do so. Barbadians and Jamaicans, for example, went to work in Panama, Cuba, Brazil and Central America. The equivalence of forty percent of the male population of Barbados left to help build the Panama Canal. I note in passing that the project was finished six months ahead of schedule and under budget. I leave you to draw the appropriate conclusions.
Today, you will find much of the same. Workers from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean are making indispensable contributions to the US economy, sadly, in anxious conditions as illegal immigrants.
I could go on and on, but I am sure that the point is already made. The unity of this hemisphere from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego would be far more advanced now if it were simply up to our peoples. They, with their practical and mundane concerns, are far ahead of their governments, in perceiving the obvious advantages of a Pan-American Community.
If I may be permitted to paraphrase a great Caribbean personality and man of letters, C.L.R. James, "Nobody knows what the American peoples are capable of; nobody has attempted to find out".
The idea of a Pan-American community of nations is old. It is as old as the genius of Simon Bolivar, and much older than that of a European community. Indeed, it is a cruel historical irony that our former colonisers, who created the conditions that divide us, and fought wars to keep it so, have themselves chosen the path of integration, with remarkable and striking success.
The reasons for the success of European integration are easily discernible. The people of the European community of nations have refused to allow the concept and the practice of their cooperation to be shackled by hackneyed doctrines of territorial sovereignty, and have allowed dynamic instruments of governance to provide the energy for their regional transformation. It is therefore a sad commentary that the oldest and most venerable of regional organisations –the OAS -which predates the founding of the concept of a European Community, cannot yet speak of the creation of a Pan-American Community of nations as one of its accomplishments.
And it is not for lack of vision. We have had numerous inter American conferences and conventions that embody the spirit of Hemispheric community that the people of the Americas, in their defiance of borders and the perils of the elements, so obviously desire most of all.
That vision has been re-affirmed and given a clear focus by three Summits of the Americas. It is a vision to forge a Pan-American Community of the Americas, that acknowledges and respects the rich diversity and the stark disparities of the Americas, and replaces a culture of fragmentation with a culture of unity.
Through three impressive Declarations of Principles and Statements of Plans of Actions, first at Miami, next at Santiago, and recently at Quebec, the leaders of the Hemisphere have conceived of and have set out to achieve a Pan-American Community, built on a common base of democratic values, drawn together by the free and fair exchange of goods, services and capital, committed to the protection of our common environment, and dedicated to the creation of a just society through the eradication of poverty and want and discrimination.
If successful, it would give rise to the largest and most powerful economic community known to man; a community that could call upon a mosaic of cultures drawn from native America, Europe, Africa and Asia in varying proportions to create what surely would be the most perfect microcosm of the global society.
The creation of such a community of purpose and nations is not only the most ambitious and far-reaching enterprise in the history of our Hemisphere, but also perhaps in the entire history of mankind.
That its accomplishment is still very much in the nature of "a Holy Grail shining on the edge of a distance too far away to matter for the time being" is due in large measure to one essential factor: the systems of hemispheric governance to support a new Pan-American Community have not been evolved.
There is a need especially to endow the OAS and the IADB with the resources and the institutional capacity to carry out the enlarged mandates required of these Organisations arising from the Plan of Action of the Summit of the Americas.
Indeed, it is something of a tragedy that the resources made available to the regular fund of the OAS have been in decline for the past 20 years, and there is no immediate plan to alter that financial trend.
As it seeks to carry out the mandate handed to the Secretary-General through the Summit of Americas process, and by consecutive General Assemblies, the OAS could find itself void of any serious capacity to deliver on well-intentioned promises and designs.
It is our hope that deliberations at assemblies such as this will enable us to avert this disaster. Indeed, the OAS must continue to refresh itself and to undergo far-reaching changes if it is to remain dedicated to the realisation of the ideals envisioned in its charter, namely, "to achieve peace and justice, to promote and strengthen solidarity among its numbers, to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity and their independence".
Everything points to testing times ahead in the realisation of such ideals.
Today, we all live in the shadow of September 11. That horrific tragedy has cast a pall across the whole hemisphere. It is therefore entirely appropriate that we focus our efforts on combating terrorism.
Only last week the Parliament of Barbados passed comprehensive anti-terrorism legislation in harmony with the recent initiatives of the United Nations and the inter-American convention on terrorism. Ever mindful, however, of our national commitment to democracy and human rights, this legislation is fully compatible with due process and all the other rights essential to the freedoms we hold dear. For it would be a victory for the terrorists if we were to curtail the liberties that they seek to destroy.
But while the hemispheric community should work together as a matter of urgency in a genuine multilateral effort to strike against the international terrorists and criminals that threaten our very existence, we must not forget that there is a development agenda in this hemisphere that also needs to be pursued with equal urgency.
More that 170 million of the hemisphere's population live in poverty. The eradication of poverty must therefore be at the top of our agenda as the permanent issue,.) in which we have, all a permanent interest. For as a great American statesman, President John F. Kennedy said, "If a free society cannot help the majority who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich ".
I am therefore pleased to note that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the hemisphere have selected "The Multi-Dimensional Approach to Hemispheric Security" as the main theme for this General Assembly. For any meaningful definition of security can no longer be limited to the traditional military operations, but must recognise the need for an integrated approach to confronting the conditions which create instabilities in our society and which degrade our humanity.
It would be a fundamental error on our part to limit security concerns to anyone area while the scourge of HIV / AIDS, illegal arms and drug trafficking, trans-national crime, ecological disasters and poverty continue to stare us in the face.
This sub-region of the Caribbean is proud of the culture of peace and democracy which we have managed to achieve over the last four decades of the twentieth century. The adoption in September last year of the Inter-American Democratic Charter signaled another step by the OAS and the hemisphere to strengthen the capacity to manage and maintain our democracies. But the Charter is not the final destination.
This instrument cannot remain static in this dynamic political environment in which we live. It will be necessary to revisit the Charter from time to time to incorporate elements that will allow it to become truly representative and keep us on the path of true democracy and of the creation of a truly democratic culture.
Neither must the Charter be seen merely as a punitive instrument. It should serve both as a yardstick as well as a reference point from which we continue other supportive activities such as election monitoring, training and education and the strengthening of other complimentary instruments.
On this matter of Democratic Charters, you must allow me to use this occasion to speak to the leaders of the Americas in the terms in which Prime Minister Musa of Belize recently spoke on the Caribbean's behalf to the European leaders during our recent encounter in Madrid:
"The first thing that needs to be said from the point of view of the countries of Caricom is that we constitute, and have done for a long time, a region that has lived by democratic values and the rule of law and the steady enlargement of human rights. The strengthening of civil and political rights in the Caricom countries of the Caribbean has been the basic story of our evolution -as it has been of the countries of Europe.
I say this not to blow our own trumpet -no country is above improvement in any of these areas -but because there is a tendency on the part of the industrial world -and countries of the European Union are not immune from this tendency -to imply that the adoption of these values is the solution to the problems of development. Were that so the Caricom countries of the Caribbean would have been havens of prosperity.
The help that we need is not for adopting democracy and the rule of law and securing respect for human rights, but in preserving them from erosion by the instabilities that derive from under-development and indeed from deterioration in the global political environment where these same values at the level of the international community are being consistently, and at accelerating pace, eroded.
The persistence of under-development -the denial of social and economic rights in their full plenitude -is the major challenge that Caribbean countries face in relation to the preservation and strengthening of the values for which we stand. It is important that we make this clear because it has become all too easy for western countries to excuse themselves from any significant effort towards poverty alleviation and economic development generally by implying that salvation lies in the area of civil and political rights. That may be true for some countries in some parts of the world. It is not true for the Caricom countries of the Caribbean.
For us the future of our democracies lies in the strengthening of our economies,. in a more favourable trading environment for our products; in more effective and rapid debt relief,- in the protection of legitimate areas of globalisation and the precepts of liberalisation to the needs of small economies. Our future lies, in short, in escaping from the trap of poverty. That some are poorer does not make us less poor than we are, that some are less developed than we are does not alter our state of under-development. These are the realities we face".
I wish before I close this evening to acknowledge the presence and to salute the extraordinary contribution of Mr. Valerie Theodore McComie, a Barbadian citizen of Trinidadian birth who served as a guiding light and inspiration in building the links between the English speaking and non English speaking states of the hemisphere. 'Val', as we affectionately call him, served as Barbados' Ambassador to the United States and Permanent Representative to the OAS and was the first resident Ambassador of Barbados in a Latin American country.
He served with distinction as Assistant Secretary General of this Organisation for ten years from 1980 to 1990. His contribution as an educator in Barbados and St. Kitts-Nevis, helped to encourage many key decision makers in newly independent Caribbean states to become more aware of our Latin neighbours at a time when political contact could have been said to be almost non-existent. Val, we all owe you a debt of gratitude for having the foresight of and appreciation for the value of cross-cultural contact.
As we convene this 32nd Regular Session, the OAS stands poised either to be re-fashioned into an institution that responds to the developmental needs of the hemisphere or one which can become marginalised and non-effective, if it is not given the requisite support. It is our call as member states that will determine its fate. It is my hope that by the conclusion of this meeting, the Organisation would have had another dose of reinvigoration to take it will into the twenty-first century. This Assembly must be seen as a step in that direction.
History will judge us how it will. It was an international historian who said that history teaches us no lessons, but punishes us for not learning them. Let that not apply to us.
We already have the vision of a Pan-American Community of nations. Let us embrace the courage to fulfill it.
May the warmth of our hospitality embrace you, the delight of our surroundings inspire you, the future of our hemisphere recommit you and may you not lose the opportunity, outside of your busy work schedule, to savour some of the delights which our island offers to every visitor.
I thank you.