Media Center



November 17, 2006 - Washington, DC

President of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Marina Valere
Secretary General, Dr Jose Miguel Insulza
Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Albert Ramdin
Excellencies of the Permanent Council and Alternates
Distinguished Permanent Observers to the OAS
Dedicated Staff of the Secretariat
Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen all

1. Let me first say what a pleasure it is for me to be here today at this House of the Americas to visit and to engage our many esteemed friends in Washington, including of course the loyal and valued citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis resident here in the Metro Washington area, many of whom I see present here in this Great Hall today.

2. I am also particularly pleased to be visiting the OAS at a time when the Presidency of the organization is held by a CARICOM State, Trinidad and Tobago and I congratulate you Madam President, Ambassador Marina Annette Valere, on your preferment.

3. Secretary General, both you and Assistant Secretary General Ambassador Albert Ramdin, have visited St. Kitts and Nevis since your assumption of office last year. I hope you both left with favorable impressions of our cherished country and of our hospitable and industrious people. My visit here today is in a way therefore, an opportunity to reciprocate your visits and to forge a even stronger connection between my government and this organization, which is so important to us.

4. But more importantly, it is an opportunity to engage and to sensitize this Organization with regard to the role that we in St. Kitts and Nevis and the Caribbean Community - speaking as indeed I should in my capacity as the current Chair of the CARICOM Heads of Government –envision this Organization playing as we of the Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean region seek to advance our interests. This role of the OAS is increasingly more critical as our nations act in the face of the evolving scheme of global factors that challenge our resourcefulness and our ingenuity. It is imperative that the OAS becomes our genuine partner as we strive to deliver on the promises of development, poverty alleviation and equitable prosperity to our expectant and deserving peoples. I am delighted to have this opportunity therefore to reiterate some of the critical challenges that are before us as Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean.

5. I am confident that we have made some measurable gains since those early days of dialogue on issues pertaining to development of small states, but undoubtedly there is very much still to be done, and our message has to be consistent and persistent, for the ears and for the consideration of those whom we believe should be concerned.

6. Allow me, for a moment, to take my beloved country St. Kitts and Nevis as an example: In August 2005, a little over a year ago, due to the negative impact of trade liberalization on our small and fragile economy we were forced to ceased the production of sugar for export. St. Kitts and Nevis is one of 18 ACP countries that have been impacted by changes to the EU/ACP Sugar Protocol that will result in a 36% fall in the intervention price of sugar in the EU market over a four year period beginning in 2006. Sugar production for export therefore became economically unfeasible; it was costing us far more to produce it than we could demand for it. Its continued production would simply have strangulated our economy. We are the first of the countries so affected to make this bold political decision. Our people were fully consulted on this action and they must be complimented for supporting our decision despite their realization of its anticipated attendant hardships.

7. Sugar cane had hitherto been cultivated and processed in St. Kitts for over three hundred and fifty years. This activity had constituted the mainstay of our economy, employing directly some 10% of the island’s workforce. But in addition, its cessation has indirectly impacted the livelihood of much wider sectors and consequently has been manifest also as a major shock to the emotional, social and cultural landscape of our country.

8. My government took this bold decision with regard to the sugar industry against the backdrop of a contemporary global economic scene which presents St. Kitts and Nevis with some extremely difficult challenges including preferential trade arrangements; changes brought about by advanced technological developments particularly in the field of information and communications; the declining availability of concessionary aid; a widening and intensification of international linkages in trade, finance and production; and increased competition in the wider global economy.

9. In addition to the changing external environment, there are mounting challenges inherent within the domestic context. These include high levels of public sector indebtedness and fiscal imbalances, aggravated by the closure of the sugar industry, and unacceptable pockets of poverty. Economic restructuring and transformation in St. Kitts and Nevis is therefore necessary in order to meet these challenges and ultimately to facilitate greater integration into the world economy.

10. But it needs be said, Madam President, that the combination of monoculture and primary production together with diseconomies of scale in production and the openness of the economy resulting in economic vulnerability and a lack of sustained economic growth over time, are as applicable to Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in relation to bananas, as to Antigua and Barbuda in relation to internet gaming barriers and to other small and vulnerable states in other regards.

11. Consequent upon our bold decision to abandon sugar production for export, St. Kitts and Nevis has put forward an adaptation strategy which attempts to chart a course of economic transformation over the next ten years towards achieving increased competiveness, economic diversification and empowerment of our people. Fortunately, in anticipation of this move, we had begun some years earlier an economic diversification drive with particular emphasis on new industries such as Tourism, Financial Services, and Information and Communication Technology. These are growing and we endeavor to build further in these sectors.

12. In anticipation of this also, several re-training programs were implemented and are ongoing, as we seek to equip our displaced workforce with new skills, opportunities for self-employment and assimilation into other areas of economic activity. The programs which emanate from the adaptation strategy elaborated by my government require cooperation on multiple levels. It explicitly acknowledges that the public sector, the business community and all elements of civil society must make their contribution towards the success of this national transformation initiative. It will require an upward shift from the way we have previously operated and it must of necessity result in a cultural change. The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis is taking the lead, as we are duty-bound to do.

13. We are inviting the Organization of American States as well as resourceful member states which are a part of this eminent body, to journey and partner with us on a path toward sustainable development and a secured future. This is indeed a challenging undertaking but one that we cannot avoid.

14. The acceleration and sustainability of economic growth in St. Kitts and Nevis - so important for social development, for reduction of unemployment and poverty, and to improve fiscal performance and ensure a more sustainable external position - will depend significantly on the country’s ability to improve competitiveness.

15. In addition to improving competitiveness, our focus will be on the following areas:

• Macro economic policies to reduce vulnerability and facilitate investment
• Social policies to support economic development and support the most vulnerable
• Ensuring an environmentally sustainable development agenda
• Addressing cross-cutting issues that bring cohesion to these efforts.

16. The impact of economic fluctuations and shifts could be quite difficult, and it is crucial that human resource development in the context of small island vulnerabilities are pursued. What this really means is that our education and training policies must be structured in such manner that they reflect and anticipate the challenges that are peculiar to Small Island States. While there is general recognition of the relevance and importance of human resources as a response to such challenges, it is important that relevant international agencies and institutions continue to strengthen their programs, funding and technical assistance to ensure that desired outcomes can be achieved. Herein lies an opportunity for bilateral and multilateral donors to enhance rather than to decrease assistance.

17. Obviously, when we speak to the issues of human resource development, we speak not only in terms of education and training, but also in terms of health, poverty alleviation, housing and overall the enhancement of human dignity. Addressing these areas of vulnerability is pertinent to long-term success in sustainable development. From our end, we have to create avenues to enhance functional cooperation, to establish and maintain regional bodies, systems and mechanisms, and to ensure that public sector reform is implemented to optimize levels of efficiency, promote savings, strengthen institutions and build capacity. In this regard, my government has already launched critical initiatives in information and communication technology, off-shore financial services, tourism and other services.

18. And while on the one hand we must commend the OAS for the part it has played in assisting small island states to address their peculiar difficulties, it is critical that this momentum is not diminished; rather we must work towards accelerating programs to address those needs lest we lose the ground that we had hitherto gained.

19. I was pleased to learn that, as recently as last year, the OAS embarked on a program of restructuring. I shall continue to follow closely progress in this undertaking. I hasten to caution, however that the Organization should not allow itself to become too introspective, lest its own attempts at reform undermine its relevance. By this I infer that the OAS must lean to survey the landscape and plan its alteration while traveling purposefully to desired goals.

20. No longer can the Organization afford to commit resources to projects that are inherently top-down in approach. If the national reality does not inform how programs and projects are developed and executed then the OAS may very well squander tremendous opportunities for genuine partnerships in the member states and the organization may then seem more like a drain on national resources than asset to its membership. I am aware that the OAS has done some invaluable work in member states. If, however, a culture of bureaucratic lethargy and pandering to narrow agendas is allowed to prevail, the organization could become a peripheral player in this Hemisphere. I am convinced that its track record of “good years past” should rightfully give it ‘pride-of-place’ in national consciousness and accord it priority on the agenda of the finance ministers of the Hemisphere.

21. For example, we continue to call for the development of a Natural Disaster Fund and a Special Renewable Energy Resources Fund. We know that the Caribbean islands are vulnerable to natural disasters, especially to hurricanes. We know that the rising cost of fossil fuels is creating severe problems for the majority of Caribbean countries. These are two areas that are of tremendous challenge to the sustainable development of small island economies and we are yet hopeful that they would receive deserved attention within the Inter-American system.

22. Madan President, I believe that the OAS with its convening powers, can be a viable partner in, and forum for, exchange of ideas, best practices and expertise on issues of trade negotiation. I understand that the Organization cannot and should not be all things to all people, but when a significant number of its constituents suffer a common problem, it seems to me that the Organization has an obligation to demonstrate its relevance and to show that its reforms are essential to making it more responsive to its membership.

23. I believe we have to continue sending the message loud and clear, that Caribbean trade under special preferences is no threat to global trade liberalization, and neither for that matter is the granting of trade concessions to Small Island Developing States in any way inimical to the interests of larger states. We must continue our call for special and differential treatment on trade and other relevant matters, and we must continue to lobby strongly for a refocus to include development issues as integral to the sustainability of small island states.

24. Likewise the Organization should pay greater attention to the issue of development. I am pleased to understand that both the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General appreciate the inherent linkages between democracy and human rights, good governance, security and development. These issues are inextricably intertwined. I therefore commend the present leadership for their commitment in addressing this nexus and making it an integral part of the Organizations focus in the coming years.

25. Alongside this, it is worthy of mention that the security and consequently the governance and democratic integrity of small Caribbean societies is under considerable threat by the influx of some displaced/deported persons especially in cases where family or other support systems are non existent and where acquired and well-practiced skills are incompatible with social order and good governance in considerably smaller jurisdictions. The deportee phenomenon contributes to a new security reality – one characterized by violence, gangs, and related domestic and trans-national criminal activities. We are aware of the work of the OAS Special Committee on Transnational Organized Crime. We applaud the work of this Committee and we hope and trust that its Hemispheric Plan of Action would soon translate into meaningful results to offset this epidemic of violence which plagues societies. At the same time I urge this Organization to broaden its understanding and interpretation of the Bridgetown Declaration so that the work of the OAS might faithfully reflect the multi-dimensional character and diverse nature of security.

26. As the CARICOM Prime Minister with responsibility for Health I am acutely aware of the tremendous impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on our region and worldwide. I have come to appreciate how it undermines productive activities and destroys families and societies, imposing financial burdens on governments and obligating them to dedicate scarce resources to prevention activities, treatment, care to the exclusion of essential development activities. HIV/AIDS may appear at face value to be a health issue. I assure you that it is crosscutting and as much a security matter as any other listed in the Declaration on Security. Again I exhort this organization, within its multi-dimensional security framework to partner with agencies within and without the Inter-American system, (such as PANCAP) in addressing this mammoth and manifold threat.

27. Also, in the context of good governance and the nurturance of democratic values, St. Kitts and Nevis is now embarked on an electoral reform initiative. In this process my government has had widest possible consultation with nationals at home and abroad, with all political parties, with the private sector and with civil society interest groups. At the same time we are continuing the confidence-building between the stakeholders on our two islands as part of the ongoing constitutional reform initiative. We are grateful for the role that the OAS is committed to playing in the related matter of our civil registry and we look forward to continuing and broadening our engagement with the secretariat for Political Affairs as we further consolidate our democratic structures.

28. Madam President, on September 11th 2001, the very day that terrorists challenged our resolve to defend the values which we hold dear, there was signed in Lima, Peru by the General Assembly of the OAS, an Inter-American Democratic Charter. This Charter speaks to the promotion and consolidation of democracy in the Americas. Now, five years later, you are embarked on the framing of an Inter-American Social Charter which should give greater meaning and relevance to the principles espoused in the Democratic Charter. My Government welcomes this initiative and sincerely hopes that the Inter-American Social Charter will be a bold and imaginative document which challenges our resolve to bring a solution-focused mindset and a rich aggregate ideas with which to build some key pillars of democracy - development, poverty alleviation and equitable prosperity.

29. The Organization of American States, Madam President, is one of our most treasured institutions. We praise its strength and fully appreciate its limitations. I know that in the past we have asked it to do more with less. Now the time seems to have come for us to reconcile resources with expectations. Time has also come for the Organization to live up to the true meaning of its Charter and to acknowledge its mandates. The OAS must embrace and value the cultural diversity of our hemisphere and the profile of the General Secretariat must truly reflect that actuality. I believe in democracy and I place premium value on social equity, human rights and all the important tenets that venerate human dignity. These are important, however, not only within and among states but also within regional and hemispheric organizations, which are tasked with shepherding the interests and policies of our States. That is a philosophy that I know to be shared by my CARICOM colleagues. I commend that philosophy to the consideration of this Organization.

30. I thank you for this opportunity to share some thoughts and, through you Madam President, I wish the Organization of American States great success in the future.

Again, I thank you.