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It was indeed with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation extended by the distinguished Secretary General to address this august body. I consider it a distinct honour to be doing so in this prestigious Hall of the Americas. Most importantly, the opportunity afforded me at this time, takes on added significance as it comes at the juncture when I am about to take formal leave from the “field” of active politics. In a few weeks, my involvement in regional and hemispheric developments henceforth will be from the vantage point of the spectator’s stands.
As one who has participated in these two processes from very early in my political career, I have been asked to share a few thoughts on my vision for the Caribbean and the Americas, bearing in mind the current global realities and our shared commitment towards advancing the political, economic and social development of this hemisphere.
As such, I propose to focus on the nexus between developments in the regional integration process, particularly within CARICOM, and developments taking place at the hemispheric level. How do I see these two processes coalescing to bring about a partnership that will meet the needs of every member state, regardless of their size or wealth and one that will improve the quality of life for our peoples, our most important assets?
THE INTERNATIONAL SCENARIO
In order to fully appreciate where our countries are going, we must first understand the milieu in which they are operating. This will affect the vision we all have for a hemisphere in which we can enjoy peace, stability and prosperity on a sustained basis.
Some sixty years ago when the OAS was created, no one would have thought that we would have experienced such rapid and radical shifts in the international environment, propelled by marked transformations in the global economy. These, together with the emergence of new threats to international peace and security, now challenge the very survival of many of our countries.
As the twin forces of globalisation and liberalization have become more pronounced, new demands were thrust upon the countries of the hemisphere forcing, in varying degrees, modifications to our national objectives and priorities. Increased vulnerabilities to the vagaries of these two phenomena have led to the abandonment of traditional economic policies and the adoption of new models of economic development as we seek to secure a greater space in the world economy and a more participatory role in international economic relations. There is no doubt that both globalisation and liberalization, especially in the last decade, have been the driving force behind the integration of the global economy. Despite the potential benefits of this process, we have to acknowledge that the long-term survival of many of our countries continues to require adjustment to the new realities of an international environment which has become increasingly hostile and unpredictable.
Notwithstanding improvements in global economic prospects and the potential benefits to be derived there from, we have to admit that inequities still remain, putting a number of countries at economic risk, including those in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The quest for sustainable growth, particularly for small economies, has become even more elusive as traditional support mechanisms are gradually eroded. There continues to be increased pressure to move more rapidly to reciprocal trade rules as we bear the brunt of rising energy prices and the weakness in non-oil commodity prices.
All of these are occurring simultaneously, as investors become increasingly risk averse and restrict capital flows, and as the fiscal positions of our economies weaken and debt increases.
While we welcome international commitments to the Global Partnership for Development as outlined in the Millennium Declaration, Monterrey Consensus, and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, we are discouraged by the limited progress to date. This means that priority projects which form the core of our development agenda such as poverty eradication and improvements in health and education will continue to lag in implementation. We remain hopeful but by no means certain, that the UN General Assembly’s Outcome Document of last September will spur renewed action with a greater degree of political will.
If this scenario were not daunting enough, emerging security concerns have brought added uncertainties resulting in new changes in objectives and priorities, causing even further delays in implementing national agendas, as we seek to be “reliable partners” in implementing international security objectives.
Against this backdrop, the current international situation poses a number of challenges to regional integration, notwithstanding the fact that the popularity of regionalism evolved from this very same process in the early 1970s as an effective response to the onset of globalisation.
THE HEMISPHERE’S CHALLENGE
In this present scenario, how do we reduce our vulnerability to external shocks, achieve sustainable development, strengthen governability, promote democracy and at the same time, comply with our international, regional and hemispheric obligations?
Jamaica and indeed CARICOM, has always maintained that there is an urgent need to make this process of global economic governance and integration more inclusive and more beneficial to the interests of developing countries.
By so doing, there would be greater prospects for tangible signs of development and strengthening democracy in our countries and societies around the world.
We are reminded everyday of the sense of unease and restlessness which emerges when the people we lead are not given meaningful opportunities for self-expression and self-actualisation. We regard these as fundamental elements of democracy and civil society. In order to meet the challenges which militate against peace and stability, we must provide a truly enabling environment.
THE HEMISPHERIC AGENDA
It is not surprising, therefore, that we in this hemisphere share a wide range of similar problems and concerns. Our regional and hemispheric agendas are inextricably linked and have therefore become inseparable. This is reflected in both our interdependence and the elements of globalisation that today characterizes international relations and which ultimately leads to a myriad of interlocking issues. Within this context, both the OAS and our respective regional integration movements have a salient role to play. From its creation in 1948, the OAS was envisaged as the primary political forum in the hemisphere to maintain peace and security, to promote and consolidate democracy and advance cooperation for integral development. The OAS has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the settlement of disputes and in bringing solutions to various political crises within the hemisphere as we have seen through the important role it has played in dealing with the political situation in Haiti. We welcome and applaud the return of President Ren