Letter: Fireworks at the United Nations Published on October 20, 2011
I waited with bated breath for in excess of one month to see/hear a comment regarding Dr Ralph Gonsalves' address to the United Nations from the so-called Vincentian "political aficionados" who frequently comment on developments in our fair isle on this forum. As Bob Marley aptly and prophetically commented, "I waited in vain..." Those who attempt to give the impression that they 'know' Vincentian politics, have shown their true colours by completely ignoring this matter, and only make negative comments when the opportunity arises.
Speaking before the United Nations, Prime Minister Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves made several noteworthy points in mid- September 2011. He adamantly called for a reformation of the United Nations; reminded the UN of the health/wealth link; made the point that the poor countries of the world can no longer be taken for a ride; noted that the rich nations of the world failed to heal the global economy; and called for an apology along with reparations for slavery.
The applause that followed the prime minister's speech was nothing short of mind-numbing, -- deafening even. This was a fabulous, well received address which earned a standing ovation from all of its attendees. What else could be expected from a university professor of political science? A head of state does not need to be a political scientist, a professor of political science, an economist, or even an attorney; however, Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves possesses all of these qualifications.
Admittedly, much of this will fall on deaf ears, but these points needed to be made nevertheless, and Ralph Gonsalves did so remarkably. These pleas from Ralph Gonsalves have been made previously as well, but scant attention has been paid to these prophetic voices to the peril of all concerned.
Dr Ralph Gonsalves was joined in his quest by several world leaders at the UN by other Caribbean countries, and by countries of the African Bloc as well. The prime minister spoke to the core of the difficulties affecting the poorer nations of the world as well as those of the developed nations, and he minced no matters in this forthright delivery. Here is a synopsis of what the Vincentian prime minister had to say.
a) PM reminds the UN of health/wealth link
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves made the point that health officials discussing non-communicable diseases, at the United Nations must consider the factors that make imported junk food more nutritious than locally produced meals. PM Gonsalves even quoted Greek physician Hippocrates who said: "A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of all human blessings." He went to state, "If we can collectively protect and preserve this blessing, the benefits will go well beyond the longevity and productivity of individual citizens. It will have a knock-on effect on the economies, societies, and developmental prospects of countries and regions."
The prime minister thanked the nations that have helped "St Vincent and the Grenadines in the formation and the implementation of its own wellness revolution, in particular, the European Union, Cuba and Taiwan." He however noted that it "was not time for congratulatory back-slapping, but a time for the international community to roll up our collective sleeves to confront an epidemic that is correctable, reversible and treatable."
Dr Gonsalves observed that discussions about non-communicable diseases were taking place at the UN General Assembly and not at the World Health Organization in Switzerland. He further noted that the meeting "could not ignore the disproportionate impact of this epidemic on poor people and developing states or its obvious negative impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
The millennium development goals are eight international development goals that all 193 UN member states and 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by 2015. They include eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease and epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development.
b) Poor countries of the world being disadvantaged
￼The Vincentian prime minister fearlessly made the point that the more developed countries of the world were failing in the undertakings which they themselves committed to, regarding being responsible caretakers of the planet.
Almost ten years ago at the Monetary Consensus of the International Conference on Financing held in Mexico, the developed countries agreed to the target of devoting 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) as official development assistance to poor countries. Dr Gonsalves, however, noted that the developed countries were only contributing about 0.32% of their GNI.
The prime minister strongly made the point that poor countries can no longer be taken for a ride with promises of developmental aid. He went on to observe that he was puzzled by the response of developed nations to climate change, and hoped that recent hurricanes in the United States and the United Kingdom would wake-up developed nations to this reality.
He said that he was "baffled by the intransigence of major emitters and developed nations that refuse to shoulder the burden of arresting climate changes that are linked to the excesses of their own wasteful policies." He was saddened that "citizens and governments have lost faith in the UN's endless and self-important summits that produce little tangible results."
The prime minister noted that "the UN's archives are filled with grandiloquent declarations from summits whose outcome documents and whose commitments are forgotten even before the delegates boarded their planes to return home."
c) Global economy and the rich countries
British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments were consistent with Dr Gonsalves', and one got the distinct impression that the other political leaders as well certainly got the Vincentian leader's message.
Prime Minister Gonsalves pointed out that "the grim economic clouds of three years ago, rather than dissipating, seemed to be increasing," and noted that "declarations that the global economy is recovering were premature." He went on to state that "the tepid and timid response of wealthy nations has failed to heal the global economy three years into the international financial crisis. Therefore, asking suffering peoples from countries that did not contribute to the crisis to be patient is of cold comfort."
PM Gonsalves stressed that "even as the economic storm clouds thicken, economies in the world remain in peril, spurring global unemployment and poverty, which have engendered a feeling of hopelessness, especially among the youth. The effect of this is a major contributor to global unrest that has pitted disgruntled youth and others in violent opposition to government forces from Tottenham to Tripoli. Social unrest elsewhere beckons in dozens of countries, where neither socio-economic conditions nor their political institutions can much longer contain the enormous pressures."
d) Reparations for slavery
The UN has declared 2011 the International year for people of African Descent, and Prime Minister Gonsalves informed the General Council that he is grateful that the UN has hosted events to raise awareness of the challenges facing people of African descent and foster discussions on potential solutions to tackle these challenges.
The prime minister told the world leaders that "racial discrimination was justified, and became itself justification for a brutal, exploitative and dehumanizing system of production which was perfected during the Transatlantic slave trade and ingrained during the course of colonial domination." He noted as well, that "the structure of the modern world is sill firmly rooted in a past of slavers and colonialist exploitation."
Prime Minister Gonsalves, who is of Portuguese descent, pointed out that "the wounds of this era are deep, the crimes against humanity are clear, and the necessity for apology and reparations are undeniable." He observed that peoples of African descent "remain disadvantaged individually and systematically, by this entrenched and unyielding cycle of discrimination."
The prime minister of Antigua/Barbuda, Baldwin Spencer, in supporting Prime Minister Gonsalves, observed that segregation and violence against people of African descent had impaired their capacity for advancement, communities and individuals.
Not to be outdone, Stephen Lashley, Barbados Minister of Culture voiced his support as well. He commented that Barbados also renewed its call for "meaningful and innovative reparations" globally for people of African descent as past and continuing victims of racial discrimination.
￼Based on the discussion covered above, and its extreme importance, I am baffled by those who profess to be Vincentian patriots. They claim to know something about local politics, but strangely, have been silent - and their silence is truly deafening!
Moreover, those same individuals who claim that they are politically independent, and have no political affiliation, have chosen to ignore this phenomenally informative and successful address to the United Nations, by the most extraordinarily prominent politician in the Caribbean.
This classical address by Prime Minister Gonsalves to the United Nations should be required reading and study by students from primary and secondary schools throughout the entire Caribbean, as well as the University of the West Indies.
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Labels: Diplomacy, Politics