Against the backdrop of a deadly terrorist attack at a French satirical magazine in Paris yesterday, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart yesterday pledged to maintain the safety of Barbadians and visitors moving around the island, but advised that our tranquility should not be taken for granted.
He described the killing of 12 people – including four of the magazine’s well-known cartoonists–in an apparent militant Islamist attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, as horrible and contrasted the Caribbean against world conflict areas as a “zone of peace”.
Stuart told tourists attending a cocktail reception in their honour at Ilaro Court yesterday evening that it was in Barbados’ vested interest to maintain a welcoming environment to ensure they return to the island.
“You are in the best place. You could have been in Baghdad, you could have been in Damascus and, horrible to relate, you might have even been in Paris tonight,” Stuart said to hundreds of repeat visitors.
“Mercifully, we in this part of the world have managed to maintain the Caribbean as a zone of peace and many of the perils which are not fairly routinized in other parts of the world we have managed to keep at bay.”
The reception hosted by the Prime Minister is the first of four such monthly events held annually during the winter season, as a means of demonstrating the value Barbados places on these visitors, mainly from the United Kingdom, the United States, the Caribbean, and Canada.
Assuring them that the fun and relaxed atmosphere they enjoyed here was a fixture of Barbadian and regional life, Stuart said: “Now that is not a boast, it is just my way of saying that we cannot take these things for granted. We have to continue to work as hard as possible to ensure that the Caribbean remains a zone of peace.”
The Prime Minister said he and his Caribbean counterparts would use their leadership positions to retain the region’s reputation as an area of peace.
“Certainly as long as I am Prime Minister of Barbados, that would be my commitment, so far as Barbados is concerned. But I am sure that my other colleagues in the Caribbean feel similarly,” Stuart said.
He said that in addition to ensuring a continued safe and secure place for Caribbean citizens to live, it was in the region’s best interest to remain attractive to visitors because of the impact of tourist spending on the economy.
He noted that in the case of Barbados, such spending contributes about 12 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
“It is the lead earner of foreign exchange, and since we are essentially an importing economy and since the things we want to import we cannot buy with Barbados dollars we need the foreign currency with which you come here . . . And that is why a solemn obligation [is] on the shoulders of all of us to make sure that Barbados continues to be as hospitable a destination as possible so that not only will you keep coming, but that you will feel moved to encourage your friends and relatives to join you here as well,” Stuart told his guests.
“When we stop being a zone of peace, and certainly when Barbados stops being the paradise you have known it to be all the years you have been coming here, that is when we are not going to see you anymore, and we have a vested interest in ensuring that you continue to come to Barbados, because . . .
the tourism sector is the lead sector of our economy”.
Stuart noted that the visitors present at Ilaro Court repeated holidays in Barbados because of the charm and warmth and hospitality.
“And that’s the kind of environment that we try to nurture here in Barbados in addition to ensuring that when you are here you can feel safe and you can move around without fear of injury or molestation,” the Prime Minister said.