Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgetown Dr Jason Gordon gave a stirring critique of the current state of Caribbean politics, especially the leadership, in a message read on his behalf during mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral last Sunday.
The timing of his thought-provoking discourse could not have been better. In the congregation were politicians who, depending on the outcome of the next general election, could very well be administering the affairs of Barbados and influencing regional development.
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, members of the executive and rank and file of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) attended the service to observe the annual Founders’ Day that launched week-long activities marking the 78th anniversary of the BLP’s establishment.
“The Caribbean today is not only short of a robust economic and development strategy; it is also short of visionary leadership . . . ,” said Bishop Gordon in the message read on his behalf by Cathedral administrator Father Charles Dominique, as he was off-island.
He added: “Our Caribbean leaders have opted out of following their vision, preferring to follow the dominant trends in the world’s political economy today, such as accumulation of wealth as a priority over the worker; and national development as a priority over development of the family and the community.”
Dr Gordon was clearly drawing attention to and chiding the political leadership for the region’s almost wholesale capitulation, since the 1990s, to the neo-liberal agenda, drawn up and put forward by the world’s wealthiest countries as the blueprint for global economic development in the post-Cold War era.
Emphasizing the supremacy of the market and de-emphasizing the role of the state, which has been pivotal in Caribbean development, neo-liberalism has had the effect of stripping people of their humanity by reducing workers to being seen as factors of production and people as consumer markets for the goods produced by global companies.
Neo-liberalism has had the effect of widening the income gap within countries and among countries. Because of their vulnerability to the full onslaught of market liberalization, small countries such as ours have been pushed further to the periphery of the global economy, placing increased stress on living standards and making it more difficult to accomplish economic goals.
Dr Gordon would have grown up in the decolonization period of the 1960s and 1970s when there was vibrant intellectual debate across the region, led by political giants such as Errol Barrow and Dr Eric Williams, about building a new Caribbean based on an indigenous development model, anchored largely in the promotion of self-reliance.
Against the backdrop of the region’s generally negative development experience in the last two decades, Bishop Gordon also cited an urgent need for Caribbean countries to come up with a new political model “which bravely faces the reality of the Caribbean and world political economy while charting a course of development for our people”.
There are persons who will take issue with Dr Gordon’s critique, especially if they subscribe to the view that the church should stick to matters of faith and leave the politics and economics mostly to the politicians. However, the church, if it is to remain faithful and true to its Christ-given mandate, must engage all matters, including politics and economics, which have a direct impact on the development of people.
Coming too against a background where some Barbadians have been questioning the deafening silence of the church on many burning political issues, including the punishing austerity to which Government has subjected the population in the last three years, the Roman Catholic bishop’s critique is refreshing.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s in particular, at the zenith of the ecumenical movement which was embodied in the Caribbean Conference Of Churches (CCC), the church in the region was vocal as a moral voice on development issues. The retreat of the church into a cocoon of silence seems to have been a consequence of the demise of the CCC, which used to be headquartered in Barbados during its heyday. The church obviously needs to rediscover some of its former fire.
With the BLP obviously looking to return to Government following the next general election in less than two years, Dr Gordon’s challenge has hopefully provided some much-needed food for thought. Rescuing the Caribbean from the current quagmire calls for outside-the-box thinking that yields innovative political and economic approaches making a real difference.
The inspiring example of the region’s visionary leaders from the immediate post-colonial era shows it can be done.
Wherever there is a will, there is always a way.