Long-serving Prime Minister and doyen of Caribbean politics, Comrade Dr Ralph Gonsalves, was never one to hide his admiration of Barbados. He has venerated our orderly society, our emphasis on education, our infrastructural and policy developments, our strong political leadership, and importantly, our industrious citizens.
He has been a strident partner of Barbados on issues related to LIAT. Gonsalves has also stood along with Barbados on hemispheric controversies such as votes on hot button issues at the Organisation of American States (OAS) and at the United Nations (UN) general assembly.
When there was an apparent attempt to divide the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the last United States administration of Donald Trump, Gonsalves stood with our Prime Minister Mia Mottley. It was felt there was a move to isolate the then chairperson of CARICOM.
We know that in the present circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the way it has dramatically changed our lives and impacted the way the world operates, a 2014 commentary can seem like eons ago.
But it was on April 3 of that year, that the thoughtful political leader of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and former lecturer at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, penned what he described as The Idea of Barbados.
He said Barbados was “more than a nation-state or a national community.” As far as the regional politician was concerned, “Barbados’ success as the best managed black society in the world can be attributed to its investment in people’s education.”
Barbadian Hilbourne Watson, a Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania also did a critical analysis of Gonsalves The Idea of Barbados.
We found Professor Watson’s interpretation worthwhile. He argued that Barbados, in searching for solutions to contemporary challenges facing the region was sophisticated in its approach to those challenges.
“Gonsalves positions Barbados as superior to the rest of the region, most highly developed, with a national consciousness that unites the country around one goal, best infrastructure, best attitudes, uniquely prepared to overcome the crisis currently engulfing the region, and therefore a model to follow.”
For Gonsalves, Jamaica is “a brand, but not . . . a transcendental idea that infuses the body politic and society to consolidate progressive achievements, nationally”; Trinidad was described as “an incomplete national formation with immense possibilities but constrained by. . . limitations, including rising lawlessness”; Guyana “possesses enormous potential”; while the “Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) were “[aspiring] to the Barbados ‘model’ of a maturing social democracy.”
Why have we placed so much emphasis on this seven-year-old assessment. It is due to what many of us have assessed as the rapid deterioration in standards and norms for which this country has been known and for which our elders worked tirelessly, and at great sacrifice, to accomplish.
While it is easy to attribute every malaise to the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot continue to make COVID-19 the whipping boy.
The recent controversy over the Trojan Riddim video which promotes gang life, guns, violence, and the murder of those who assist the police in the investigation of crimes, is symptomatic of the deterioration of which we speak.
It is not hyperbole to argue that we are becoming a society where might is seen as right, where the individual needs trump the collective good; where too many people are prepared to look the other way, unless a particular issue affects them or their loved ones.
As we also watch sadly, at the shenanigans taking place in the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), we are forced to stop and ask ourselves when did we reach this low.
How could the country’s largest public sector workers’ union degenerate into an all-out public brawling and open power struggle? Certainly, there can be no winners in this unseemly battle for control of the institution.
We will not seek to ascribe blame to any one person or group. We leave that entirely in the hands of the NUPW’s 6,000 plus members. For sure, the members’ interests are not the priority in all this.
But there is a lot more happening in Barbados that worries us and suggests The Idea of Barbados is fraying and no amount of patching will return it to a desirable condition.
Each year, for almost three decades, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) addresses the list of economic and structural challenges that the country confronts.
Despite our money woes, the IMF always identifies the counterbalances as the stability of our society, our social partnership, our educated people, the strength of our institutions, and the commitment of our people to a cohesive society.
Sadly, these strengths are crumbling before our eyes. And as we are pushed along the road to republican status, we admonish our leaders at every level to re-examine what we have identified as priorities. We suggest a return to our core values to maintain and further develop The Idea of Barbados.