When Patterson Speaks, We Listen
Ambassador Curtis Ward
We are living in a period of complex and challenging times. The entire global landscape is experiencing geopolitical and security instability. There is hardly any issue that is entirely local, and every issue is interconnected to varying degrees to competing geopolitical interests, global economic realities, or international security. No country can ignore the competing interests of the most powerful countries. Neither can we ignore the existential threats to large segments of human existence – from overarching global realities, such as climate change, and from global pandemics. The fear of possible annihilation from a nuclear war and the urgency of the international community to control the proliferation and possible use of nuclear weapons dominated the international agenda for decades. Now the impact of climate change and deadly pandemics take center stage.
Now more than ever we need wise counsel in the way we govern and face these challenges while searching for solutions to fulfill the aspirations of our people. Jamaica and the Caribbean are fortunate to have our own sage. That’s why when the Most Hon. P. J. Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica, speaks, we should listen. I do with a great deal of interest.
Former prime minister Patterson led Jamaica through the uncertainties of the post-Cold War period and the emergence of a unipolar world, and an uncertain geopolitical transformational period; through the pre-Millennium period and a period of rapid information technology development; into the first decade of the twentieth century when the global financial and economic systems teetered on the brink of the world’s greatest recession in a generation. He placed Jamaica at the center of global decision making in the United Nations Security Council at the beginning of the new century; and he led the Group of 77, plus China, a group of 135 developing countries, in international deliberations to promote their collective economic and political interests in the United Nations and globally.
As Prime Minister, Mr. Patterson saw the impact of decaying social values on our societies. He foresaw the dangers to the country’s future social construct and future generations, and he sought to reverse that trend with his ‘Values and Attitudes’ program. Many who now call for its resuscitation failed then to fully support this initiative when it could have had a significant impact on the future of our society. But rather than say “What if?”, we should now embrace this concept.
Patterson’s political experiences predated Jamaica and Caribbean independence. He not only lived that experience, but he also helped to shape the past, present and the future of the country and the region. He knows of opportunities gained, opportunities lost, and opportunities taken. He knew what was possible and what was not. There is no one better qualified to provide counsel to the people of Jamaica and the Caribbean, and none better to provide counsel directly to current leaders. This period of our history demands that wise counsel is available to our leaders. It is an opportune time for guidance to help them meet the challenges of our time. Patterson’s high intellect is a tremendous asset. That’s why when the former prime minister spoke recently at a forum at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston, on the subject of “Caribbean Participation in Regional Integration Mechanisms” I took special note. The forum co-sponsored by the University of the West Indies and the Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean (CAF), a knowledge forum, aimed at exposing senior leaders and business units to the UWI’s thought leadership on the most pressing development issues facing the Caribbean.
Former prime minister Patterson raised several issues while offering recommendations and urging expansion of regional integration and cooperation on the Caribbean development agenda and to meet the challenges facing the region. He provided context for resuscitating the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a grouping of countries ringing the Caribbean Sea —all Caricom member states, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Central American countries bordering on the Caribbean Sea — and including Cuba. The former prime minister urged CAF to proactively work with countries in the region to meet the financial needs required to further deepen regional integration and cooperation and advancing regional development.
The former Prime Minister in his speech provided guidance on Climate Change and financing to mitigate its impact on the region; on removing the regional Transportation deficit; making Agriculture and Food Security possible for the region; the importance of education and the Knowledge Economy; and the Symbiotic Relationship between the UWI and the CAF in realizing these objectives. As prime minister and since, Mr. Patterson has promoted these ideas and sought to create legal and structural capacities for the implementation of many of these initiatives. Financing has always been a major challenge. But there was also a lack of regional political will and commitment. The situation for the region has now reached desperate proportions.
In this milieu of difficult issues, Mr. Patterson now sees the region poised to take advantage of new energy and financial resources, including the now funding available through the CAF. He is hoping to reawaken interest in these areas to further deepen regional integration and cooperation. For example, he said, “An efficient transportation system is a sine quo non for a Single Market and Economy and economic interactions with neighbouring countries… and the planning of intra-regional transportation must again be put on the front burner.”
He also praised Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali who is prepared to spearhead measures to reduce “the regional food import bill by 25% by 2025, as one of the most encouraging signs in recent times for the Food and Nutrition Security Initiative.” To that end, he called for co-operative action to improve transportation modalities and remove all non-tariff barriers, which he said can only be addressed through collective action.
Former prime minister Patterson recalled his advocacy in a speech he made in 1999 at the UWI in which he asserted that the University had responsibility to lead the new information-led environment of the knowledge economy. He said then that “The old hierarchical ways of management, organization, education and training must give way to a more wide-based, flexible and knowledge-oriented inter-relationship.” Addressing these issues now, he said, “Time come for the UWI and the CAF to enter into a kinetic agreement in a fruitful and mutually beneficial partnership that builds economic growth and sustainable development by the catalytic force of finding our own creative destiny within our own Caribbean space.” He also said, “[W]hat wealth the Caribbean accumulates will depend on the growth, the spread and the diversification of strong education systems which are a fundamental pillar of the knowledge economy which exists.”
In this one speech, former prime minister Patterson shared a vision for the Caribbean, which decades ago may have been unattainable. He has now reminded us that this renewed vision for the Caribbean is within our grasp. Deeper regional integration and cooperation is now imperative for Caribbean survival in a world in which competing geopolitical and security issues tend to divide us. It is a world in which the impact of climate change shapes our day-to-day existence and demands our collective responses. Now more than ever, the political will of Jamaican and other Caribbean leaders to move the region forward is desperately needed.
© Curtis A. Ward