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Appreciate non-traditional friends



Small-island states like St Vincent and the Grenadines are finding it increasingly difficult to keep afloat in the real world of the 21st century. The period of romantic nationalism which characterized the last quarter of the previous century resulted in a virtual explosion of political sovereignty for mini-states, especially in the Caribbean and Pacific, placing them nominally on equal grounds in the United Nations with the traditional giants and emerging developing powers.{{more}} At the same time, economic realities emanating from global trade trends towards liberalization threaten to make a mockery of the viability of such states and to nullify in the economic sphere whatever advancements that may have been made politically and constitutionally.

Of particular significance is the area of external support. The march to independence took place in the context of a biopolar world, with two major ideological and political camps seeking to embrace vulnerable newly-independent nations in their orbit, complete with aid programmes. The last decade of the 20th century and the emergence of powerful “Third World” giants in the form of China, India and Brazil have radically transformed this picture. As aid from once considered “traditional friends” has drastically reduced, countries like ours have been forced to look elsewhere and diversify their foreign policy options.

As a result, more and more the nature of foreign aid is changing as is the character of foreign relations. No longer can countries like ours lay claim to the support of ‘traditional friends’ for our major socio-economic initiatives. Rather, there has been a broadening of sources, including a potentially divisive conflict over the two Chinas, which have broadened the range of South-South contacts.

There are many positive examples of such co-operation. Indeed many small states like ours would find it difficult to progress outside such non-traditional arrangements. Yet in spite of the proven value of these relationships, attitudes towards these new practical donors have changed little, the ideological blinkers remain intact and the colonial blinds block unfettered vision. We pay lip service to the valuable contributions of the government and people of Cuba for instance, given at considerable sacrifice and with tangible benefit, while lauding hard-earned remittances of our own people in developed countries, as though they are gifts from public treasuries of those nations. We even accept subservience to foreign policy dictates as a price.

The external contributions to the building of the Argyle International Airport give us concrete demonstrations of the value of international cooperation. If truth be told, we as recipients have so far been not fully appreciative of what such assistance means to our development thrust. Publicly, it is the same hand that helped to funnel much-needed assistance, that is castigated by our own people. Petro-Caribe, Cuban co-operation, Taiwan assistance, Mexican scholarships, European funding pale in the level of public appreciation as compared with the far lower level of support from “traditional friends”. Is it not time to get the balance right?