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2007 – a crucial year

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IT was a damn sad end to the year 2006 for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, executed by the US-installed Shiite regime, giving both US President George Bush and Saddam’s former victims the revenge they had long sought. Whatever one thought of Saddam, his deeds or numerous misdeeds, the whole series of events leading up to his execution could only have undermined any pretence of justice in Iraq. Worse, his hasty and gruesome demise, videotaped and relayed to the world via internet and television can only have done as much harm to the reputation of his captors as Saddam’s own bloody past. For if “the West” is holding up its standards of justice and civilization for the rest of the world to copy or at least match, then what does Saddam’s execution say?{{more}}

Clearly we have not heard the last of this, the repercussions are sure to be felt world-wide well in 2007 and beyond. It surely will not help national healing in Iraq, nor will it lessen not only the death toll but also the casualty figures among US and British troops, the overwhelming majority of them young men and women in the prime life. But it is the Iraqis themselves who will suffer most and the Middle East region will likely become more unstable, no matter what George Bush says in his State of the Union address.

Small states like ours, though physically far removed from Iraq, will not be spared either. Security concerns and demands by the big powers are sure to place more financial burdens on our governments and cause greater inconvenience and insecurity especially for travelers. All this will come on top of the pressures already being exerted in the trade arena. The so-called Doha development talks remain stalled with the major trading nations refusing to budge from the selfish, pro-big business stances damning the underdeveloped world and its billions of sufferers. There is as yet not even a faint flicker of flight at the end of this tunnel.

Those talks, within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have great bearing for the Caribbean in what will be its major undertaking in the field of trade in the year 2007. That is the ongoing negotiation with the European Union (EU) for a so-called Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Those talks are scheduled to be completed this year so that the Agreement can take effect from 2008 but in spite of glib re-assurances the reality is that there is still a wide gulf between the interest of the Caribbean people and those of the multinationals which dominate the economies of the European nations and hence influence trade and economic policy of the EU.

It is the push to free trade, to liberalize economies which is forcing regional governments to implement fiscal and trade policies which are not necessarily of their own crafting. That is the reason behind the introduction of the Value Added Tax or VAT in one Caribbean country or another with ours due in May. Yet it is true that the vast majority of our people are still in the dark as to why and in what direction we are headed. If the Caribbean people are to rely on the politicians for those answers, then few are coming. There is not enough information or enlightened discussions on these matters so the majority of us remain in blissful ignorance….. until the rude awakening.

A serious process of education, information, discussion and interface is necessary around the key matter of development strategy. Are we to simply sit back as passive objects or do we take a bold pro-active stand, trying to influence events in our favour? Do we simply throw up our hands in the air or do we put hands to the till and shoulders to the wheel? The proposed consultative process being currently spearheaded by the Planning Ministry and the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDEC) is certainly a most welcome step in a positive direction but much depends on how it is managed, how much space for input is permitted and facilitated.

The Caribbean as a whole, for all its successes, have not been getting it quite right where a holistic development strategy is concerned. We seem to be forever jumping off one ship trying to catch another, often ending up in the water. Instead of the “Either/Or” approach we need a strategy” which can combine all our talents, capacities and resources, which is people-driven, which relies on our creative energies and which provides the linkages between our agricultural sector and our services and manufacturing sectors, making food security a key element.

We need to be clear on the role of the state, the private sector and the small producers in our thrust for economic development, to provide the environment where ideas can thrive and be transformed into reality and to avoid bureaucratic, statist diktats. We do have a future if we have a vision of that future.

Finally, we need to understand that development is not just an economic process. The year 2007 marks the Bicentenary of the Act abolishing the transatlantic slave trade, the most dehumanizing epoch of human history. Already a local Committee has been established. Though government-initiated it is not and must not be allowed to become, a Government Committee. The slave trade and its abolition played crucial roles in the formation of our nation. They affected the fate of the Callinago, the Africans, Asian indentured servants, Portuguese and colonizers. The Bicentenary is therefore for all of us to celebrate. That includes the political Opposition too; Eustace and company have as much place in it as Gonsalves and Co. As for us, the people and our organizations, it is we who must play the central role.

The success of this noble effort depends on our wholehearted participation. We cannot afford to be sectarian. All of us, whether we consider ourselves “conscious brethren” or not, have a place in proclaiming our freedom and in linking abolition to our continuing thrust for national liberation and development. 2007 is crucial to that process.

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