Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Heads of Delegations, Delegates, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen...
It is my pleasant task to address this session of the Council of Delegates on the occasion of the official installation of Guyana to the Inter-American Defense Board. I view Guyana's accession to the Board as a significant chapter in the integration process since it provides a bonding which allows for communication and operational relationships in political, socio-economic and security matters.
From the onset, I want to mention that the main theme of my presentation is that economic insecurity can lead to socio-economic and political instability in the hemisphere.
At the level of the OAS, Guyana has been effecting various political, social and economic functions. Now, at the level of the Inter-American Defense Board, Guyana will seek to integrate the relevant security considerations to those political, social and economic actions.
Since the culmination of the Cold War and movements towards democratic transformation in Europe at the end of the last decade, and our own democratic evolution in 1992, Guyana as a nation-state began to see the need to reconsider the areas of focus of its foreign policy and international relationships. It decided on economic diplomacy as a main thrust in its foreign policy, and has continued to reinforce closer regional and hemispheric linkages as part of that policy.
In this decade, and for sometime into the twenty-first century, the focus of countries of this hemisphere will have to economic in nature. This is particularly so for countries with small economies which see economic security as a stabilizing force in their societies.
Guyana along with the Caribbean and the rest of Latin America suffer conditions and circumstances that will be a continuing source of problems in the years ahead - problems that increasingly will be regional, if not global in nature. The countries of our hemisphere face serious economic problems which have forced them to effect policies of fiscal discipline and painful economic recovery programs. Many of our countries are also saddled with stifling debts which hamper productivity. And even when economic growth takes place, there is a widening gap between the rich and poor, and this ultimately can breed discontent and serious social and political problems in the society.
Guyana is very concerned about the stability, hence the security, of the hemisphere. Traditionally, Guyana has always been responsive to calls for assistance from within the Caribbean region, whether in the wake of natural disasters, or for internal disorder stabilization operations. We are making a positive impact in United Nations operations as part of the CARICOM military contingent in Haiti; we have also made symbolic contributions to United Nations peace-keeping operations in El Salvador and as far away as Namibia.
Our commitments to CARICOM, the OAS and the UN are a source of national pride and honor, because we believe that strong regional organizations working in cooperation with the world organization help to bring about greater efficiency in the search for peace and security in the world today.
For countries like Guyana and others with small economies, economic insecurity can lead to instability. In the eastern Caribbean, economic security is threatened not so much by natural disasters, but by threats to their relatively small banana market in Europe. In the banana-producing small states of the Caribbean, almost their entire populations depend on banana production for their economic sustenance, and if these countries are to lose their market preference, their entire economies are bound to suffer drastically. Since production is carried out by peasant farmers, economic disruption can lead to unemployment and displacement of large sections of the populace, ultimately leading to political, economic and social insecurity in the region, since the ripple effects of such insecurity, including resulting legal and illegal migration, drug production and trafficking will be felt throughout the region and even further afield.
The countries of our region also suffer the disadvantage of having limited access of their agriculture produce and manufactured products to markets in developed countries, which on the other hand seem to have unlimited entry in ours. In some cases, our agricultural commodities have to compete against subsidized agricultural commodities from developed countries. Such unfair trading practices are detrimental to our economic stability.
It is my contention that the countries of the Caribbean form a strategic border
to the developed countries of the North. It is therefore in the interest of the North to ensure that economic security be maintained in the region. If foreign aid is not provided to help develop these small economies, the arising problems can find themselves migrating to the north. These migrating problems include illegal migration, drugs and disease. If farmers cannot obtain international markets and reasonable prices for their produce, they will be tempted to move into the production of illicit drugs which seems to always have a ready market in the North. And displaced farmers easily add to the flow of illegal migrants away from our countries. Thus, the security of the small economies of the south also assists in the security of the developed countries to the north, and vice-versa. North-South cooperation in the hemisphere is therefore of definitive importance.
These factors must be understood by both rich and poor countries. Each nation cannot afford to be indifferent to another nations's problems.
The idea of free trade, while being welcomed by Guyana, is also a matter of concern since, if it is not accompanied by a system of fair trade, it can negatively impact on the countries with small economies in the hemisphere. This concern has become even more vital in the light of the Summit of the Americas decision to set up the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) by the year 2005. Many of the countries with smaller economies, while welcoming the FTAA, are no doubt concerned over debilitating effects of free trade on their economies. While they support free trade, they argue for fair trade as well. But will this happen if the trade "playing field" is not level?
Since last year, before the convening of the Summit of the Americas, Guyana initiated a proposal for the establishment of a Regional Development Fund (RDF). Earlier this year, the CARICOM heads of government adopted the RDF as a regional initiative, and at hemispheric meetings to follow up on the Summit decisions, representatives of CARICOM governments have been vocally championing the need for its early establishment.
The RDF will assist in making our economies more competitive. The hemisphere can learn from the experience of the European Union which provides its economically less developed members with aid from a special fund to help them raise their production and productivity levels and their standards of living. This assists them to make their economies more and more competitive in Europe and the wider world.
However, where the money for such a Fund will come from provokes interesting discussions. Many ideas are currently being discussed. In this respect, the idea to link the RDF to debt relief must also be considered. Generally, the concept is that debt repayments by hemispheric countries can be pooled to form part of the resources of the fund. This should them be redistributed by a management group which includes the international donor agencies for special development projects to the poorer nations in the hemisphere.
With the poorer countries assisted by such a fund, they can undertake the structural adjustment necessitated by the transition to hemispheric free trade, and ultimately will improve on their productivity and their economic levels, thus making their markets more competitive. At the same time, the spending power of their peoples will expand and they will be in a better position to purchase more goods from the countries with more advanced economies in the hemisphere.
It is Guyana's contention that the Regional Development Fund will positively aid in economic security and the political and social stabilization of the hemisphere. It will thus play a leading role in strengthening overall security.
Today, security in the hemisphere issues have expanded from dealing with arms control, insurgencies and border issues, and has now moved into areas such as national emergencies, the prevention of terrorism and drug trafficking, search and rescue missions, protection of human rights, providing support during natural and other disasters, immigration control, protecting marine resources, prevention of smuggling, the fight against diseases, and the protection and strengthening of democracy and democratic institutions.
The Inter-American Defense Board has to adjust its strategies and efforts to handle these expanding demands. In this transition period, the Board is making good progress in this direction. It is being ably assisted by its educational arm, the Inter-American Defence College in working for the promotion of peace, regional security, respect for sovereignty, and unity in the hemisphere.
I must also mention that Guyana sees the work of the IADB being supplemented by the deployment of a Development Corps of Volunteers drawn from all the countries of the hemisphere to work on social projects in the hemisphere. However, this cannot be done unless the White Helmets, as agreed by the Summit
of the Americas, is formally established and funded to undertake operations. The nations of the hemisphere must demonstrate positively the political will to implement this important part of the Summit Action Plan since it will go a far way in helping to improve social conditions in various communities in hemispheric nations with both small and large economies.
It is my fervent hope that the addition of Guyana's small voice to the Inter-American Defense Board will be of some benefit to the hemisphere. All of our countries have the serious responsibility of protecting and strengthening the security of the Americas. Guyana stands ready, as always, to do its part.