STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR ODEEN ISHMAEL, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF GUYANA TO THE OAS, AT THE MEETING ON THE SECURITY CONCERNS OF SMALL DEVELOPING STATES WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 30, 2001
Posted March 30th. 2001
We meet here today in Washington to examine the security concerns of small developing states. In my brief presentation, I want to look at some issues that affect the development of democracy in the small states of this hemisphere, and particularly in those of the Caribbean region.
I agree that the small states of the Caribbean region face serious security threats from narcotics trafficking, the influx of smuggled small (and even sophisticated) arms, growing crime rates and the dumping of criminal deportees from the developed countries. But what we must always bear in mind is that all of these threats to national security also pose serious threats to democracy in these countries. Crime undermines society by establishing a state of instability which can lead to the destabilization of democratic governments.
But there are other issues which affect the security of small developing states. In the Caribbean region, economic issues have become major concerns. For a number of years we have been highlighting the banana issue as it affects particularly the Eastern Caribbean, and I do not think there is anyone in this audience who is unaware of the economic problems that it is generating in the affected islands.
What must be understood is that the banana issue is only one of the matters that worry the region. Guyana's rice market in Europe is raising concerns because of the depressed market prices. And our bauxite has not been fetching favourable prices at all. The effect of all this is that many rice farmers' incomes have dropped sharply, and development has slowed down in the communities that depend on the bauxite industry. Added to these worries is the fact that the world market price of gold C another of our exports C has also declined. Many workers in the bauxite and gold mining industries have become unemployed and this has added to the social problems in the communities where these industries are located.
There is an obvious need for diversification. One of the major problems in traditional Caribbean societies is that, historically, people have resisted diversification. People, who for generations, were occupied in a particular economic activity, develop skills generally for only that economic activity, and they are hesitant to move into new occupations. Thus more energies have to be applied by our governments to re-educate and re-train our workers, and also to create incentives to attract these workers into new areas of economic enterprise.
Unfortunately, some of the diversification has been negative. Already we are hearing that persons deprived of a livelihood because of the banana fall out are diversifying into marijuana cultivation. Marijuana fetches more lucrative prices than bananas, and these prices themselves act as a narcotic to attract others to that type of farming. The long run of all of this is that social values are diminished, crime is seen to pay, and democratic institutions, nourished and built up for generations, suddenly are affected by growing bribery and corruption. The foundations of democracy are thus undermined, and the toppling of that democracy becomes an easy matter for those forces which have no regard for democratic norms.
This hemisphere is finalizing preparations for the Third Summit of the Americas to beheld in Quebec City, Canada next month. The first two Summits presented Action Plans, which if they were implemented, would have propelled all our countries to a higher economic development plane. The main aim of the previous Summits was to reduce poverty. But the fact is that since those Summits, our hemisphere is experiencing an increased level of poverty. In addition, the small developing states continue to experience problems in developing their infrastructure, their industrial base and their productivity level. Despite all this, they are expected to compete at the same level with the larger and more developed states in a Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is expected to come on stream by 2005. If the small states and economies are not given an injection of economic assistance to develop their infrastructure, their industrial base and their productivity levels, they would be swamped out in a free trade arrangement. Great societal instability will arise and this will pose a tremendous threat to democratic governments in those states. Upheavals of an anti-democratic and non-legal nature in these small states and economies will also become a security concern for the larger developed states and economies of this hemisphere.
That is why we continue to call for the establishment of a Regional Integration Fund within the FTAA process to assist the smaller states and economies. This Fund, patterned after the European Union's development fund for its own weaker economies, will promote development within the smaller economies of this hemisphere and make them more economically competitive. Stable and strong economies will develop, and, as we know, stable and strong economies help to build stable and strong democracies.
But even as our small states and economies try to develop themselves economically, there are political forces which capitalize on existing divisions in those states to undermine democratic governance. In my country, as in some other developing countries of this hemisphere, there exist forces of the old order of authoritarianism and despotism which are still not ready to accept the will of the people and democratic norms. What they cannot win in the ballot boxes they try to wrest by creating unrest in the streets, as has been witnessed after the recent March 19 elections. Blatant terrorism in different forms is used by these forces which trample on the human rights and dignity of others who do not agree with them. And on top of all that, they make unreasonable demands from the government elected by the majority of the people. I say this: No group should use their culture, history, religion, ethnicity, or economic circumstance as excuses to trample on human rights and to make unreasonable demands of others within the same society.
My country needs the solidarity of all the nations of this hemisphere to support our democratic process and to condemn all acts by anti-democratic forces which are aimed at pressuring our growing democracy. There is no question here of interfering in my country's internal affairs. If democracy is disrupted in my country this entire hemisphere will be affected in some way. While all of us in this hemisphere uphold the principle of non-interference, we should also firmly uphold the principle of non-indifference in our international relations. As I said in the Permanent Council yesterday, no member-state of this hemisphere can afford to show indifference to the non-legal methods being used by anti-democratic forces to disrupt the freely elected Government of Guyana.
As we consider the security concerns of small states in this hemisphere, we must always be reminded that pressures on democracy in some of these states will certainly have a detrimental effect on regional and hemispheric stability. Therefore, all the democratic forces in our countries, must work together to promote, defend and build democracy.