Mending Fences - Address by the Prime Minister to the Florida Federation of Young Republicans of West Palm Beach Convention -...
Address by Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony of Saint Lucia to the Florida Federation of Young Republicans of West Palm Beach Convention
19th May 2001
One of the best and greatest things about America – notwithstanding the sophistication of its civilization - is the simple humanity of the finest of its letters. It was Robert Frost – one of the greatest of these persons of letters – who wrote with moving eloquence in a poem of the same name, of the simple task of mending fences and challenged the conventional wisdom that "good fences make good neighbors".
"Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;…"
It is not in the natural permanence of things to have fences and I would like to take a page from Frost’s book and explore the theme of fences as they relate to us who inhabit this hemisphere. Fences have always been erected throughout history to separate nations – good fences with defined borders helped to keep the peace in times far less civilized than ours. These fences have been physical borders sometimes as ancient and monumental as the Great Wall of China, sometimes as cruel and as unsympathetic as the Berlin Wall. They have been abstract as in the protection of markets and the constraints of immigration. They have been mental as in the persistence of prejudices, whether racial, religious, ethnic or nationalist. They have been linguistic as in the bigotry of language and the shutting out of other voices.
Yet the something that does not love a wall has been the indomitable freedom of the human spirit. The human spirit knows no boundaries, accepts no limitations and sees far beyond the things that divide us to the elemental necessities that unite us. And in many ways that is the spirit of America – the American Revolution was the expression of that insuppressible will for freedom. It was the desire to construct something different from the darkness in which Frost’s neighbor moved, that made America a beacon for the tired, poor, hurdled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of teaming shores.
TOWARDS THE REMOVAL OF FENCES
In our hemisphere, there has been over the past twenty years, an inexorable movement towards the removal of fences. Straitjackets of military and totalitarian rule have been replaced by democratic openness; many of our sister nations have become less fixated about their borders and more preoccupied with the creation of markets without borders. The dream of a hemisphere open to trade, with free movement of persons, goods and services is a repudiation of fences. And with this and any freedom comes attendant responsibilities – the responsibility for fairness. Free trade must also be fair trade. A freedom that is unrestricted matched by a compassion that is unmitigated.
The Caribbean has been heartened by President Bush’s swift resolution of the banana crisis. This points to a new spirit of cooperation. Indeed the early initiatives of the Bush administration to Latin America and the Caribbean have engendered a new sense of belonging and confidence. This is no exaggeration since the impasse over bananas resulted in a loss of 60% of our export income and the exodus of more than half of the 8,500 farmers who were involved in bananas. President Bush’s intervention has helped to work out an acceptable solution that has given us a respite and provided much needed breathing space to our economy. It has given hope to our sub-region that his sense of compassion and fairness will temper the insensitivities of the market in relation to those whose only desire is to be permitted to earn a decent, honest living by the sweat of our brow. We want to continue to co-exist as we have always done – as good neighbors.
There is a second intervention in which this administration has signaled its goodwill as a powerful neighbor. The Caribbean is very heartened by the emerging position of the United States on the issue of so-called harmful taxation. By insisting on the freedom of competition in the sphere of offshore financing, the Bush administration has provided the opportunity for us to become well-regulated jurisdictions for clean financial flows. In so doing, it has facilitated the emergence of new economic opportunity in the painful void created by the weakness of the banana industry.
As President Bush himself has pointed out, the Caribbean is the third border of the United States. We are the border that you never bothered to fence because between such neighbors so much was shared, and accepted as given. As Frost put it:
"There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.."
And so today, I come as a voice from that undemarcated fence to walk the line that Frost walked with his neighbor. I have come – not "to keep the wall between us as we go, to each the boulders that have fallen to each" but to reconstruct the foundations that might have loosened in this special friendship and to share the boulders of mutual responsibility.
A MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL EXCHANGE
Across this common fence many mutual flows have passed. Much trade and aid has crossed this divide; many people have crossed from each side – from your end as tourists seeking the delights of the Caribbean; from our end, as seekers of fortune and opportunity. Although the balance of trade has not historically been in our favor, it has nevertheless contributed to a standard of living far better than the norm in most Third World countries. The free movement of peoples has made a major contribution to the emergence of new economic opportunities in tourism; while remittances from Caribbean persons in the US and Canada continue to provide sustenance to many families throughout the region. Many of our brightest and finest minds have found intellectual challenge and financial security within the embrace of American academia.
To the extent therefore, that our fences have been relaxed, the exchange that has taken place has been mutually beneficial and has served to enrich the patrimony of all of the Americas. Indeed, both of the Nobel Prize winners that St. Lucia is privileged to have produced had laid foundations at American Universities – Sir Arthur Lewis at Princeton University and Derek Walcott at Boston University. America has benefited as much as we have from the relaxation of fences. Much of the best talent of the Caribbean resides in the United States contributing to American inventiveness and creativity in a wide variety of disciplines.
A SYMBOL OF CARIBBEAN POSSIBILITIES
It has not escaped the notice and pride of the Caribbean that one of its sons now has the distinction of serving as your Secretary of State. Of course this in no-way questions where the loyalties of General Colin Powell stands; but it certainly signals the pragmatism of Caribbean achievement. Our history of migration has made us an adaptable people, resilient in identity but universal in our humanity. General Powell stands as an American symbol of Caribbean possibilities and we are as proud as you are of his integrity and achievement.
THE DANGER OF DRUGS
While we celebrate the "products" of our common heritage, there is ironically one exchange that brings home to us the futility of seeking to maintain fences between good neighbors. I speak of course of the drug trade. Inspite of all your fences, despite all of our own fences, notwithstanding all interdiction effort, the drugs still flow and do so with impunity. This challenges us to rethink the old fences and to develop new defenses of intermutuality and interdependence. The only lasting and effective barriers to drugs are shared prosperity, equal opportunity and mutual sovereignty. These lessons are fresh in our consciousness in the Caribbean, as we have watched the rapid transformation of some strata of our youth from honest workers to sophisticated drug dealers pursuing the fast buck while jettisoning traditional morality and values along the journey to Mammon.
This process has been further fuelled by the difficulties of adjustment to the globalized economy experienced by small vulnerable states such as the Caribbean. Good neighbors, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, move beyond the demarcating limitation of fences. The United States is great and mighty enough to work with greater mutual cooperation, trust and openness to its Third Border to ensure that - from both sides – the war against transnational evil is decisively won. When drugs pass through the Caribbean in transit to American youth, we are all victims of that transnational evil. Interdiction efforts must therefore reflect that shared loss and pain and interdiction must move beyond coercive suppression to embrace popular indignation at the erosion of common values.
Our new defenses must be predicated on the recognition that at every point along the Third Border, mutuality must walk the line as Frost did with his neighbor. At no point should a fallen boulder from one side be tossed to the other side to become an obstacle to the Other. The policy of the former administration of repatriating criminals of Caribbean origin, places great strain on the capacity of our countries and penal system to "digest" this influx. Such boulders should instead be chiseled into new and different possibilities and re-worked into acceptable and manageable sizes and proportions. Our banana trees will never cross the line and eat your apple orchard but we can and must work together to free the hemisphere of drugs, of crime, and of poverty which is the progenitor of much evil.
INCLUSIVENESS AND COMPASSION IN POLITICS
We have noted President Bush’s call emanating from the recent election for greater inclusiveness, his urging for greater compassion in politics and a return to morality in public life. These values strike responsive chords in the Caribbean where compassion was a simple duty and morality a necessary imperative. With the demise of the Cold War, and the erosion of ideology, history has not ended -- some persistent historical challenges still require solution. Looming large among them is the scourge of poverty the recognition of which has caused multilateral institutions such as the World Bank to call for a world free of poverty and want. We see tremendous possibilities in the assertions that he has proclaimed and in this noble goal of poverty elimination. When compassion and morality are applied to the historical challenge of the alleviation and ultimate eradication of poverty we are forced to remember that poverty is not only a condition of material want but is also a reflection of deficiency of the human spirit. To America falls the challenge of ameliorating not only the "hunger of the belly" but also the emptiness of the spirit in our entire hemisphere. To America falls the obligation of sharing of herself in such a manner to eliminate all fences that separate good neighbors. To the rest of us in the Americas falls equally the responsibility of maintaining human dignity in the mirror of material want; of rendering inventiveness from the landscape of deprivation and fashioning a more compassionate entrepreneurship within the fiercely competitive ambiance of the marketplace.
These are immense responsibilities. It involves a wholesale and fundamental redefinition of our perception of the wider hemispheric social space. It also demands that we, as leaders, spearhead the charge in transforming the cultures and perceptions of our respective publics to allow them to make the necessary paradigm shift to embrace the new borderless American hemisphere.
LIBERATING THE INFLUENCE OF KNOWLEDGE
We must also recognize however, that as leaders it is sometimes best to follow our people where they lead us. The people of the Americas are young and free. They are part of the new technological age and the Internet provides for them yet another spring board from which to transcend the artificial political barriers of a dying era. Our new political attitudes and structures must recognize that the Internet represents a limitless space with new democratic possibilities. We must also accept that it is impossible to reverse the liberating influence of knowledge, the access to the latest discoveries of science, and the openness to new cultures and modes of thought and behavior. Cyberspace might well be the 21st Century version of the American West of yesteryear – a new frontier of unparalleled opportunity with no fences and no borders.
As I reflect on the role of the youth in championing the ethos of the new America without borders, I am seized with the realization that we have gathered here these last few days as the hosts of a grouping which encompasses the most materially and entrepreneurially successful youth in this hemisphere. As young and aspiring leaders of an ascendant America, it is incumbent on you to look not only inward to the wellsprings that feed the American spirit but also outwards to the global responsibilities and possibilities that must be embraced if America is to fulfill her destiny. I am grateful for the opportunity that you have provided through this invitation to dialogue with you and your leadership. This invitation is indicative of an openness. It signals a willingness to listen to a voice other than one’s own speaking in an accent different from one’s own. The traditional greatness of America has always resided in its capacity to embrace difference and out of the many colors to paint a rainbow of new possibility.
You, the Young Republicans gathered here represent one important side of the political equation of America and with that representation comes commensurate responsibilities. The world watched in suspense as your electoral drama unfolded a few months ago and undoubtedly the most important lesson that we all need to take from that experience is that every vote counts. Beyond the arithmetic of power, is the assertion that - in a democratic society – every person is important. Every citizen’s vote represents his or her voice and choice and the future of the nation is the symphony of these voices. Part of your challenge is to ensure the deepening of democracy by urging every American to make their voice count and beyond the ballot to sustain the participation of citizens in the fundamental challenges of governance. It was the great American educator and philosopher John Dewey who reminded us that democracy is ultimately not simply the assertion of the will of the majority but equally importantly how that majority manages dissent and provides respectful accommodation to the concerns of the minority. We too in our Caribbean face the same challenges and must engage in the same historical endeavor.
As Young Republicans, you must always bear in mind the promise of America. Your country was built on an amalgamation of all races and nationalities and as the process of globalization becomes inexorable, this internationalism must be nurtured. Bridges of friendship must be consolidated within and across the hemisphere and the world.
BUILDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER
As we meet to walk the line between America and the third border, let us walk secure in the knowledge that good neighbors do not need strong fences. Let us mark the line together in the awareness that fences not only keep others out but also themselves become prisons locking us within confines of our own making. Let us together establish the openness that recognizes that in the age of cyberspace, human inventiveness and achievement can no longer be constrained by borders – whether mental or physical, whether built of prejudice or of brick; whether constructed on ideology or faith; whether meant to keep out or to lock in. A new era and unprecedented opportunities lie before us for a more secure, prosperous and united hemisphere -– without fences.
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