"Reflections on Democracy and Governance in Our America" Speech Delivered by the Prime Minister to the Argentine Council for ...
"Reflections on Democracy and Governance in Our America"
Speech Delivered by
Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony, Prime Minister of St. Lucia
Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI)
Buenos Aires (24th April 2001)
Students, staff, and members of the Argentine Council for International Relations,
Staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina,
It is with a very special sense of honour and privilege that I have come to this great land of the Americas, the land of Jose de San Martin. What fuels this inestimable sense of pride is the opportunity that this visit provides for reinforcing the natural bonds that link our Caribbean to Our Americas.
We represent in the long march of history, every person and every type. From victims of Empire, we have become the masters of a new Continental Destiny; from children of colonialism and slavery, we have become the fathers and mothers of a more humane civilization. From the bowels of racial chauvinism and social exclusion, we have created societies of cultural rainbows, and have raised fresh voices in ancestral forests calling for a new modernity and a more equitable and humane prosperity.
Virtually all of the countries of Our America have – in the long march of time – felt the hot flames of the fire of history. Our people have borne witness to winters of discontent and dismal nights of terror. We have emerged from these nightmares of history with a more resilient sense of self, and a more resolute sense of purpose. Forged out of that pain has been our emergent democracies and the recognition of the value of good governance. Our common history has been a long march towards that goal. It can be traced from the earliest formations of indigenous empire to the Bolivarian dream of continental destiny.
It is extremely important to stress this because in the English-Speaking Caribbean, we tend to be very smug and chauvinistic about our commitment to democracy. As a result, we have ignored the contribution of our Latin American cousins to the great humanising objective, which we call democracy. Whist it may be true that the tradition of military rule has been largely alien to the Caribbean, and whilst we have observed the tenets of formal democracy with an iron consistency, we must never forget that the earliest steps towards the democratic ideal of "government by the consent of the governed" were taken by the heroic freedom fighters of Latin American in the 19th Century. Latin America has always been a source of ideological, philosophical and spiritual inspiration.
We must never forget also the contributions of Latin American intellectual luminaries like Raul Prebisch and Andre Gunder Frank to our struggles against economic imperialism. Their work has assisted us in our struggles against economic arrangements that consign us to economic marginalisation. I know that Prebisch’s work on the unequal terms of trade influenced very strongly the thinking of St. Lucia’s Nobel Laureate in Economics, W. Arthur Lewis, and spurred him in his search for a model for third world industrialisation.
These facts must be emphasised for the sake of historical clarity. Too often we tend to forget that the struggles against colonial domination and economic imperialism are significant contributions towards fulfilling the democratic ideal. When we forget these realities, we make hasty and sometimes false judgements about Latin America’s commitment to democracy.
THE PRESENT CONTEXT
But recent developments have made it imperative that all of us – Latin America and the Caribbean – undertake a collective rethinking of our assumptions about Democracy and Good Governance. I speak specifically about the way globalisation and economic liberalisation have challenged our old assumptions of democracy, the relationship between citizens and state, and our attitudes to fundamental questions of accountability, representation and participation.
It is now widely accepted that the post-Cold War period represents in many ways a fundamental change in the international conjuncture – a shift from a bipolar world to a unipolar world in which the Colossus of the North has come to exercise an unchallenged global hegemony.
While in so many ways we can welcome the relaxation of the old tensions and the demise of authoritarian structures, there is the fear that a unipolar concentration of power can result in the ostracism of difference. The new paradigm ought not to be monolithic. It must be inclusive and permit the incorporation of wider, more textured modalities of democracy and governance that must themselves be consistent with accepted international norms and standards.
Although globalization produces numerous setbacks for small and vulnerable economies, it also creates unique opportunities. We have the possibility of moving beyond the polarizing and paralysing tendencies of mutually exclusive notions of democracy to the embrace of a common core of values and the recognition of new forms and possibilities that may extend and build on existing formations.
In addition to this change in the global conjuncture, we of the Americas have been experiencing the shifts from the politics of the post-colonial to the politics of the neo-liberal, in very fluid and technologically different circumstances.
WORLD ECONOMY COMPELLING RE-ADJUSTMENTS
These transformations, in themselves, are compelling re-adjustments in the internal civic relationships in our societies. Significantly, one of the urgent tasks of this present generation of the leadership of the Americas is to manage the transition from the old political-economy to the new, and to create a new democratic ethos for these new times.
This emerging democracy involves a fundamental redistribution of political power. At the core of this transition, is the engagement of civil society, both in domestic and regional levels of power relations. The period has witnessed the weakening of the trade union movement vis-ŕ-vis the NGO movement and the private sector. Indeed, a new political space has been created for the emergence of civic groupings with more particularised agendas. We see this clearly in Latin America where we have witnessed the emergence of new social movements with a wide range of demands. Those who demand the return of ancestral lands to indigenous peoples as well as the mothers who demand answers to their searching questions about their "disappeared" all form part of this great democratisation project of our Americas.
We in the Caribbean have not been excluded from this process. Our experiences, though limited, can no doubt be of value to the ongoing process of democratisation in Argentina, and elsewhere.
LESSONS FROM THE CARIBBEAN
One of our major efforts has been geared towards modernising our societies in order to reposition ourselves into the new global economy. Too often, persons see modernisation as being relevant only in the technological sense, but the modernisation I speak of refers to the upgrading of our institutional structures, redesigning our social infrastructure, and engagement in a process of aggressive legislative reform, all in a bid to re-shape our society and polity.
There has been a conscious attempt by a new cadre of Caribbean leadership to engage civil society in the decision making process. On one level this is reflected in a far greater tolerance towards political opponents and in a sincere and genuine attempt to include opposition groups in the process of governmental policy.
Many of our countries have established mechanisms to deepen and strengthen internal democracy, at both the local and sub-regional level. Thus, for example, Public Accounts Committees have been established in several countries to monitor the finances of public officials and as a safeguard against corruption. Most territories have witnessed far greater levels of public discussion and more open scrutiny of the work of governments. And some have endeavoured to engage in Constitutional reforms consistent with the new democratic ethos. Thus, both Barbados and Jamaica have engaged in public consultations on Constitutional reform, designed to refashion their inherited systems of governance.
Similarly, all the countries of the Caribbean have committed themselves to a Charter of Civil Society, which is a firm statement of our determination to uphold human rights and the pursuit of good governance. As part of this process we have agreed to establish National Monitoring Committees to ensure compliance to the principles of the charter. Here, we can offer salutary advice to the Americas.
Our commitment to democratic norms has also created an atmosphere more conducive to the resolution of internal disputes of Caricom member states. Caricom’s level of intervention in the internal political disputes of its member states is without precedent, and I am of the view that the organisation is not fully seized of the significance of its involvement. Perhaps as the regional Prime Minister appointed by Caricom as spokesperson on issues of Justice and Good Governance in the region, I am specially placed to know the full extent of Caricom’s interventionism. Indeed I am concerned that in settling disputes, the democratic will of domestic electorates could be subverted by the imposition of external definitions of good governance on sovereign and independent peoples.
These transitions in Caribbean democracy are also reflected at a wider hemispheric level. There we see a variety of configurations of different forms of association among states seeking to create – not simply market volume – but forms of association configured around distinct communities of interest. Thus we find CARICOM, the Association of Caribbean States, MERCUSOR, and more recently, the efforts to bring into existence a Free Trade Area of the Americas have been intensified.
Notwithstanding their market-driven impulses, these formations indicate the presence of powerful geopolitical and cultural factors and have created a framework for a common approach to resolving the democratic challenges of our region.
And so amidst the economic trauma of globalisation we see the steady hand of a new regionalism urging our hemisphere in the direction of democracy and the rule of law. Indeed, I was heartened to hear your President, Dr. Fernando De La Rua, inform the Third Summit of the Americas in Quebec, that MERCUSOR was more than just a Free Trade Area, but was part of a process in which conflict was being replaced by co-operation. In his view MERCUSOR was seeking to establish itself as a "Zone of Peace".
One of the lessons we have learned in the Caribbean is that our particular experience of democracy was sustained by our specific mode of insertion into the world economy. I do not want to be accused of reductionism, but politics is always a reflection of economics. Economic systems based on protection will lead to political systems which remain closed to popular participation.
Today, the process of liberalisation leaves us no choice but to include a wider cross-section of the population in decision-making. We have learned that our parliaments and congresses are not the sole repositories of wisdom and vision. Indeed, nearly forty years ago one of our leading thinkers looked forward to a day when "every cook would govern" and he described the democracy of the future as "free creative activity". We have seen this "free creative activity" in the struggle of the rainbow coalition against the WTO in the streets of Seattle in December of 1999, and we saw it last week in the streets of Quebec city. The challenge for us is to continue to modernise our societies to allow for these levels of participation.
THREATS TO DEMOCRACY
But whilst we inhale deeply the fresh air of democratisation ushered in by the new order, we must remember that the wind of globalisation also carries toxic poisons detrimental to our democracy.
At present Caribbean economies are under tremendous pressure and this threatens to jettison the political changes that are necessary for democratisation. As growing economic crises engulf us, an increasing proportion of state resources have to be spent on maintaining social order and on stemming the twin evils of individual apathy and social anarchy. Already, the problems of crime, social banditry, and social decay threaten to choke our fledgling democracies. Our historical knowledge also teaches us that periods of economic crisis have been fertile soil for the growth of Fascism and other undemocratic extremist tendencies. This is why I warned the Leaders at the Third Summit of the Americas that "human rights violations by states always follow the human wrongs of the global economic system".
The new global economy also threatens to erode the gains that we have made in our struggles for independence and national self-determination. Today we see new forms of imperialist expression as the political space won by our nationalist struggles is now eroded by trade liberalisation and globalisation. The idea of the independent nation-state resisting the external economic environment is one of the main casualties of this process. This is why our academics in Latin America and the Caribbean now warn against "recolonisation". Andre Gunder Frank, in his usual inimitable style, reminds us that "the IMF has overthrown more governments than Marx and Lenin put together".
DEMOCRACY AS RESISTANCE
Despite these overwhelming external challenges, it is important that we do not fall victim to defeatist tendencies. We must continue to insist that the domestic sphere remains the prime determinant of our common condition and common destiny. It is critical that we seek at all times to retain and strengthen the democratic fabrics of our societies.
If we accept that the aim of reform is to deliver higher levels of societal welfare, then it is vitally important that such reform is politically feasible. Recent history is full of free-market heroes – all of them in developing countries – who saved the economy and lost the election. So reform with civil unrest is not an option.
But the democratic index remains the most vital barometer against which we measure the success of our modernisation project. Democracy is also the only way to ensure that our domestic environments continue to remain the prime determinants of our actions. In short, we see our democracy as the main defence against recolonisation. Without it, we would have no choice but to bow to the dictates of global economic forces, which are neither accountable to our populations nor constrained by popular intervention and choice.
Reforming Democracy and Justice in our Americas therefore, can only be undertaken through a skilful marriage between economic structural adjustment and institutional change and legal reform which widens the scope for public participation and advances the process of redistributing political power.
This is the urgent political task of our Americas. I have every confidence that we can fulfil it. Our very existence today is proof that as a people we have the capacity to meet the challenges which history has placed before us. I am confident that the people of Argentina and the Caribbean can undertake the necessary economic and political adjustments which will usher in a new era of democracy and sovereignty, and which can create a new region of economic prosperity.
I thank you on behalf of my delegation for receiving us with such gracious hospitality, and I also thank you for giving us this opportunity to meet and know you, our Latin American cousins, and to share our experiences with you. The Americas belong to all of us: North, Central, Caribbean, and South, Island and Continent. Let us weave and strengthen its fabric in order that we may leave behind a more culturally diverse, more prosperous and more democratic hemisphere for our children.
I thank you.
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