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The idea of Barbados

Peter W. Wickham

The idea of Barbados

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Recently a paper which shares the title of this article has been making its way around the Caribbean Community with the kind compliments of its author who is also the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The rationale behind the paper can perhaps be the subject of a direct enquiry at a later time. However, one is certain that the comrade did not set out to cobble together a set of gratuitous compliments about his former home because he felt we were a little depressed of late.
Instead, one is inclined to believe that his comments come against the background of recent developments that are a cause for concern.
Moreover, one assumes that his concern is not entirely selfless, since he must be painfully aware of the extent to which the destiny of the entire OECS region will be impacted by the success or failure of the Barbados “project”.
While not saying this, there is an implicit assumption that Barbados represents a model which has been relatively successful and more specifically successful in areas that appear to be developmentally logical for other OECS countries like St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Barbados shares many characteristics with her closest neighbours and as Gonsalves noted, has been able to achieve several developmental objectives that they themselves might want to emulate.
Among these mentioned were the successful shift from agriculture to tourism and services and the ability to expose all qualified citizens to a state-funded tertiary education (which are not unrelated).
It is no secret that one of Ralph Gonsalves’ initiatives has been to expose more Vincentians to tertiary education opportunities at the UWI, which reflects an appreciation of the developmental benefit of such an initiative, even as he now grapples with the logic of persisting with an agro-economy that ignores its most valuable commodity.
If then Barbados (pessimistically) appears to be “dismantling” it’s developmental trajectory “limb by limb” or (optimistically) shifting gear towards a more favourable path, it would be prudent that thinkers seek to understand the inherent logic of these changes, which is the most potent question that the paper asks.
Certainly the question is framed in terms of the extent to which “we” would be more inclined to embrace these changes if we understood the broader philosophical and developmental framework into which these components fit; however the concept of “we” falls well within Gonsalves stated understanding of the Caribbean Civilization. It is therefore a logical question for him to ask on “our” behalf as well on his own behalf.
The more pertinent issue here is the extent to which Gonsalves’ questions are rhetorical or whether he genuinely anticipates a cogent response. One accepts that he is genuine; however those among us who are more intimately familiar with the machinations of this Government understand that it would be exceedingly idealistic to think that any of these changes are components of a developmental plan, or indeed that there is anyone within this administration with the capacity to articulate such.
To be sure, Gonzalves attempted to forestall such a negative conclusion by asserting his confidence in the intellect of our Prime Minister and his equally intelligent team and we can agree that such issues are beyond doubt. Instead, the reality of a scenario in which our leadership has chosen not to have a single conversation with “his” people since being re-elected about these critical issues speaks volumes about the extent to which this administration either does not understand the importance of such a contextualisation, or worse yet simply couldn’t be bothered to explain.
One major effect of the paper therefore would be the inadvertent proclamation that the Idea of Barbados is either at risk of, or is already a historic remnant as distinct from a living reality and this is especially sad since one of the Barbados model’s lead architects is said to share a philosophical space with the administration that seems determined to dismantle it.
To be sure, this is a perception that troubles many of us who were close to the DLP over the years and while I accept that this was not the source of Gonsalves’ motivation to write the paper, it has certainly helped to crystalise in my mind the extent to which this situation is having a seismic impact on our development and reputation.
It is perhaps most tragic that the initiatives needed to convert this watershed from one tending towards a backward momentum, is some form of intellectual engagement that has been lost in a flurry of vilification and personal abuse. We are therefore fortunate that this region still retains leaders with Gonsalves’ capacity and courage to help us understand the significance of this juncture in our development.
 Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).