EDITORIAL: Embrace our Spanish neighbours
THE HOPE IS that the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Barbados and Panama last Saturday should open new opportunities for this country.
But before this can happen there are some hurdles which must be urgently surmounted: the need for direct scheduled air links between the two countries and the necessity for Barbadians to learn Spanish.
The memorandum should allow for partnerships based on developing economic ties and building of human and cultural exchanges. It can rekindle the relations which existed between the two societies which have a legacy of historic ties.
Thousands of Barbadians worked on the building of the Panama Canal, which provided significant economic opportunities for Barbadians. Many second and third generation Barbadians are still in Panama.
Of an air services agreement, the main thing is implementation. The Panamanians appear to be serious about having COPA Airlines flying to Bridgetown and using it as a hub to other destinations. Every effort must be made to make this a reality within a year.
We should be excited that the Panamanians want to send their teachers and students here to learn English. It is a show of support for this country and in particular its educational system. It will offer economic opportunities and the chance to learn more about the people of that Central American nation and their lifestyle.
It is also the occasion for Barbados to act on the long discussed plan of having Spanish as its second language. It is important that we deliver. We should use Panama to make it a reality if young Barbadians are to be ready to explore and exploit new vistas.
The face of Latin America is changing; from Cuba to Colombia new realities are emerging. We have long shied away from our Spanish neighbours, primarily because of language differences.
We are fortunate that English is our mother tongue and is also the language of international commerce, of science and technology, and even the arts. Once it did not matter that we spoke only one language. But the environment has changed and a different attitude and approach are necessary both at the national and individual levels.
Expanding regional economic blocs and the need to move beyond traditional partners for trade, business and employment opportunities mean embracing the emerging countries of the south. Panama’s robust economic growth even during the world recession is nothing but spectacular: 10.5 per cent in 2012, 7.9 per cent in 2013 and 7.3 per cent in 2014.
This type of growth has been replicated in other Latin nations and presents expanded opportunities for Barbadians and Barbadian-owned businesses, some of which are already operating in that region and have contributed to an expanded democratic footprint.
This new frontier beckons and a whole new world awaits us. Let us go after and exploit the opportunities.