Sir Ronald Sanders, Head of Delegation of Antigua and Barbuda, addressed the 50th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) October 20, 2020.
This 50th General Assembly should have been an occasion for great celebration. Instead, it is being held under a cloud of fear and uncertainty that hangs over the entire planet.
In the words of the UN Secretary-General, “a microscopic virus has brought the world to its knees, laying bare its fragilities”. The world will not get up, it will not stand up, unless all nations large and small, act together. As long as the novel coronavirus lives among any community of mankind; all mankind remains endangered. It looms large across the globe, jumping across the divides of national borders and defying the belief that rich nations can survive while poorer nations succumb. Even the most powerful countries have been unable to stop the spread of the virus. And narrow nationalist policies that undermine international cooperation will make matters worse not better.
Of course, the poor and vulnerable countries are already the first to suffer from the economic impact of COVID-19. There are no trends identifiable today, no programmes or policies that offer hope of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, let alone of bridging it.
The countries of the Caribbean from which no pandemic has ever originated and from which no international financial crisis has ever begun, are among the hardest hit. Already, in many of our countries, a decade of economic growth and social development has been set back in seven months, and they cannot now attain the sustainable development goals set by the UN.
Unemployment has jumped dramatically in some cases to 50 percent; businesses have closed – some never to open their doors again; savings have depleted; poverty has increased; malnutrition has returned and so has hunger and an increase in crime. And governments of small countries – unable to print money as governments in powerful countries do – cannot support the private sector and find it difficult to meet their own obligations.
The international financial institutions, constrained by rules set by those who make their policies, deny concessional financing to small and vulnerable states on the basis of flawed criteria. The Paris Club demands payment of age-old debts, knowing fully well that states, crippled by the effects of the pandemic, are unable to pay. Yet, none will listen to the pleas for debt rescheduling and debt forgiveness, without which these nations could become basket cases with all the consequences that social and political instability will unleash.
The pandemic has magnified inequalities, injustices, and unfairness.
Apart from the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation, for which we are immensely grateful, my small country had to curb and contain the coronavirus from its own depleted resources, managing to keep deaths down to three, confirmed cases to 119 and active cases, currently at 15. Not one cent came to Antigua and Barbuda from the International Financial Institutions to help my small country struggle against the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Mr President, this Organization of American States cannot afford to ignore the calamitous effects of the virus on the health of our peoples and on the economies of our countries. While we all look forward to relief from the stranglehold of COVID-19, many of us know that, when and if it passes, we will continue to live in fear of the existentialist threat posed to our countries by Climate Change.
The unyielding fist of Climate Change grips the throats of Caribbean states. Some member states of the OAS have decided that the purpose of the Organisation is solely political and therefore development and security issues are less relevant than democracy and human rights. We in the Caribbean strongly uphold democracy and human rights, including free and fair elections.
That is why we actively fought for democracy in Guyana for five months between April and August this year. It is why we vigorously applauded it in the transparent elections and the peaceful transition of government in Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and St Kitts and Nevis in the last few months.
It is also why we loudly acclaimed the voice of the people in Bolivia who, two days ago overwhelmingly restored democracy in their country through the power of the ballot. But we also know, Mr President, that the guarantees of democracy and human rights anywhere are human development and human security.
For democracy to survive, development must thrive. Therefore, if this Organisation is to remain relevant to the needs of its peoples, it needs to recognise that the world does not operate in separate compartments. Every activity is interlinked and integrated.
In this regard, the OAS should be a unified voice in advocating for strong and decisive action on climate financing, not as a concession, or an act of generosity, but as a moral, political, and environmental responsibility.
OAS member states should also be a unified voice for the renegotiating and rescheduling of foreign debt, and for the affordable procurement of vaccines for all when one is found to counter COVID-19. Integration and collective action in the OAS should not be an option, or a choice; it should be an imperative for all – rich and poor, large, and small.
COVID-19 has reminded us that no one is safe until everybody is safe.
Mr President, our hemisphere has always been an area of diversity, but we can find commonality, if not unity, through respectful dialogue and a genuine search for peaceful and beneficial solutions to our challenges.
My delegation urges that we reaffirm our commitment to such dialogue, and in the process, re-examine the governance of our Organisation, to place member states where they should be – at the helm of all that the Organization does and stands for, including on matters such as the Right to Protect.
These are serious matters with serious implications for people the world over. They ought not be left to any one person or to any group.
The unity of human needs requires a functional multilateral system that rejects the bullying doctrine of exclusion and imposition and respects the democratic principles of participation and consent.
Now, more than ever, hemispheric solidarity is urgently required, putting first not the advantage of any one of our nations, but the welfare of all of them.