St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says the raging pandemic of COVID-19 has put the world in a “veritable tailspin, even as the roll-out of the vaccines has eased the strain somewhat, particularly in the developed world.”
“A major shift has occurred in the global condition; a parallelogram of unruly and complex forces has been unleashed; a new paradigm has emerged; out-moded approaches are becoming, or have become, irrelevant; fresh initiatives and directions are required, and transformational leadership is needed, now more than ever,” urged the Vincentian leader in addressing the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Debate on Saturday.
He said St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a small-island developing state with all its historical legacies of under-development and contemporary burdens and limitations, has had to cope, additionally, with the devastating volcanic eruptions of April 2021, the on-rushing Atlantic Hurricane season, vaccine hesitance amongst the population and “real uncertainty about the future.
“Amidst all this, our people are nevertheless possessed of a settled resilience and optimism of life and living, undergirded by God’s redemptive grace, our own possibilities and strengths, a sterling regional solidarity, and promising internationalist support, inclusive of that of our United Nations, for peace and security, good health and prosperity for our people, as pledged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” the prime minister said.
“Immediately, all of us in this global family of nations must work together to defeat COVID-19, return to an acceptable level of normalcy and the opening up of our economies,” he added. “This represents a many-sided and enormous challenge of historic proportions in both diagnosis and prescription. A huge bundle of pre-existing, divisive and debilitating conditions ought to be efficaciously addressed; historic wrongs ought to be righted; and extant and emergent limitations and weaknesses, real or contrived, require appropriate correctives.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put the global community at the critical, proverbial crossroads. What is to be done? In tackling the pandemic itself, the old ways have tended to predominate, even as the sunlit rays of a possible new path have emerged,” Dr Gonsalves continued. “Thus, for example, globally, we have witnessed unacceptable vaccine nationalism; the politicization of the roll-out of the vaccines; and the roll-out of vaccines for the rich first and the poor afterwards. To be sure, we have also witnessed notable, and noble, work by some global institutions such as the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the COVAX Facility, to make vaccines more accessible to poor or marginalized countries.
“It is true, too, though relatively late in the day, that some rich countries in the North Atlantic (USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom) have delivered or agreed to deliver, freely, from their surpluses, vaccines to some less developed countries; we are very grateful,” he said. “Still, though, some of these countries may be so slow in their promised deliveries that they may end up, embarrassingly, with expired doses of the vaccines running into several million.”
The Vincentian prime minister said it is time to be reminded that the noblest form of solidarity is to give “not from the abundance or surplus that we may have but from the little that we possess,” stating that is the lesson of the proverbial widow’s mite.
In this regard, on behalf of the Caribbean, Dr Gonsalves thank the Government of India for “their early and meaningful gift of Covishield Astrazeneca vaccines.
“Sadly, at least one country in the North Atlantic has refused to recognize Covishield for entry of persons into that country,” he said.
The Vincentian leader said not only have the ways of the old order, pre-COVID, tended, still, to guide powerful countries in their actions, so, too, the behemoths in global communications.
“These entities, enveloped in mega-profits and profiteering, own and control the various internet platforms, with little or no public regulation, and have ignored or abandoned any real sense of responsibility for the anti-vax misinformation and disinformation which occupy cyberspace,” he said. “As a consequence, real people die in their multitudes across the world. Surely, this irresponsibility must stop.”
Surely, too, Gonsalves said many ancient and long-standing political quarrels ought to come to an end “in these new, perilous times which humanity faces.”
He said at the top of the list must, undoubtedly, include: “The refusal of Israel and its international backers to come to terms with the requirements of an independent Palestine, and a secure Israel, in accord with repeated resolutions of this august body; and, similarly, the refusal of the United States of America to dismantle the internationally unlawful, and crippling, economic blockade of Cuba, and to bring to an end the unjust, harsh, unilateral economic and financial sanctions against Venezuela and, to a lesser extent, Nicaragua.
“So, too, it is high time for this United Nations and its agencies to cease their exclusion of Taiwan from meaningful participation,” Gonsalves said. “Surely, the world will benefit from Taiwan’s inclusion in global bodies such as the World Health Assembly, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the International Civil Aviation Organization and INTERPOL.”
He said concerted, multilateral cooperation on global matters, such as health, climate change, civil aviation, crime, among others, “requires all hands-on deck, metaphorically speaking.
“Taiwan is a relatively small, but legitimate, political expression of the magnificent Chinese civilization,” Gonsalves said. “It has been an impressive economic miracle; it is a thriving democracy, and it has a right to ask for meaningful inclusion in the relevant global institutions. New times demand fresh solutions, not old-fashioned hegemonic responses.”
The prime minister warned that a looming ecological disaster awaits humanity, “unless we change course for the better.
“No serious person who objectively examines the scientific data can but conclude that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and especially to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and countries, such as in West Africa and the Sahel region, which are being swept into seemingly unending natural disasters as a consequence of desertification and extreme land degradation,” he said.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said science, the real world and the Paris Accord have pointed to alternative pathways for humanity, but lamented that “the political will and requisite resources from the major emitters to address the grave challenge of climate change have not gone much beyond pious mouthings and marginal tinkering.”
He said St. Vincent and the Grenadines is hoping for the best at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow in November 2021, but cautioned that “we fear the worst — more procrastination and the ducking of serious responsibility by the major emitters.
“On this, humanity is at the midnight hour,” Gonsalves said. “Can we meet the challenge? We may not live to find out the answer if the usual continues.”
He said there is a range of other pressing concerns relevant to the Caribbean that demand “urgent, global, multi-lateral action.”
Dr. Gonsalves said these include: “Meaningful debt restructuring and a favorable reform of the global financial architecture; the replacing of certain wrong-headed criteria, such as gross domestic product (GDP) per head of population, by a Vulnerability Index to determine access to development financing; the cessation of the use of unilateral sanctions and the weaponizing of the financial and banking systems against small states, including the capricious termination of corresponding banking relationships; the reversal of the diminution or slow-down of Official Development Assistance by rich countries; that Small Island Exceptionalism be accepted as a category to be objectively embraced in efficacious actions on the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) and a rules-based international order; the necessity and desirability for reparatory justice from European nations in respect of native genocide and the enslavement of Africans from which the European nations profited systematically and from which, consequentially, our Caribbean countries have suffered a legacy of under-development; and the urgent need for an appropriate multilateral initiative to assist Haiti, a CARICOM member, in its current peril.”
Gonsalves said the reform agenda of the United Nations, including that of Security Council reform, “demand renewed impetus”.
“We have been talking about this subject for far too long, and avoiding concrete steps forward,” he said. “St. Vincent and the Grenadines recognizes the difficulties at hand, but it is evident to all reasonable persons that the stranglehold of ‘the Permanent Five’ on the Security Council ought to be appropriately loosened or broken in these times, which are so different than in 1945.
Dr Gonsalves said St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been “honoured” over the past near-two years to sit as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, stating that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the smallest country ever to sit on this esteemed Council.
“All objective observers concur that we have carried out our work and responsibilities commendably, and have contributed to the maintenance and advancement of peace, security and prosperity, globally,” he said. “Importantly, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been a central party to the establishment of an institutional nexus known as the A3 plus One (the three nonpermanent members from Africa, plus St. Vincent and the Grenadines), as a distinctive voice for Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Long may this nexus continue, especially in this the UN Decade for Peoples of African Descent.”
The Vincentian prime minister said “the pervasive inequalities that defined the pre-COVID political and socioeconomic order must not become tomorrow’s nightmarish reality.
“Instead, in this COVID era, we must re-organize ourselves, locally, regionally, nationally and globally, in a quest to provide peace, security and development to all countries and peoples in novel ways and with fresh initiatives,” he urged. “And let us also, with a renewed sense of urgency and compassion, strive to protect, and improve upon, this planet that we all call home. It is pellucid that of all time, only the future is ours to desecrate. Our United Nations ought never to be accomplices in any such desecration.”