The portents of cultural and economic globalisation

Guyana Chronicle
May 7, 2000

IN HIS excellent discourse to the Third Caribbean Media Conference on Friday, Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur brought to his listeners' attention some insidious but startling trends that are affecting the cultural and economic traditions of the Caribbean.

Presenting a paper titled "The Future of the Caribbean Community and Common Market", Mr Arthur paints a picture of a region almost adrift on the seas of uncertainty with some territories being so despondent that they are "proposing variants of recolonisation, such as applying to join the European Union, as viable options in the Caribbean at the start of the 21st century".

He posits that at the beginning of a new century, the Caribbean Community of states faces a situation of being small states, standing virtually alone, with only a few firm or reliable alliances in an increasingly unsympathetic and hostile international environment. At this point of his presentation, Mr Arthur gives a telling illustration of the `voicelessness' of small countries.

"I recently attended a meeting of the Development Committee of the World Bank/IMF, which, as Prime Minister of Barbados, I addressed as a member of the Canadian delegation, by special leave and permission of the Minister of Finance of Canada, to argue a case for the adoption of a World Bank/Commonwealth Secretariat Task Force's Report on a Development Agenda on Small States.

"It is a sobering thought that without the indulgence of the Government of Canada, I would not have been able to speak on behalf of my country before principal decision-makers in the international community about the special conditions of vulnerability and volatility of small states, nor to call for the adoption of a Development Agenda that enables such states to face, with confidence, the prospects of successfully integrating into a challenging new global economy," the Barbados leader states.

The late illustrious son of the Caribbean, Mr William Demas, who was the first Secretary-General of CARICOM and also the first President of the Caribbean Development Bank, comes to mind for he was one of the strongest advocates of Caribbean integration. As far back as three decades ago, Demas's was the voice in the wilderness preaching the gospel of integration just so that tiny nation states could be given a voice in the councils of the world. He would have understood only too well Mr Arthur's discomfiture at that World Bank/IMF meeting.

In his presentation on Friday, Mr Arthur did not stop at the economic woes of the Caribbean. He spoke about the spectre of cultural absorption being faced by the region, and the monolithic process of globalisation which promotes homogeneity rather than diversity, "which, unchecked, would create a world in which Mickey Mouse, McDonalds and Michael Jordan are the only cultural icons with which we can or will identify".

"For a region whose major contribution to the development of the human condition in the 20th century has been the products of its creative imagination, expressed in terms of the work and worth of its poets, novelists, its music and calypsonians, its cricketers, and the Free Spirit of Caribbean people expressed wherever they have happened to be located in the Diaspora, the monolithic levelling social and cultural impulses of globalisation are a threat which can diminish the Caribbean and take it backward," Arthur warned.

These thoughts should be taken to heart by national and community leaders and the sentinels of culture in the Caribbean.