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Address by Prime Minister of Barbados Hon. Mia Mottley to the general debate of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly

Address by Prime Minister of Barbados Hon. Mia Mottley to the general debate of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly

New York, 24 - 30 September 2019

Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, addresses the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, 27 September 2019 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

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I would wish at the outset to congratulate the election of the president of this General Assembly to Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande and pledged Barbados’ support during the course of your tenure. I also wish to thank His Excellency, his predecessor, for her very able and astute leadership over the course of the last year. Like other delegations, Barbados supports the very timely theme of this year’s General Assembly, galvanising multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion. We could not have chosen a more relevant and appropriate theme. Indeed, Barbados has premised its own development on education and inclusion, such that we may eradicate poverty from our landscape and we’ve made good progress.

But our gains, my friends are in jeopardy from one main challenge that you know all too well. That challenge of climate change and denying the existence of climate change, my friends, does not diminish its reality. I want to take this opportunity to join with my fellow leaders from this platform to express my country’s deepest sympathy and empathy with our brothers and sisters in the government and the people of Bahamas with respect to the awful devastation visited upon them by Hurricane Dorian on the islands of Aboco and Grand Bahama. That catastrophe represents an unfortunate new normal for many in small island developing states. From my own firsthand knowledge, it was horrific. This world in which we live can no longer ignore the reality of climate change. Climate change is not about hurricanes and floods. It is about droughts.

It is about wildfires. It is about Sargassum and our ability to provide drinking water and feed our people to provide shelter. We face that in our own nation today, from drought to Sargassum.

And while hurricanes may be viewed as the heart attacks, Sargassum and drought are truly like diabetes, insidious and wearing us down. It is the world of our children that is absolutely at risk.

And the young people of the world last Friday across a hundred and fifty countries. They chose to champion the cause of climate justice. Greta Thunberg from this platform spoke and she must be comforted and told that when mankind cannot answer you, they will attack you. They play the man and not the ball.

But I want to say from this platform that for me, it is significant that when young people engage in battle, the war is usually won. We saw it in South Africa. We will see it now in the battle against climate. And I am therefore confident that the battle will be won. The question is, and each of us in here knows it. Will it be in time for our people who live in small island developing states?

Will our small states survive this climate catastrophe before mankind finds, ultimately, as I know it will, the solution to halt and reverse climate change?

And it is we in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, in the oceans of the world, as small islands, we are the ones on the front line. But as I say to you all the time, make no mistake about it. Others are also in the line behind us.

And as we would say in my own country, today for me and tomorrow for you. And really, what is it that is preventing us from following the science? Science, by the way, that is exceedingly compelling. I ask us, even as leaders, to be real, real with ourselves and real with our people, real with the young. It’s about political will.

That’s it. You know, nothing more, nothing less. We have been discussing the challenge of climate change for over three decades from the time when small island developing states first raised the global alarm in 1988, Commonwealth gave us a vulnerability index in 1989; the Barbados programme of action, twenty-five years ago. Then Mauritius. Then Samoa.

How many more? How much more talk.

And we are still here today. Some of us sing in the same chorus as if there are many who are deaf and many who are blind among us.

And I find it ironic. That after our Climate Action Summit on Monday, the IPCC released another special report on oceans and hemisphere, which summarized that some of the more severe consequences of climate change can no longer be avoided. How many times have we been told this? How many times has science reinforced that there is a very threat to our survival? There are those who will go into the high altitudes and remain as if they can be insulated. But for how long?

The destructive behaviour continues. I ask you today in this hall. Where is the moral leadership of our world?

Where is the constructive action by the countries who are responsible for carbon emissions, who believe that it is okay to continue to build coal power plants and not decommission them, who do not understand that the world provides for us the prospect of new industry and new jobs while allowing us to save the world for our young people.

I ask them, do you not see what is happening and why are you not acting? Do you not care? We are told, and I believe the science, that we are the last generation that can deal with this existential threat. Week by week last weekend it was Tropical Storm Karen.

In the Atlantic, we were lucky that Jerry and Humberto did not go the way of Dorian. How many more must stand on this platform? How many more must speak in the corridors of power?

In the name of the people who have sent us here, in the name of the people who expect us to create the new industries to transition them from coal; from the destructive behaviour, from the diesel cars, from the gasoline cars, changing how we build change in how we transport ourselves, we can make that difference.

It is within our power, it is within the political will of the leaders. And a time to act my friends, is now. Never within the history of mankind has one generation had such responsibility to protect this planet? Mr. President, unfortunately, the Caribbean today also finds itself at the front line of too many other major challenges. That’s why I ask all the time who sees us and who hears us? We continue to be confronted by problems of blacklisting, which pale into insignificance when compared to climate change, but which destroys our financial sector.

The illicit flow of weapons such that the ease with which people can go into public spaces and shoot and kill others is now regarded as just another item on the news because we promote profit in the manufacture and trade of guns and weapons. Of non-communicable diseases that strike down our people in the most insidious of ways, because we allow diets that promote the prosperity of a few multinational corporations to become the norm of the day with the food that we eat and the lives that we live.

And in the case within our own community, Belize and Guyana continue to face challenges to the territorial integrity. I suppose people feel that because we have talked so long about Belize and Guyana and Cuba that we can continue to talk about climate change and these other things and that it is okay for it to be another tick on a U.N. General Assembly speech.

These are all threats to our stability, to the people’s stability in our lands.

But, you know.

Since last we met, there are other instances and circumstances not of our making that may yet destabilize us.

And we say it over and over, but we ask who is listening? And, you know, we don’t come with tales of woe only. The Caribbean has produced excellence. It really has. Nobel laureates, sportsmen who have excelled and are the best in the world of their type. Artists the best in the world of their type. Leaders who have inspired previous generations and current generations. We don’t come here as a proud people asking for handouts. We don’t want and will not be mendicant. What we want, no, what we need is fiscal and policy space. Fiscal and policy space to achieve sustainable development, to be nimble, to adapt and to innovate in ways that allow us to be true and faithful to the task of bringing prosperity to our people. Or as in the theme of this General Assembly to eradicate poverty, to educate our people, to include all such that there is not some outside and some inside.

We want an international order equally that recognizes that there must be different policy prescriptions to suit the circumstances that we all have. And we can still be friends. Small and large. North and south. Christian, Hindu, Muslim.

All different races, all genders, an equitable and just international order that is truly built on the principles of justice and fairness for all and not just for some. A United Nations that recognizes that as 74 years old we must be able to have difficult conversations as mature people and solve them.

Many in the developing world were persuaded or required to abandon policies that were designed for the majority of our population to be transformed. And those policies were fashioned to adopt a consensus that was settled in Washington, D.C., and named thereafter. And that ultimately, regrettably, was about the consolidation of wealth in the hands of a very few. That’s why we have seen the growing inequality that we have seen in the world over the last few decades.

That is, why too many people over the world have become cynical about governments and about the benefits that they can bring to them. The fueling of the greed of a few threatens to undermine what little gains we have made since independence. And we judge ourselves harshly because independence is a recent phenomenon for us. Others who have taken 150 years to get where they have gotten are still stumbling and falling.

And you want to judge those who have had less than 50 or 60 years to operate in a world that has not been made in their image and that does not reflect their interests.

This is the fate my friends of simply too many.

Mr. President, despite our small size, 14 countries of the Caribbean community have been able to play leadership roles of international import. I can’t stand here today without talking about St Vincent and the Grenadines that has become the smallest nation of the world ever to be elected to the Security Council to sit on it. We are proud of them.

In addition, and I want to speak to this because when CARICOM was confronted with the unfolding situation in Venezuela, I accompanied the then chairman of CARICOM, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago to meet in this building with the UN Secretary-General in January of this year. And we met with many delegations and some said we were wasting our time. And some said the time for talk was already over. And we said then, as we say, almost nine months later, the time for dialogue, the time for talk, my friends can never be over in a world that wants peace and prosperity.

We don’t take sides. But what we know is that you cannot propel war over dialogue. The people of Venezuela must be allowed to decide their own future in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, principles of nonintervention, noninterference, prohibition of the threat or use of force, respect for the rule of law, human rights and democracy. It is regrettable that other multilateral organizations have not followed their own charters.

And that is what makes the actions of our Secretary-General of the U.N. more laudable for refusing to breach his own Charter and take actions, even though member states have hurled into the recognition of those unelected. That is why Barbados readily agreed to the request by Norway. And I salute my colleague, Prime Minister, who just left this platform to host the talks between the Venezuelan parties. We salute the Government of Norway for walking the walk and taking leadership in facilitating these talks.

Equally, we regret that the talks have broken down and we remind people that dialogue remains critical if there is to be a meaningful outcome and benefit for the Venezuelan people and its neighbours, not just its neighbours on the Latin American continent, but its neighbors in the Caribbean Sea, because people forget that Trinidad and Tobago is less than seven miles from the coast of Venezuela.

Our Caribbean Sea must remain a zone of peace. And for that, we shall fight. Mr. President, I speak plainly and without fear because from Independence, Barbados’ foreign policy has been premised on the simple principle of friends of all satellites of none. Barbados therefore has always remained and will remain proud to have Cuba as a treasured friend. Barbados established relationships with the People’s Republic of China when others failed to.

We may be small, but we are principled. Our relationship is best with Cuba on a historical foundation rooted in solidarity, cooperation and complementarity of a common Caribbean civilization.

And we say that the longstanding economic embargo on Cuba continues to be a cause of serious concern. I reaffirm Barbados’ strong opposition to this unilateral action and moreso, the recent activation of Article 3 of the Helms Burton law imposes new restrictions and further exacerbates the situation. And I ask you here. To what end? To what end? The continued attempt to stop the people of Cuba from living with basic human dignity is unacceptable.

Mr. President, it is time that the global community recognizes that small island developing states are truly equal partners in the international arena and that our special development needs must be taken into account in the multilateral forum. Growth in the economies of the developed states, we contend, must not come at the existence of the very viability of small development statements.

Small children have a phrase for it. They call that cowardice. They call that bullying. They call that crowding out. We ask for fairness, equity, an opportunity to take our legitimate place in a global community. That is all. That was the promise of our membership of this organization.

And I know that today I have a duty to acknowledge and commend the heroic efforts of our Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is swimming against the rising tide of anti-multilateralism and anti-globalism, navigating the dangerous currents of dwindling resources and resisting my friends, the efforts to set adrift all of the excellent work done over the last seven and a half decades by leaders across the world and his predecessors to ensure development, peace and the dignity of human family as a small nation. We are not only committed to multilateralism. We also understand that it is the one thing, the one thing that protects our sovereignty and our ability to navigate in this world. It is our buffer against the display of might and it is our shield against tyranny.

We continue to view the United Nations as an important mechanism for achieving international peace and security and sustainable development for all countries, but in particular, in particular for the most vulnerable.

Historic examples have proven that national interests are best advanced by pursuing collaboration, partnership and a multilateral approach. No country trades or grows its economy on its own. Therefore, multilateral trading system, an international economic order which respond to the needs of all nations, even the smallest, is of critical importance and all of us in here know it. It is for that reason that Barbados intends and hopes to host the 15th session of UNCTAD in October next year, 2020. We will be the first small island nation ever to host the UNCTAD conference, and Barbados welcomes the unique opportunity to work with others, our partners, to shape the trade and development agenda of the organization for the next four years, conscious that if ever small island developing states needed to be at the center of those discussions, it is now; to discuss trade and climate, trade and the blue economy, sustainable development for our people. And we look forward to forming those critical partnerships with all U.N. member states to make UNCTAD 15 an inclusive and a successful event.

Mr. President, the United Nations exists to identify the commonalities to help us get past the working differences. As I said earlier, there is no progress without communication and there is no progress without talking to each other. If the consequences of not talking to each other my friends are a little less sleep, then it is okay and we can accept that. But when the consequences and the loss of life and the loss of livelihood, then we are in trouble.

And that is why then there are those who will believe that we are invisible because those who should know better, those who should know better and who can do more are turning a blind eye and with impunity. If the truth be told, how many times have we been ignored on too many matters?

And I ask myself, really, how many times are we going to come and make the same speech from this platform? SIDS are the canaries of the international community. You will ignore us at your peril. We are the canaries. We are only noticed, regrettably, when it is time to garner votes or to support seats on the Security Council or when a person wants a candidate to head up an international organization.

For real. It’s only then that real value is placed on us and you ask yourself, how can people be so transparent and so lacking in dignity and conscience? May I remind you, as I had cause to do earlier this week, that the alliance of small island states represents 20 percent of the membership of this August body – forty-three states and our votes and our voices do count. They do. But our lives and our dignity count more. We are committed to action, to taking the necessary action to overcome the deleterious effects of that which threatens to destroy us. Climate change.

As Dylan Thomas wrote and I quote, “We will rage, rage against the light and not go silent into that good,” or should I rather say that dark night. The world, my friends, is at a crossroads and we continue to be reminded of it as recently as this morning with the speeches that we have heard. This United Nations will only survive if it remains relevant to the needs of our people and to solving the great problems, not all, but the great problems of our time and the challenges of humanity.

Saving where we live, living with others with respect and dignity, and in peace and supporting equality; not supporting the dominance of any one race or any one religion or any one sect.

The only way this mission of this entity can be guaranteed is if country by country and multilaterally I may add, we stand on principle; on the principles that have protected us from another great war for the last 74 years. Thank God for those principles and our avoidance of that great war and the principles that have inspired us continually to achieve and maintain human dignity and prosperity as we set about reaching the SDGs. The baton my friends is now with us. It is our turn.

Will we hold it firmly and continue the race to help the marginalize those unseen and those without voice, really the forgotten of this world? Or will we drop the baton?

When we know better from the experiences of the last century where so many died needlessly. My country and my region are clear as to where we stand. There is no war worth it.

There is no profit sufficiently large to be worth the price of war or the destruction of our planet. The people of Barbados and I, as their leader, choose to honour the legacy of our great civilization. Our freedom fighters who fought for better. Barbados chooses to fight for the path of peace, prosperity, planetary protection and hope, Barbados chooses love of self, love of neighbour, love a planet, love as a virtue. Barbados chooses a spirit of love, courage and hope, brotherhood for all humanity.

We pray that each of you will make the same decision. I am obliged to you. Thank you.


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The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is an International Organisation dedicated to economic harmonisation and integration, protection of human and legal rights, and the encouragement of good governance among independent and non-independent countries in the Eastern Caribbean. The OECS came into being on June 18th 1981, when seven Eastern Caribbean countries signed a treaty agreeing to cooperate with each other while promoting unity and solidarity among its Members. The Treaty became known as the Treaty of Basseterre, so named in honour of the capital city of St. Kitts and Nevis where it was signed. The OECS today, currently has eleven members, spread across the Eastern Caribbean comprising Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and The Grenadines, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Martinique and Guadeloupe. 

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