Autumn of Discontent

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final wordIn his welcome and inspiring maiden statement to the General Assembly, President Barack Obama correctly identified the challenges to our multilateral unity as “rooted in a discontent with the status quo.” We wholeheartedly endorse this assessment. It is a discontent with the status quo of a 63-year-old Security Council, which continues to administer our collective security unchanged and impervious to the logic of a new world. It is a discontent with the role, effectiveness and mandate of the 65-year-old Bretton Woods institutions, which were created in a bygone era to address bygone circumstances. It is a discontent with a 49-year-old blockade on the noble people of our neighbor Cuba, the continued illegal application of which is illogical when viewed through the prism of geopolitics, economics or humanitarianism, and can only be successfully explained by reference to narrow local political considerations.

It is a discontent, even, with the stagnation to change the status quo in other critical respects. The eight years of unresolved negotiations of the Doha Development Round, the 12 years of toothless commitments of the Kyoto Protocol and the seven years of unfulfilled Monterrey Consensus promises to achieve a 0.7 percent of gross domestic product for Official Development Assistance — 40 years after this modest percentage was first mooted. Through it all, the geopolitical status quo remains. The structural bases of international interaction are distressingly similar to their decades-old antecedents. These structures were forged in the fires of World War II, hardened in the frost of the Cold War, and entrenched by the legacies of colonialism. The structures spawned by these historical episodes are no longer valid.

Our discontent is born not only of stagnation, but also of exclusion. Although we have a seat in this hallowed building, it is often the seat of a spectator in a historical drama. The directors and actors script history, not in the General Assembly, but in other rooms and locales, without our input or knowledge. We are in the midst of a global financial and economic crisis of unparalleled depth and scope. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines played no part in the reckless speculation and corruption that precipitated this crisis, yet the people of our country are hard hit by its effects. However, we are actively excluded from the solutions to this problem. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is not a member of the G20, nor were we consulted on its ascension to the ranks of arbiters of our economic fate.

The G20 faces a serious legitimacy problem: aside from being noninclusive and unofficial, many of the countries at that table represent the champions of the financial and economic orthodoxies that led the world down the rabbit hole to its current economic malaise. While the G20 may claim that their actions have “worked” and claim a “sense of normalcy,” the people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and our Caribbean region are under no such illusions. The invisible hand of the market is still clasped firmly around the throats of poor people and the developing countries of the world. We see none of the so-called “green shoots” that populate the fantasies of discredited economies.

Now we face being stigmatized out of our transition to financial services as the G20, the OECD and other non-inclusive bodies seek to scapegoat and root out so-called “tax havens” in a pathetic effort to cast a wide and indiscriminate net of blame across a swath of legitimate and well-regulated countries’ development efforts. We note the irony of these paternalistic prescriptions from the same countries that are unable to stem corruption and mismanagement within their own borders, where corporations recklessly squander trillions of dollars and a single buccaneer investor can make $50 billion disappear into thin air — an amount greater than the combined annual budget expenditures of the entire Caricom subregion.

Just as our myriad bilateral friendships and partnerships span geographic, economic and ideological divides, so, too, must our multilateral cooperation be inclusive and participatory. Modern multilateralism cannot proceed on the bases of the included and the excluded, of the political haves and have-nots. Nor can token assimilations of individual developing countries serve to mask the necessity for deep and structural changes to existing arrangements.
We stand now in the autumn of our discontent. But, as Gandhi said, “Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.” The challenge of the discontented is to rise above the ancient animosities and artificial balkanization to achieve clarity of vision, unity of purpose and political will to finally and successfully storm the castles of stagnation and status quo and to drive our peoples, our politics and our planet into a new era of genuine inclusiveness, equity and meaningful people-centered progress.   
 
 H.E. Camillo M. Gonsalves is the permanent representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations. The above is an edited excerpt of his statement at the general debate of the 64th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 29, 2009.