“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing” – Genesis 12:2

In last week’s column I reflected on the Prime Minister’s Independence Message on the occasion of the 41st anniversary of Barbados’ Independence. He exhorted his fellow country men to care for one another, build on the infrastructure established by successive governments, before and after independence, and to bring to bear our position as a leader to influence the direction of regional and international initiatives.

Albert Ramdin, the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Assistant Secretary General, speaking at the 31st annual Miami Conference organized by Caribbean Central American Action last week, according to an OAS press release, advocated that strong economies are the best way to tackle social, economic, environmental or security-related threats in the Caribbean and Central America.

“Creating employment and promoting investment are critical to any strategy to strengthen vulnerable economies in transition,” declared Ambassador Ramdin. “It should be clear to all of us by now that the best way to deal with threats or challenges, whether they be social, economic, environmental or security-related, in the Caribbean and Central America, is to make the small economies of the region stronger, sustainable and better able to withstand external shocks.”

“A Region Poised for Growth” is the theme of this year’s Conference, where the OAS Assistant Secretary General is joining a host of leaders from the public and private sectors and civil society of the Caribbean and Central America. Focusing on agribusiness, energy, apparel manufacturing, financial services, telecommunications and information technology, tourism and transportation, the conference is also discussing such other topics as education, disaster responsiveness, energy security, corporate social responsibility and transportation security.

Ambassador Ramdin urged Caribbean and Central American leaders and principal policy makers to “expedite the development of a comprehensive forward looking agenda,” and to agree collectively within each region on a strategic approach for implementation. He cited the shared interests and common values of the United States and the countries of the Caribbean and Central America as an immediate and solid basis for pursuing this strategic objective. He said the United States could deliver on the promise of creating wealth in the smaller countries by dealing with the trade imbalance; restructuring the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI); and by facilitating economic diversification and supporting, where appropriate, the transition towards financial and other services.

Renewing the call for a “more holistic, comprehensive and results-oriented development paradigm that focuses on providing opportunity, equality, and equity to all in our societies,” Ambassador Ramdin said the OAS has been working closely with member states to advance concrete partnerships to integrate environmental considerations into development, poverty alleviation, and social and economic policies. As well, he stressed that governments, the private sector and civil society need a new socio-economic contract.

One of the major constraints to progress in the Caribbean is the failure of the public sector bureaucrats to shed the “protect my anatomy” syndrome and create an efficient, user friendly space in which the private sector may thrive. It seems as if some of these bureaucrats enjoy their little fiefdoms of power to such an extent that they refuse to shift into “problem solving” mode so that the private sector can create the wealth to which ambassador Ramdin alludes. The poor can only get richer if business prospers and the country’s wealth increases. The same bureaucrats can only enjoy a higher standard of living if the private sector thrives and pays taxes into the government coffers.

Tourism is our leading industry and we must leverage it to the fullest. I am writing this column from St Lucia just after the opening of the ninth full edition of Counterpart International’s Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism produced by Bevan Springer. There have also been five other shorter versions of the event since its inception in Ocho Rios, Jamaica inOctober 2001. These exchanges have been held in Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, New York, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago.

The full CMEx forum is an experience where Caribbean reporters, editors, young people and development specialists interact, over four exciting days of engaging dialogue and fun, with international representatives of the hospitality sector, civil society and government.

The theme of this St. Lucia event is “Caribbean Tourism: Another Level of Innovation” and a key element is to examine how tourism policies can be aimed at improving the lives of Caribbean people. The environment, Caribbean marketing, public relations, tourism linkages, economic development, and the concerns of the Caribbean’s youth were highlighted during the conference which includes a practical look at what Destination St. Lucia is doing to foster sustainable tourism development. CMEx continues to attract young people who are interested in pursuing careers in both media and tourism.

Counterpart International expresses its appreciation the many supporters, sponsors and participants who have contributed to the success of CMEx over the years. On this occasion a special thank you is due to the St. Lucia Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, the St. Lucia Tourist Board, Air Jamaica and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association for stepping to the plate to make CMEx XI come to fruition and create another “Simply Beautiful” experience.