St. Vincent prime minister speaks on global issues at UCCI

Following his lecture on global insecurity, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves engages in discussion with guests. – PHOTO: Alma Chollette

More than 100 guests were present at the global insecurity-inspired lecture given by St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on June 16. Hosted at the Sir Vassel Johnson Hall, the minister served as the fourth notable guest speaker of the University College of the Cayman Islands’ Distinguished Lecture series.

Welcomed by the college’s acting president and dean of graduate studies and professional development, JD Mosley-Matchett, Mr. Gonsalves, spoke on several themes, from capitalism, terrorism, climate change, and the effects of automation and advances in technology and their contribution to society.

On the topic of terrorism Mr. Gonsalves said it was a subject in which people must have realism. “Realism in this matter,” he said, “is the assembly of the facts.”

Mr. Gonsalves said the Global Institute of Economics and Peace, a recognized index, reported and highlighted a historic tenure and duration in peace in 2016.

“It assessed 81 countries analyzed were more peaceful than the year before,” he said, “but declines in peacefulness were found in 79 countries, which outweighed the high levels of peacefulness in most of the world.”

He said that South Sudan and Syria are the least peaceful with Iceland, Denmark and Austria the top peaceful nations out of 163 countries.

“In the case of the Caribbean there is peace and political stability,” he said. “And people are talking now about the number of individuals, particularly from Trinidad and Muslim countries, who are being recruited by ISIS; some 110-120, that’s the estimate.”

He noted that many people have forgotten that the most serious terrorist incident in the modern Caribbean occurred in October 1976 just off the coast of Barbados when anti-Castro Cuban exiles, in conjunction with anti-Castro Venezuelans, organized and planted two bombs on an aircraft that blew up in-flight. The Cuban airline flight 455 had 68 passengers – most of them young people from North Korea, Cuba and Guyana – and 5 crew members, all of whom were killed.

In terms of achieving national security, Mr. Gonsalves stressed the importance of legal surveillance and having adequate, state-of-the-art equipment to prevent terrorism and attacks on national safety.

The prime minister also addressed the theme of international relations, saying there is a battle between regionalism and globalism on one hand and the forces of globalization on the other.

“Globalization wants to homogenize culture, globally. But people are resisting,” he said, noting that the resistance is coming locally, nationally and even regionally, creating instability.

He said the use and abuse of technology, overpopulation and the improvements in health that allow people to lead longer lives, thus possibly bringing fewer opportunities for youth entering the workforce, all put strains on resources like food, and create conditions of instability and insecurity.

“You have about 7 billion people in the world today,” he said, “[and] it has been predicted that in 30 years, when I am 99, there will be 10 billion people.”

The rapid development of technology over the next 30 years will bring about significant changes in society, and it is predicted that “robots will be as common as computers are today,” he said. “The increased capability of robots is likely to change the face of warfare with the possibility that some countries will replace large numbers of soldiers and sailors.”

He said the mass unemployment due to automation will also cause social unrest. He also said socioeconomic inequality, illegal arms, drugs, state corruption, crimes and violence also contribute to instability.

The prime minister kept the audience entertained with quips, and pop-culture and counter-culture references. He thanked Cayman’s response and aid to his country in 2013 after heavy rain and high winds led to landslides and floods in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, resulting in a reported nine deaths in December of that year.

UCCI’s Distinguished Lecture series is an initiative introduced for the purpose of having speakers address relevant issues, whether global or regional, locally. Past speakers include Trevor Munroe, executive director at National Integrity Action; Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland; and Jack Blum, a Washington-based lawyer and white-collar financial crime and international tax evasion specialist.