The following statement is issued by Sir George Alleyne, Chancellor Emeritus of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), in tribute to the late Right Honourable Owen Arthur.
I cannot claim to have known the late Rt. Honourable Owen Arthur very well, but I certainly knew enough of his seminal contributions in the several spheres in which I moved to admire him and be proud that he was my Prime Minister.
I admired him for his forthrightness and lack of can’t; for being an illustrious Pelican whose brilliant flight bore testimony to the value of The UWI in creating the human capital needed to guide the scattered peoples of the Caribbean to better lives and greater unity in our dividing sea. He was an indefatigable champion of The UWI, for which legions of past and future students will be eternally grateful.
Amidst the natural and welcome outpouring of grief for the passing of a national statesman of iconic stature, I know that there are hosts of Barbadians throughout the world who will recall with pride not only what he did at home but also his standing in global and regional affairs.
He argued persistently that the common vulnerability and volatility of small states such as Barbados merited particular attention. I warmed to his impeccable logic as he evoked Aristotle’s proportionality and argued for special treatment of such states in the face of the “pervasive influence worldwide of the legitimizing ideology of liberalization”.
When the international community speaks of the vulnerability of small states and the index by which it should be measured, the name of Owen Arthur will always be recalled with gratitude.
I admired him for his ability to be at once a fiercely proud Barbadian and simultaneously be a constant and dogmatic champion of the regional ideal which had no doubt been if not forged, certainly fortified in the Mona Valley.
I admired him for the persistence with which he abjured jingoistic nationalism and put his shoulder against the Sisyphean rock of integration. I applauded his frequent, brilliant exposition of the value and virtue of functional cooperation as the glue to bind the Caribbean people more closely together and be a platform for the more difficult areas of cooperation.
He was the architect of the Needham’s Point declaration of the CARICOM Heads of Government in 2007- “A community for all, a declaration on functional cooperation”. He believed that functional cooperation should indeed permeate the work of every council and institution of the community.
I know very intimately of his firm and unshakable commitment to such cooperation in health. It was Prime Minister Arthur who convened the first meeting of Caribbean leaders in Barbados in 2001 to address the scourge of HIV in the region and he was one of the original signatories to the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS which has been recognised as an international best practice. Its success over the years and the progress the region has made in combatting this disease collectively is another one of the tributes to his memory.
Owen Arthur as Chair of CARICOM presided over the historic meeting of CARICOM heads of government in Port of Spain in 2007, which recognised and emphasised that the Caribbean should address vigorously, the scourge of the chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory illness.
He was acutely aware that these diseases could possibly unravel the development gains made in other areas. The Declaration of that meeting stands as a milestone in the international cooperation to prevent and control these diseases.
It is particularly ironic one of these diseases connects two of our greatest Prime Ministers. The last time I saw the late Errol Barrow was in 1979 in Barbados when we spoke of many things including how diabetes could debilitate and diminish a man. He was prescient.
The last time I saw the late Owen Arthur was last year at an alumni function when we spoke of many things, but he also be referred to the problem of diabetes and its complications. He too was prescient.
When the tears have dried and the laudable pomp and ceremony to mark his passing have receded into history, there will be many important accomplishments of his public life that will be etched into the annals of Barbadian history. It would be inappropriate for me to suggest the ways in which this great man’s many achievements should be memorialised.
But I will venture to propose that he also be remembered fittingly by a firm and unshakable Caribbean commitment to ensuring that the functional cooperation that is needed to reduce the toll of these diseases and make our health span equal to our lifespan, never flags or fails.
I offer my condolences especially to his wife and daughters and trust that the knowledge of how much he was loved and appreciated as evidenced by the many tributes to him, go some small way towards dulling the pain and assuaging the grief that is yours.