Concentrating minds: the Caribbean at the UN in 2021 was shorter and sharper

Fast forward to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 2021 – and what a difference two years can make. In my last post, I offered a critique of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s somewhat unfocused speech at the UNGA in 2019.

Well, the world has changed. Ms. Mottley’s 2021 speech hit home and gave the media something to get excited about. It was shorter (thankfully) and much more sharply focused, and mostly hit the proverbial nail on the head. Certainly the note of urgency was there, as there has been in many recent speeches. But as I said in my post yesterday, actions speak louder than words. Yes, we know – it’s all urgent. Everything appears to be coming to a head.

You can watch the speech here, although I haven’t found the transcript yet. There was the Bob Marley quote (well, not an exact quote), and the smartphone, which immediately attracted some good media headlines. Despite these gimmicks, there was a refreshing lack of “political correctness.”

Part of the mostly empty hall during Ms. Mottley’s speech.

Ms. Mottley was among 13 women leaders speaking at the UNGA over the first four days. She spoke to a three-quarters empty hall. Although less than ten percent of the total, PBS points out this was more than last year. There are more women heads of state also now globally (a grand total of 24).

“The needle has not moved.” (Screenshot)

Multilateralism is a must! Yet, is the United Nations failing small states like Barbados and others? There has been little progress in the past two years on certain regional matters, like the U.S. embargo on Cuba or territorial disputes, that Ms. Mottley discussed in 2019. Certainly not on climate change.

It is not that we do not have enough resources for all, Ms. Mottley stressed; it is just the inequality of distribution. Beware the “faceless few” who care not, and clutch their profits tightly to their chests. “This age dangerously resembles that of a century ago,” she added – the eve of the Great Depression, when my own father was born. Ah, she began to get warm here. “This is not science fiction,” she repeated as in her 2019 speech. I often feel as if we are living in a sci-fi movie, though. Danger there is. (I am currently reading Asimov and Philip K Dick, prophets in their time).

This is what the Atlantic hurricane situation looks like this afternoon, courtesy of the National Hurricane Center. See the scattering of small and slightly larger islands, huddled just to the west of Hurricane Sam and the threatening orange objects. That’s us. Barbados is actually the tiny dot out on the Atlantic side of the Windward Islands. We’re out on our own, it seems.

Time is a strange thing. In all our long COVID-19 lockdowns and curfews, I have had the chance to reflect on how it stands still, rewinds and almost seems to repeat itself. Thinking back 100 years does not give any solace. What have we learned?

We have to hold world leaders’ feet to the fire. But, I contend, we in the Caribbean must not only talk, but take action for our fragile islands – and stop ravaging our environments – which we do also in the name of big profits, for mining companies, cruise ship lines, global hotel chains (and our own local elites).

Yes, we can point fingers. Let’s do our part, however small, if we love our country, our region and our people.

That’s my speech! Let’s keep our fingers crossed, while doing whatever we can.

Ms. Mottley consulting her smartphone at the United Nations.

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