Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves on Guyana today:

‘The Stone that the Builder refused has become the Head Cornerstone!’

THE Prime Minister of Saint Vincent & The Grenadines was introduced at the opening ceremony of this week’s Guyana International Energy Conference and Expo as “the venerable, indomitable and inimitable Dr Ralph Gonsalves…” – and not for nothing!

The longest-serving Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leader is a former lecturer in Government and Politics at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) in Barbados, but also President of the Students Council at The UWI’s Mona, Jamaica campus when Guyana’s Dr Walter Rodney was banned from entering the island.

Soon after being awarded Guyana’s highest national award, Dr Gonsalves was last month elected Chairman of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) – and when he talks, it’s with the acquired wisdom of a long life of eternal dedication to Caribbean’s causes.

So, it wasn’t surprising to those who know him well-enough that ‘The Comrade’ (as he’s affectionately called in his multi-island Caribbean home-nation) waxed warmly in biblical and philosophical terms during his presentation.

Addressing the conference’s theme ‘Harnessing Energy for Development’, PM Gonsalves said, “Energy is to be harnessed, not only to make our countries grow but also to harness our development…”

He said Guyana was able to harness its energy for development because it “is at a crossroads,” but added it had to be seen against the background of achieving that mission as a classic example of the truth of the age-old saying: “The stone that the builder refused has become the head cornerstone!”

Recalling the way Guyanese were treated like rejected stones, he said, “Not too long ago, there was a special bench at every airport for Guyanese women travelling and teaching Caribbean people how to trade and make a life and a living out of struggle…”

“Before Guyana grew,” he continued, “people hardly used to come here from the Caribbean; and now it is sprouting again by people flowing to their bodies’ edge at the unbounded elements of their bodies…”, the situation has changed.

He said Guyana’s new oil wealth has allowed it to “embark on the building of a competitive, one-sided economy that is local, national, regional and global, with implications for the world, and also for a large group of atomized individuals who see themselves as separate and distinct from every other…”

But he pointed out, “such an individualistic society is not possible, so we have to replace and avoid that with the idea of a social individual…”

On the relationship between The State, The Market and Natural Resources, the Prime Minister also noted that “The market is important for production of goods and services,” but has shown itself “in many senses,” unable to sustain itself.

Yet, he added, “While the state cannot create families… it can interface with the market to do things for the market that the market cannot do for itself…

“Oil in some countries has been a blessing and a curse in others, but to avoid it being a curse, the market must recognise the role of the state and distribution of Reparative Justice…”

Dr Gonsalves noted that at this point in its growth and development, “The region is vital for Guyana.”

He said “Successive Guyana governments have made regional integration a realisation, but this government has shown great promise for our region…

“And for Guyana to play a leading role for that organic integration it proposes, it’s important that the strength and weaknesses, limitations and possibilities, will all dissolve into the whole, so they are no longer individual parts…”

“Not all units will advance at same pace or extent,” he warned, “but it must not be one where one advances at expense of others; and I feel that with the approach of Guyana with leadership of the quest for regional Food Security, we have great promise.”

Still waxing philosophical, Dr Gonsalves said: “Men and women make history, but only as circumstances permit them and not those chosen by themselves… But part of those circumstances are ideas in the heads of men and women that sometimes weigh like a nightmare on the brain; and the nightmare of those who control the global economy today is how to maintain hegemony.”

Switching to the Bible, the PM said he’d quoted from the ‘Book of Chronicles’ on the matter of leadership in an exchange with President Ali, with a lesson about “what each of the leaders of the 12 Tribes of Israel had to do at the time; and one of the lesser-known leaders, Issachar, knew the times and acted accordingly.”

He advised: “We have to know the times too, in terms of what are some the immediate developmental challenges the Caribbean faces…”

PM Gonsalves identified one such problem as “Crime and Citizen Insecurity, which affects every country of the CARICOM region.”

“So,” he asked, “how can we harness energy to deal with that? Because, resources alone cannot solve that problem…

“Oil will help provide the money, but you also need support services as the State can and must do certain things, including knowing the times and acting accordingly.”

According to Dr Gonsalves, “Schools have their role to play, most teachers are doing okay, but are somehow not building critical faculties for making students’ minds ready to process facts…”

He also noted that “Latin American and Caribbean Food Security and Nutrition reports say that throughout the two regions there’s been a slippage of nourishment, but the real problem is obesity – including child obesity – because we eating the wrong foods.”

“But,” he added, “try closing down a KFC outlet…”

Returning to the theme of Harnessing Energy for Development, Dr Gonsalves concluded with a quiet philosophical warning.

He said, “In this development, everyone in the society – from churches to media to communities — have a role to play.

“But like I said earlier, the State can create Redistributive Justice, but cannot create Families, which are important for Development!”

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