OECS Celebrates 40 Years
Message from Prime Minister Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit, Chairman of the OECS Authority
The breakup of the West Indies Federation in 1962 and the fracture of the dreams of the Caribbean people did not mark an end to our aspiration but the beginning of a new ambition. In his Agony of the Little Eight written in 1965, Sir William Arthur Lewis called for an economic and political union of the Little Eight, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St.Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St.Vincent and the Grenadines.
Emerging from the cloud of disappointment that shrouded the optimism of regional will was the movement in 1967 from colonial status to incipient statehood in the configuration of the West Indies Associated States.
In that year (1967) the embers of regional unity were kindled in the establishment of a supporting structure:
- A West Indies Associated States Supreme Court which ultimately evolved into the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal and subsequently the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in 1981
- The defunct currency of the Federation – the British West Indies Dollar – was resurrected in 1965 as the Eastern Caribbean Dollar through the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority which subsequently found its sovereign identity in the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.
The ignition of this flame led us on a progressive systematic path of designing this union and the transformation of the journey of the eight to what we now celebrate today as the solidarity of the eleven. It was a journey that led us to this milestone. This 40th year is a historical marker on a road of increasing convergence, greater anticipation and unyielding possibility.
Notwithstanding the bad weather through which we have journeyed, there have been bursts of sunshine. Notwithstanding the pain we have endured, we have also enjoyed the blessings of rain and we have reached this milestone for one simple reason – we have always focused on the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us. Every time we hold hands tighter in circling the elements of unity, we strike a blow against the shackles of disunity. Our darkest moments have been illuminated by light and that spirit of unity.
As Prime Minister of Dominica, I can attest to the sense of support, the infusion of courage and the reinforcement of hope that I experienced in spite of the physical and emotional destruction of literally everything around me by Hurricane Maria.
In the midst of Dominica’s nakedness was the covering cloak of OECS solidarity. Equally, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada can tell the same tale of how the devastation and destruction of Hurricane Ivan were dispelled by the same spirit of solidarity and the assurance that it would be alright in the morning. What has been some of our most spectacular achievements of the past 40 years?
- The Eastern Caribbean Dollar, which for the last 37 years, has maintained a fixed and immutable exchange rate with the US dollar and is now the strongest and most stable currency in the Caribbean.
- The freedom of movement of people allows the citizens of Member States to travel without hindrance or restriction to work, to play, to study, to visit friends or to relocate, to follow carnival or to follow a crusade.
- With those rights came contingent rights that empower our families to relocate with use and enable our children to attend schools, to obtain scholarships.
As we travelled this road in the last 40 years, new members of the family have joined in this journey. First came the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla joining their sister Montserrat which was there from inception. Then came our sister, Martinique followed by Guadeloupe adding a new cultural and linguistic texture to the character of our community.
The OECS Pharmaceutical Procurement Service has over the past 40 years transacted almost one billion US dollars’ worth of medicines and essential medical supplies for our health system, saving in the process $5 million annually and has now moved since the pandemic from a Pharmaceutical Procurement Service to a Pooled Procurement Service.
In this 40th year, although the road may be steeper, although the pain may cut deeper and although the clouds may appear darker, we move forward with the conviction as we say in creole “an la woute say tje” -in the road lies hope.
In every difficulty lies an opportunity; in our pain lies redemption. We have no choice but to keep going forward because life does not move backwards. And if we must go forward, we must do so in unity, more determined and more convinced of the veracity of our vision.
Notwithstanding the pain and the pressure of the pandemic, we will be celebrating this 40th anniversary with pride but not with pomp. Our celebrations will be frugal but fulsome.
As we look back with gratitude to what we have accomplished by the Grace of God and through the foresight of our forefathers, we must look forward with determination and optimism.
Onward with integration for progress and sustainability! Happy Anniversary to us all.
For more articles on sustainability and social engagement in the Caribbean, read our latest issue of ApaNa Magazine.
Issue 5 provides a range of technical articles covering the environment, climate change and renewable energy, corporate giving and features nonprofit organisations including the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Barbados Youth Business Trust, the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange, Martin Keeley (renown mangrove activist and educator who developed the Mangrove Education Curriculum) and the Cayman Islands Mangrove Rangers.
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