Letters & Opinion

Statement by Sir Ronald Sanders

Statement by Sir Ronald Sanders, Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda at the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States on 18 November 2020, on the Declaration: “Solidarity with the Peoples and Governments of the Hemisphere that have suffered natural disasters”

Madam Chair, 
WE are all aware that Eta and Iota, both as hurricanes and tropical storms left countries in Central America in disastrous circumstances and caused significant mudslide damage in Colombia.

Landslides and flooding have displaced thousands of persons, sweeping away their homes and other property and leaving scores of people dead or missing.

The loss of livelihoods and business is considerable, and so too is the widespread damage done to infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and public utilities.

While, on this occasion, countries of Central America are the worst affected by these storms, countries of the Caribbean were not spared the savagery of recent storms.

In Jamaica, St Kitts-Nevis and my own country, Antigua and Barbuda, the infrastructural damage caused by flooding and landslides of other tropical storms in the last few weeks is substantial.

In my own country’s case, preliminary estimates of damage amount to almost 5% of our Gross Domestic Product.

Climate Change and its catastrophic effects continue to manifest themselves in our hemisphere.

This wreckage and its high costs come as many of our countries are battling with extraordinary costs for public health because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The situation is made worse for many of our economies because of the significant decline in revenues, again attributable to the effects of COVID-19, particularly for the tourism industry which is vital to many of our nations.

The need for attention by the international and financial institutions and multilateral development banks is now urgent.

Many of our countries are becoming overwhelmed by the demands for spending on welfare and on recovery from disasters while revenues are dwindling.

Countries need breathing space in which to recover.

This means that they need access to financing on concessional terms.

It also means that they also require debt relief in the forms of debt forgiveness and debt relief.

Those who make policy for the international financial institutions and multilateral development banks also have to stop pretending that the economic and financial circumstances that existed in January 2020 are still the same in November 2020.

The world has altered, and significantly.

The reality is that while many countries – including my own – are denied access to concessional financing and debt relief on the basis of the wrongful measurement of high per capita income, that per capita income has been reduced by as much as 40% because job losses have doubled.

The time has long passed for the policy makers to admit the reality of the changed situation and to amend the policies of financial institutions to address it.

Similarly, while Paris Club members continue to demand debt repayment without debt restructuring, they too should face the reality that countries cannot pay what they do not have.

Debt default is what will occur with little prospect of repayment unless a balance is struck now.

That is why the Declaration before this Permanent Council is so important and vital now.

If these circumstances continue to be ignored or the usual placebos are administered rather than the financing vaccines that exist and can be applied, this pandemic of economic disaster and human suffering will plague our hemisphere irreparably and irreversibly.

Each of our countries dwell in the same neighbourhood.

When circumstances reach calamitous proportions as is now the case in several of them, no country will be immune from the consequences.

Those consequences will wash up on the shores of others or encamp at their borders.

The beneficiaries will be transnational organised criminals, drug traffickers, human traffickers and all those seize crises as opportunities.

The security of all will be endangered as its breaks down in a few.

In the words of this Declaration:

We know that solidarity and brotherhood are essential to the peaceful development and wellbeing of the neighbouring peoples of the Americas.

In acting in the interests of some, we act in the interest of all.

Thank you Chair.

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