Prime Minister of Barbados Hon. Mia Mottley delivers the 16th Raúl Prebisch Lecture

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019 — GENEVA, Switzerland – Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, delivers the 16th Raúl Prebisch Lecture at Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday, 10 September, 2019.

I am humbled to have been invited to deliver the 16th lecture to honour this great development thinker.

I am also deeply humbled to be the second woman and the first person to do so from the Caribbean,

I do so being conscious of the Caribbean’s uniqueness as a place where all of the world’s great civilisations share and live together in peace. We represent all the faces of humanity, and I welcome, therefore, this opportunity to share my thoughts on why I believe we have been “Invisible yet Indispensable”.

No, I am NOT an Economist.

I am a lawyer by profession – so we are familiar with the use of disclaimers.

I am NOT a trade specialist but I am in the business of development.

I am on a lifelong journey representing people, empowering them, enfranchising them – giving them opportunity, giving them voice when they never had or when it was taken from them, giving them a presence and highlighting it in them when others around cannot or refuse to see them.

And why? Because it is the RIGHT THING to do – not just politically but morally. 

And MORAL leadership matters.

Moral leadership matters today in a world that is simply too similar to a world that existed 100 years ago; one that bred anxiety and uncertainty then and, equally, does so now.  This is eerily so; in spite of the passage of a World War, an atomic bomb and on the other hand, in spite of the progress made through the settlement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and its companion documents) or the Independence movement of the former colonies, we are trespassing on ground that is best left in our history and not our future. And to this, we add the insidious threats of terrorism and, now, the existential threat of climate change.

Moral leadership matters for the voiceless AND the invisible.

Moral leadership recognizes the basic right of each human being to be accorded first and always decency and dignity. And that recognition demands of us an understanding that we are all needed to make a better world – and a better life for as many as we can. That like with the different parts of our body, each of us has a role to play. The smallest bone is in our body is in our ear and without it we cannot hear.  It is as important to us as all of our larger bones which give us mobility.

But just as we eschewed and rejected completely slavery and colonization and Imperialism – just as we find it abhorrent today to contemplate, far less support removing freedom and choice from other human beings, so must we also recognize that true freedom also requires changing the structural imbalances in power and wealth. Otherwise, it is freedom in name alone.

Surely, the United States of America in 1945 and Ghana or Kenya or Fiji or Jamaica or Guyana or Barbados or India did not all  then stand on a level playing field. Prior to 1945, the extraction of wealth and imposition of dominance was not only tolerated but in official circles it was applauded.  Nothing was done to correct that imbalance, indeed it was enshrined as we see in the permanent five in the Security Council prior to 1945.

A global community that failed to appreciate the horror of colonialism, the taxation imposed on countries to extract wealth to benefit persons and entities whose only sense of entitlement resulted from their might and power.  I could refer to Haiti who paid the authorities almost a century after or Barbados who paid four and a half  – and NOT MORAL LEGITIMACY nor the tenets upon which our spirituality and humanity ought to rest.


And while the world community eventually accepted after millions lost their lives, that these wrongs ought to be corrected it did so without insisting that there had to be meaningful change and that the historic wrongs had to be corrected. Merely to afford people and countries present and future equality in the name of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights would be insufficient to transform their lives. The disability caused by the extraction of wealth and the subjugation of people bred a persistent poverty that has endured.  Unless the fundamental obstacle to our development are addressed, I fear that that imbalance of power and wealth in the global community of nations will remain.  We must not be naive in appreciating the headstart given to those countries who are now considered developed, and who had the benefit of building out their industrial base on the wealth taken from people thousands of miles away.

Where does that leave us?

INDEPENDENCE in name – and without options for development – for transitioning the lives of your citizens is as hollow an experience as is possible.  This is what breeds cynicism and indeed fosters maginalisation of our own citizens who expect more and whose aspirations are no different from those in other countries.

What is our reality?

We fail to access markets on fair terms.  We fail to have correspondent banking services because we are simply too small to be seen or to matter to some.

It matters not that the absence of correspondent banking will cause our countries (our regions even) and our people to be cut off, and quarantined as lepers were, from the global community as you seek to buy goods and services from outside your borders.  It is hypocrisy; and at worst contempt and insensitivity as to what happens to countries. De-risking as practiced by the large regional and global blanks is a commercial banking decision based on and unwillingness to exercise effort and a desire to make profit.   It is not rooted moral legitimacy or leadership.

But that is their right.

For they can as easily pursue their own narrow self interest as anyone else – and rely on their might and size as bullies do in a playground.

It is not they who must call their conduct into question and urge reversal of these insensitive policies.  That is the duty of those in the public space – not in pursuit of private interests – duty of countries and local and international bodies.

This recognition of the powerlessness that is foisted on humans and countries is NOT NEW.

It appears differently – as it must with the passage of time and new developments – just as modern wars will not look like those previously fought, just like what we fight for will change as it has from land to oil to water to the means of control through technology.

The battles wage on!

And the powerful example of those in a Post World War II environment- and those fighting for sovereignty, for independence- for really the right to choose and plan and build lives, build platforms for development – for transformation – inspire us still.

It is this tradition of intellectual leadership that we stand upon and it is best exemplified by the work and advocacy of the man whose life and contribution we honour in this lecture series.

It is a battle engaged by those in Public Life like former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (who presented the Second Lecture) and other titans who championed the need to frame and secure a new International Economic Order like Michael Manley.

It is a thesis developed, refined, expounded and then again my friends refined again by the many academics and international public servants who remained committed to fairness, equality of opportunity and the transformation.  Their commitment to moral leadership is not diluted because of the complexity or difficulty of the battles.  In the face of the Washington Consensus with all its might and dogma, they were not daunted, they did not stay silent!  We thank them for their courage.

President Obama has famously reflected that history is not made in the straight line. And, hence, the seeming promise – and early success of import substitution initiatives championed by Raul Prebisch himself– or the new International Economic Order  so prevalent and present especially in the 1970s is reemerging after decades of an agenda that was designed to assist and cement the inequality within our countries.  For markets left to their own devices, markets without State monitoring will favour the mighty – and only occasionally…the lucky.

It is against this background that I want to share why we need MORAL LEADERSHIP yet again in today’s world, to guarantee voice and relevance and decency for the countries and peoples of the world.

We needed it when Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters fought against the tyranny of colonialism and subjugation.  And the world has recognized that.

We needed it when Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and many others fighting against the scourge of racism and it’s cancerous impact on the lives of millions upon millions of human beings. And the world has finally got it….even if belatedly. 

But, what will it take for us to get our leaders and countries to protect an entire world against today’s existentialist threat to our own survival as living beings on this planet?

What will it take to keep us safe against the ravages of terrorism or cyber threats; safe from guns being used against innocent people, not in war zones but in their communities? 

What will it take to admit of the humanity needed to facilitate (even as we want to regulate) the movement of people and not just the movement of money classified officially as foreign direct investment?

When will the political will be formed within countries and across international institutions to do what is right to create the POLICY SPACE – and not just hand out aid- that will allow our countries to plan and to protect what we have and propel our people to prosperity. This policy flexibility will often be of minimal cost to the developed world in terms of  the market access they grant but will give opportunities and may even have tremendous transformative effect for us in the developing world.

In many instances, it is the difference between life and death.

REGULATORY TYRANNY is the new weapon being used to maintain dominance in today’s world and enhance so-called competitiveness. Rules are made and changed without our participation in many instances.

It’s a game of football where the goal posts keep changing.

The battle against harmful taxation, for instance, while appearing worthy from the outside is practiced in a manner so devoid of the most basic of legal tenets and social justice, laws of natural justice as old as humanity itself.

Countries cannot sign up to international treaties, charters, commitments and declarations and then treat them as if they are not meaningful or real. That they only apply to others or when it is not inconvenient to the powerful. If they are treated as hollow documents, the international order is de-legitimised and diminishes in relevance.

The reform of the international institutions, not just the international financial institutions but also the wider UN system, is a task that must be completed…the time for action is NOW. The worthiness and pursuit of this reform is unquestionable yet this remains decades after unresolved.

Let us put to bed these things that we have been fighting for that are legitimate and worthy. Let us move beyond them to reach the other important issues, such as the poverty and inequality, the boundary of genetically modified foods, the future of work and the rise of robotics and other disruptive technologies. The failure to put these issues of representativeness to rest, reeks of the same patronising attitude that sustained colonialism for too long.

The problems the world faces today can only be defeated multilaterally. No one nation can defeat climate change, no one nation can defeat international terrorism and financial crime. It can only be defeated by a strong international order.

But that international order is only as strong as its weakest link. In the same way that weak links attract financial crime, an international order that is not inclusive, not strongly rooted in fairness and moral legitimacy will fail to halt and reverse climate change. In this most global of battles, all are needed to fight. Even the invisible are indispensable.

I fundamentally believe that like with everything else in life, we must claim ground, secure it and move forward.

We do not always move in a straight line. And often, we need collective partnerships; we need new voices to inspire and to influence.

We need to set our priorities and work assiduously to make them happen.

And what are those priorities to transform our countries and to work to bring development to our people in the best traditions of not just Raúl Prebisch, but all those others who have spoken since 1982 in his name, and from this space.

The very first of those priorities is one dear to heart of Prebisch and the soul of this institution, it is a revival of the nexus of trade and development,

Food security

Today, trade policy, with its focus on the removal of local protection, reliance on transport logistics and the multinational corporate ownership of technology stands in conflict with climate policy and its focus on the building local resilience and food security.

Dorian passed over Barbados in a few hours, it pinned Bahamas down for days. Imagine if it came aground first in Miami and the region’s logistical hub was destroyed. Food security in the age of devastating climate change is real.

We need a bridge between trade and climate policy.

We are not seeking a return to autarky. We are not seeking a reversal of international trade. We know that trade plays a vital role in ending poverty. There is no other set of countries in the world, that are more open than small islands. We aren’t just open, we are hyper-open. There is no other set of countries as exposed to the shifts in international consumption and production. It is a source of our strength and our vulnerability. Brexit has impacted Barbados more than Bradford. Our exports and imports are a huge multiple of our economies, often we export everything we produce and import everything we consume.

In that context we need a reorientation of trade policy that it supports both global trade and local resilience, that allows a resilient minimum to be secured first.

We need a reorientation of trade policy that supports non-discrimination but also recognises that in the age of diabetes, with the explosion of other non-communicable diseases, that trade in agriculture is a health issue. That fresh food is not just an issue of resilience against hurricanes, but resilience too against the ravages of poor nutrition and against spiralling health costs.

Yes, we need a revival of the nexus of trade and development.

Blue economy

And we need to broaden our thinking of what we have and what we stand to lose.

Any focus on economic sustainability, must bring into focus the blue economy.

The value of the seas, be it from fisheries, extraction of minerals, absorption of carbon, adds materially to the economic base of all, but especially of island states.

In my own country, our seas are more than [400] times our land. Our seas are the gateway to the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific.

We think of ourselves as islands, but we are as much seas,

The value of this blue economy comes not from just saying so, requires recognition, yes but also measurement, careful conservation, cooperation and enforcement of international law, and significant investment.

The blue economy is an opportunity but one not grasped that could quickly turn to a source of loss and damage. Coastal zone management is increasingly expensive as sea levels rise, the bleaching and death of reefs is impacting fisheries, untreated run-offs are contributing to the rapid spread of sargassum and other blights on our beaches.

We need to invest in our seas as well as our lands.

We need a new colloquium on insurance and investment.

In a climate disaster, insurance mechanisms pay out budget support fast, but today the resources are too small. And self insurance cannot work for those on the front line of climate change. Those on the front line will not be able to afford the premiums for the rising and correlated threats of loss and damage caused by climate change. We need a new settlement, where insurance mechanisms are used to pay out 10 to 50 times more than currently, and the premiums are paid by those who contributed to climate change.

Linking contributions to loss and damage funds, to those responsible for the stock and growth of greenhouse gases, will not only provide the financing but would provide the kind of changed incentives that we need to bring a halt to climate change. As long as there is distance between those who suffer from climate change, the front line, and those that contributed to it, and their bottom line, climate change will continue. We need to close that gap faster.

We can build better, we can build to withstand a category 5 hurricane or cyclone, but it is expensive. It is expensive to put all utilities underground, to safeguard our slopes, river banks and coast lines. Too expensive for the debt to finance these investments to sit on the balance sheets of small developing countries. We need new institutions like Prime Minister Chastanet’s SIDS Foundation or other institutions with new governance structures that will enable these investments to lift countries, regions and cities, and not sink them in debt.

The gap between those suffering and those contributing may not be closing fast enough, but it is closing at a rate that many do not appreciate.

We need to mobilise people to be influencers – to alter domestic agenda – these are primarily the young people and artists of the world – to highlight the new manifestations of climate change that are here.

Young people in the Americas recognize that they too are vulnerable to hurricanes on the eastern seaboard and the Gulf states, or to wild fires in the west, or to rising sea levels in Alaska as glaciers melt, or to the risk of sargassum seaweed threatening their beaches and their businesses in the south,

– and not to leave out those across the entire continent who are now facing this barrage of tropical diseases that hitherto were unknown in their communities.

I speak specifically of course of the west Nile virus and encephalitis,

You know,  we can turn away people from the borders of our countries but there is no wall we can build to turn away the mosquitoes.

In 2017, we had two category 5 hurricanes in 2 weeks, previously a once in a thousand year event,

Earlier this year Mozambique had two cyclones two weeks apart, affecting affected millions of persons,

Just the other day, Japan suffered one of its strongest typhoons on record.

Cyclones and flooding also affected landlocked Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Our brothers and sisters in the Pacific, like us in the Caribbean, are also experiencing sea level rise causing coastal flooding and which within a decade could see the Maldives disappear right before our eyes.

Yesterday we saw instances of unprecedented flooding in Sudan.

Over in Asia, China has been experiencing an increase in average temperatures from 1951 to 2017, that if the records are correct, would mean that they have already experienced an increase in temperatures larger than the 1.5 degrees than what islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific can bear.

Europe over the past decade has been experiencing its hottest summers on record with July 2019 being the hottest month on record, and yet on the flip side winters are getting colder and more bitter. 

What about the fires in Brazil? Didn’t we witness a host President dismiss the entire Agenda of the G7 countries, some of the world’s most powerful nations, to discuss a 3 week conflagration in the Amazon made up of an incredible two thousand five hundred fires, that it is believed has in one step reversed much of the efforts of the world in seeking to reduce carbon emissions.

Let us not forget the global crisis of vanishing ground water in Morocco, Peru, India, Barbados, Kansas, South Dakota

Against this reality – not projections – younger and younger people will rise up for it is their lives that we are sacrificing on the altar of greater profits and convenience.

Formation of a Coalition

We must Work to mobilise the young people of the world to claim their future – popular artistes, sports persons. Power concedes nothing

And history has taught us that; history is replete with those examples.

If they can coalesce into a powerful global coalition (not  constrained by geographical boundaries or any other divisions) our young people in particular will require of us the kind of domestic policy changes and priorities that will assure them if future and one for their children and grandchildren. We are already seeing the reclaiming of real power by some of these young people.

And there is justification for the optimism of the youth.

We must acknowledge that there are many more countries today taking the issue of climate change seriously and have made contributions to the efforts to finance the building of resilience and measure to adapt to climate change. More is needed. More change of behaviour is needed. And the route to change is heavy Investment in the science and technology of mitigation, adaptation and, also, reversal. These investments will be made. Climate change will be defeated. Humanity has no choic. The questions are not If, but who will solve it, how, when, and, will it be soon enough for the rest of us?

Or will it be too late for us?

On September 12, 1962, in Houston, Texas, President Kennedy set America a goal of getting to the moon before the end of the decade. The technology did not at the time exist.

Human ingenuity is limited only by our imagination.

We archive what we set our minds to;  we achieve what we put our resources behind,

We can end malaria, but we chose instead to spend more money on solving male baldness than on ending malaria,

If it matters enough,

We can choose to end climate change.

The ingenuity that took us to the moon will solve the problem.

And the economics is moving there too.

New York has 72 000 buildings now classified as at extreme risk of flooding, that have an insurance value $129 Billion.

An increasing amount of money will be put behind solving climate change.

The nation or nations that win the technological race to beat climate change will become the most powerful nations in the world. That is the prize. Just as the prize for winning the race to the moon was the technology spin-offs that led to unrivalled economic and military prowess.

Which Nation or nations will take on the ambition of solving climate change? Who will call the world’s best scientists to the task? The truth i we are sure it will not be those who deny the very existence of it, but I am equally confident that there are many who can summon the will and collaborate across the scientific communities of the world to solve this to solve this Gravest of threats to humanity.

Tale of two weekends – Dorian

That is climate change,

not in models or projections.

​​​It is climate change. Here and Now

​​​​Our reality. The reality.


How many times can a man turn his head and pretend he cannot see?

Our generation has a choice to make.

Do we assume leadership and establish our moral legitimacy,

Or light a million candles for the help that never came.

Let us declare together, now.

That we are not voiceless,

That we are not invisible,

We are indispensable.

We draw a line.

Let us declare that the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, will finally move from words to mechanism – we have no more time to squander.

Let us declare that we will find new insurance mechanisms that do not force the victims on the front line to pay for the behaviour of others, immorally so.

Let us declare that we will find new institutional structures that will allow substantial more resources to be raised for building resilience.

Let us declare that we will find a new nexus of trade policy and climate policy, forge a reorientation of trade policy that supports global trade and local resilience; global supply chains and local and regional food security.

President Kennedy set America a goal of getting to the moon in 8 years before the technology existed.

Americans landed on the moon, because they chose to set off.

Our only limits are the limits to our imagination.

We archive what we set our minds to; we achieve what we put our resources behind,

And when we set sail in new seas, when we climb mountains because they are there, those that reach the mountain top first, secure technological advance that serves them well, will bring preeminence.

Let us choose to end climate change.

We will achieve it. Human ingenuity will enable us to do so. But we cannot wait. Let us bring it forward. Let us declare that in 2020 , that we re-focus our technology and resources and set out on a goal of halting and beginning to reverse climate change before 2029.

We can choose.

Let us do so today.OECS Communications UnitOrganisation of Eastern Caribbean States

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