by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael at the Summit of the Association of Caribbean
States - Panama City, Panama, 29 July 2005
(Transcript from audio)
Posted August 6th. 2005
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Secretary General, Distinguished Heads of State and Government, Heads of Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I bring you greetings from President Bharrat Jagdeo who unfortunately could not attend this summit because of political commitments in Guyana at this time. President Jagdeo sends his warm regards to you, President Torrijos, and to all attending Heads of State and Government and wishes all success to the deliberations of this fourth summit of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
Mr. Chairman, I must also express my personal sincere appreciation to the Government and people of Panama for the warm welcome and hospitality I have received ever since I arrived. This is my third visit to your beautiful country and with the numerous Panamanian friends I already have here, I can easily say that I feel completely at home in Panama City.
Mr. Chairman, as we discuss the programme and the progress of the Association of Caribbean States, we have to take into consideration the fact that all of our states are part of the greater Caribbean, and as such, we have to build an understanding among all our peoples that they all have a Caribbean identity.
Unfortunately, ever since the ACS was established ten years ago, I can easily say that that not many of our citizens - in all of our countries - know about the Association and its objectives. Our citizens know of the Organisation of American States and of regional groups like Caricom and the Central American community, but about the ACS there is much ignorance.
How can we change this situation? Other heads of delegations speaking before me have mentioned about re-organising the ACS and of developing manageable programmes of activity. In this respect, I feel that we have to look at our education systems and re-organise them to give consideration to teaching young people about the wider Caribbean region. We cannot afford to have closed systems by which, for example, students of the English-language Caribbean know almost nothing of the history of Central America, and vice-versa. Our governments have to take a new look at our education syllabuses taught to our students and incorporate information of various sub-regions of the ACS. By doing this, they will help our young people to develop the Caribbean identity that we are all talking about.
I think that, as a start, we have to enable our young people to learn about our history - not just about the history of their own country and sub-region, but of the history of the struggles of the peoples of other countries and sub-regions in the ACS.
If a people do not know their past, they will have little appreciation of the present and will not know where they are going in the future.
One of the major problems we face as states which have a history of domination by colonialism is that our history by and large has been written by our conquerors and former colonial masters. Within the English-speaking Caribbean, for instance, some of the history textbooks used in our secondary schools are not authored by our own historians, but by British historians. It is not that we have not produced good historians. One of our finest historians was Dr. Eric Williams, a former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. He wrote a history of the Caribbean entitled From Columbus to Castro. But if you ask our senior high school students about this book, very few of them will give you a positive response, and much fewer of them have ever seen or read it.
Some of the history books used in the English-speaking Caribbean even glorify the plunder of the conquistadores who pillaged Mexico, Central and South America. And if you examine the questions set for school examinations, very little is reflected on the historical developments in Mexico, Central and South America; and I daresay in those countries and sub-regions their students study very little of the historical developments of the English-speaking Caribbean.
This, therefore, is one of the problems confronting us as we try to develop a Caribbean identity. We as citizens of the greater Caribbean have to begin to write our own history for our people. We should not allow people from outside our region to do it for us because they will continue to influence us with their values at the detriment of ours.
Mr. Chairman, I reflect of a story of a lion hunter in the savannas of Africa. Whenever he killed a lion, he made a drawing of himself standing victoriously with his gun over the dead lion. He would then hang his victory drawing on a tree to impress any other hunter who passed through that area. One day two lions came up to one of these pictures and stopped to examine it. One lion turned to his friend and said, "This hunter gives the impression that he is such a great hunter. It seems as if the lion never wins." And the other lion shook his head and responded, "If only lions could draw!"
Mr. Chairman, we are the lions of the Caribbean. We have to learn to draw our own pictures!