Owen Arthur: A champion of democracy

The news of former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s death on Monday came as a shock to many in the Caribbean and more so in Guyana, considering the fact that it was only recently he was here putting up a fierce fight against those who were blatantly attempting to derail the March 2 General and Regional Elections.
Barbados and the wider Caribbean Community have indeed lost a true champion in every sense of the word. His life in public service, not only in Barbados but in the Region, will serve as a good example for others to follow.
Arthur, Barbados’ longest-serving Head of Government, led the country for an unprecedented three consecutive terms from 1994 to 2008, having served as Member of Parliament for the constituency of St Peter from 1984 to 2013.
Even after his career in politics ended, he continued to offer service to his country and the Region. Weeks prior to his death, he served in a number of key areas, including the Jobs and Investment Advisory Council. This came after his work in the last year as he helped the Barbados Government in the forging of a new industrial policy and in the review of the international trade options of Small Island Developing States. He was also still very actively involved in helping to forge regional integration.
Arthur was indeed the chief architect and intellectual guide of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). In many respects, he was a titan of regional integration and a most distinguished son of the Caribbean. For many in the Region, he will be remembered as a true Caribbean man.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley puts it this way: “His intellect was larger than life, believe you me. His love of country as constant as a northern star. He discharged his duty as Prime Minister of Barbados and as a Caribbean leader with distinction. He shall remain in that pantheon of Caribbean leaders.”
Certainly, in days to come, there will be a more detailed analysis of Arthur’s contribution to his country and the wider Caribbean Community.
Here in Guyana, Arthur’s name will forever be among those who have maintained the fight to ensure that democracy and the rule of law prevail.
Arthur headed the Commonwealth Elections Observer Team in Guyana for the March 2 General and Regional Elections. His task was not an easy one. Perhaps he even expected some of what he was exposed to due to his knowledge of our political and social history.
However, he stood up to the “forces” as described by Mottley who were bent on subverting the elections. When caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Karen Cummings threatened to revoke the accreditations of international observers, he challenged her and did not back down. He made it known in no uncertain terms that he will not be bullied in the face of attacks.
Also, when he was attacked and ridiculed by APNU/AFC’s strongman, Joseph Harmon, for making his views known regarding the attempts by persons within the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the APNU/AFC, he again took the APNU/AFC to task. He was never afraid of saying it as he saw it. For him, citizens must have a right to choose their leaders in a democratic process and nothing or no one should come in the way of their ability to do so.
As stated by Vincentian Prime Minister and Caricom Chair, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, prior to Arthur’s brief hospitalisation, he was deeply agitated about the imminent threat to democracy in Guyana. He said Arthur reserved some of his finest and most biting barbs against those in Guyana who, without right reason or principle, verbally abused Prime Minister Mia Mottley and himself because of their stance in defence of free and fair elections.
Arthur had firmly stated that there are instruments of governance on which all relationships in Caricom as sovereign countries are based. He had explained that Guyana, along with other Caricom countries, is a signatory to the Charter of Civil Society and this places an obligation on countries to ensure that they follow key democratic practices – a main element being the holding of free and fair elections.
He was very concerned about Guyana being portrayed as a “pariah state” and had cautioned all the political leaders here to put country first. Sadly, to this date, the APNU/AFC has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the call by Arthur and the world to concede in order to allow the country to move forward.
We salute you Owen Seymour Arthur for your selfless service to our country.