Editorial | Sir Alister’s value
It has the ring of cliché, but is profoundly true. Alister McIntyre, who died on Saturday, age 87, was of a passing breed of West Indian nationalists who placed their prodigious intellects in the service of the Caribbean.
In Sir Alister’s case, his contribution transcended this region. The world, in particular developing countries, benefited. It is perhaps symbolic of Alister McIntyre’s regionalism that while he was born in Grenada, he died in Jamaica, where he worked and lived for a large portion of his adult life.
Indeed, he received this newspaper’s Honour Award for 1991, in part for his “significant contribution to national development”. A little-known aspect of that contribution was Sir Alister’s economic analyses that helped underpin Jamaica’s imposition in 1974 of the bauxite production levy that increased, several-fold, the island’s income from this finite resource, from which it previously earned little.
It is coincidental, but noteworthy, that Sir Alister’s death was preceded by only days by that of Patrick Rousseau, who led the task force that negotiated with the US corporations that owned the industry.
His participation in those negotiations was emblematic, not only of Sir Alister’s commitment to regionalism, but of his lifelong work, starting with his teaching and research (1967-1974) at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (formerly the Institute of Social and Economic Research) at the Mona campus of The University of the West Indies (UWI). He later served, for a decade, from 1988 to 1998, as the university’s vice-chancellor and initiated a raft of projects to modernise the institution.
Before that, from 1974 to 1977, Sir Alister was secretary general of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), succeeding another giant of the regional integration movement, William Demas. He played a major role in articulating the logic of a joint negotiating arrangement by African, Caribbean and Pacific countries with the European Union, on a trade and development-assistant pact, and of its consolidation into the Lome Convention of 1975.
At the global level, Sir Alister, after his stint at CARICOM, worked at UNCTAD – the United Nations agency that promotes the equitable inclusion of developing countries in global economy through trade, investment and other development interventions – including in the role of deputy secretary general. He afterwards moved to UN headquarters as assistant secretary general of the Office of Economic Development.
Back in the Caribbean, as his post-UWI engagement, Sir Alister was the technical director of the Regional Negotiating Machinery, the vehicle used by CARICOM to negotiate trade agreements, including at the World Trade Organization.
Even in retirement, and though he was not always in the best of health, Sir Alister’s intellect remained one to tap by regional policymakers. His perspectives on development and regional economic integration remained, to the end, as clear, incisive and worthy as it had been for half a century.
As the Jamaican Opposition leader, Dr Peter Phillips, observed, Alister McIntyre was a “giant in Caribbean scholarship and a champion of regional development”. His legacy, in the forms of ideas and the institutions he helped to build, remains of value and should be advanced.