Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
Mia Mottley, leader of the Barbados Labour Party.
Mia Amor Mottley was called to the Bar at age 21. She is articulate and has a sharp mind that is kept active partly by her disciplined approach to reading, even one paragraph a day. When she speaks, one immediately recognises that she has an excellent grasp of international affairs and their impact on the Caribbean region.
Mottley has served the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in several capacities since entering politics at age 29. She has held key Cabinet positions and is the visionary behind her country's Education Sector Enhancement Programme (Edutech), a programme designed to increase the number of young people contributing to the island's sustainable social and economic development. The former deputy prime minister became leader of the opposition in Barbados after her party's January defeat at the polls.
Last weekend, Mottley was the special guest speaker at a banquet put on by dispute-resolution lobbyists Peace and Love in Society (PALS). She spoke to Lifestyle Editor Barbara Ellington on a number of issues.
Why have more Caribbean women not entered politics?
The right for women to vote is a very recent experience. But politics can be a very demanding environ-ment and most of us have to be literally on the front line in terms of investment of time and the attacks that come that come with it. Many women have traditionally indicated their disgust and I have a difficulty with the kind of politics that is practised in the region, so that's one reason.
But I was exposed to it from a very early age and made a conscious decision that I could rise above the negatives or I could choose to be intimidated by it because it takes two hands to clap and by staying above it, I don't help perpetuate it. The fact that I am a woman was never part of my consideration in entering politics. But having reached there, I do recognise that women and men have different perspectives on certain developmental issues. I think we need the combination of the two in order to get the appropriate balance in development.
I listen to a lot of the rhetoric from the current Obama/Clinton election race in the United States of America and I wonder whether you have experienced any deliberate anti-female gender agenda by segments in the region and elsewhere.
No, but whenever it comes, it's because of some underlying reason; it is there but used as an excuse to disguise the real issue, but you have to be confident in yourself not to take on these things. I said before that you can choose to be intimidated or rise above it and stay focused.
I would certainly like to see a higher level of participation among women. In the BLP, during our last term in office, women constituted only one third of the Cabinet. In the new government, there are only two female members out of 17, but I don't want to blow it out of proportion because you do not put people into politics just for the sake of putting them there. If women enter politics, they must be up to the task.
You were an integral force in the re-election of your party in at least two elections. What went wrong this time?
I think people wanted change. I managed the campaigns in 1990 and 2003, and even though I did not manage this one, it was clear to me that the party would have been up against the natural human desire for change. The BLP has had a long and good opportunity to make a difference to people's lives (14 years). We have never had a party have a fourth term in Barbados. People were also cognisant of that in spite of the strong performance of the government. (Last-quarter unemployment figures for October to December 2007 was 6.7 per cent, the lowest ever attained in our history). Obviously, there are other issues that would have affected different groups of people. At the end of the day, we recognise that only 1,670 votes across six constituencies separated us from the new government.
You are the first female opposition leader in the country and that means you could very well be the first female prime minister. Do you have it at the back of your mind that in five or 10 years, 'I am going to be prime minister?'
That's up to the people.
That's such a safe and diplomatic answer.
No, it's the reality. We accept in our political system that the will of the people dominates. Do I believe that the BLP will continue to be a vibrant force in the electoral process in Barbados? Of course, I do. Last week, we started our 70th anniversary celebrations. We are the oldest political party in the English-speaking Caribbean and we have known what it is to be in both government and opposition, so we have known victory and defeat.
Our challenge is to renew programmes and our attractiveness, making it more relevant to the times in which we live, but keeping it anchored to the philosophy that effectively informs the formation of the party. I feel strongly that our philosophy is as relevant today as it was at the start. People must be at the centre of our mission in terms of being able to transform their lives. We have seen tremendous gain in the Caribbean over the last 70 years and we have done so without the dislocation and the bloodshed that other countries have had, but we are not yet there and times have changed significantly.
There are some international challenges that will continue to bedevil us. Whether it be climate change; the risk of recolonisation as a result of the infusion of information affecting the core values of our young people; our excessive dependence on energy and its limited availability in the world; or, whether it is in relation to domestic issues that have to be addressed by us. All of what we do has to be with the mission of taking our people out of poverty and ensuring that the gains of the past are not sacrificed because of an inability to appropriately meet these challenges.
The US election campaign is now in full force. Of the three candidates, who do you think best represents the Caribbean's interests? Where should we be making arguments for long-term and sustainable assistance or cooperation, particularly since the US is one of the main beneficiaries of our region's brain drain?
They are fighting a domestic election and there has been insufficient information from any of the candidates to allow us in the Caribbean to make an informed decision as to which candidate will be best for us. We can try to do so from an examination of historical evidence in relation to the two parties. But that may be dangerous, particularly when Barack Obama is already signalling that he is not carrying forward the commitments and perceptions of the past in order to govern for the future.
NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION
The second part of the question needs to be answered outside the context of existing candidates. I don't believe we have enough information, they are fighting for America, not the Caribbean. Our relationship with them has always been strongest when there is a need to take us into account because of a domestic issue. That's the nature of countries and human beings.
The sooner we in the Caribbean realise that we have to revisit aspects of our own development and foreign policy that are premised purely on a North Atlantic focus, the better it will be for us. We have seen elements of that diversification since inde-pendence, but in my view, we are going to see more, particularly given the removal of boundaries and the improvement of capital and people across the world.
The issue is, what will be the appropriate mechanism to succeed the Caribbean Basin Initiative framework that was focused primarily on a region producing goods, but that is now dealing with one that has a combination of goods and services.
Part of the difficulty is that at a state-to-state level, cooperation has been greatest in the area of security, largely because if you are neighbours, you have common boundaries, and with common boundaries, there are common security threats. Even though we have not been as successful as I would have liked to have seen, in terms of modernising economic relationships to reflect the realities of our economies, we have had a strong relationship in terms of cooperation in the security arena.
GOOD, STRONG COOPERATION
I can speak from the experience during our relationship as we prepared for World Cup cricket last year. There was good, strong cooperation between us, the US, the United Kingdom and Canada, but what concerns us is that we are unlikely to be the beneficiaries of development aid in the same way as we would have been in the past.
While there is need to support some aspects of aid, the truth is we have to recognise that we must create our own economic opportunities so it is more important for us to determine market access as well as where possible we move away from reciprocity, recognising the differences in size and capacity and issues attending the relationship between a large country and a small one.
Things that large countries can buffer, we cannot. We don't have the institutional capacity or the kind of capital, and that is why we have been fighting as a region for special and differential treatment for our small economies to give ourselves the time to appropriately restructure our economies without suffering from the inevitable dislocations that will come in a short time.