Former Prime Minister of Barbados Owen Seymour Arthur passed away last Monday at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in his homeland. He battled a heart-related illness and died at the age of 70.
Arthur is a huge loss not just for Barbados and the Caribbean but to the entire world. One of his most significant accomplishments was paving the way for the creation of CARICOM, or the Caribbean Community.
Ralph E. Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the current chairman of the CARICOM, said, “Owen Arthur was the chief architect, advocate, and intellectual guide of the CARICOM single market and economy. He was deeply committed to making our union in the Caribbean more perfect, the best practicable institutional political and economic expression of our Caribbean civilization. We owe him an immense debt of gratitude.”
His love for Caribbean people is evident in the support that he offered to other countries in the region, and it is safe to say that he left an indelible mark in his beloved country. The fact that this icon made history when he served as prime minister of Barbados for three consecutive terms -- 1994 to 2008 -- is commendable.
During his administration, he introduced reforms that put a dent in unemployment numbers. In 1994, unemployment in Barbados was at 20%, but by 2000 it had decreased to 9%.
Arthur also made changes in the agricultural and tourism industries that resulted in an increase that could be described as a domino effect. This success lead to landslide victories in the 1999 elections. It should be noted that the former prime minister also served as a member of Parliament for St. Peter from 1984 to 2008.
The Peoples Progressive Party in Guyana expressed its profound sadness in the passing of Arthur who believed in democracy and the rule of law. He led the Commonwealth Elections Observer Team to monitor the March elections in Guyana, where President Granger has still not conceded.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica recalled in his tribute the assistance that Arthur offered his country during a very difficult economic time.. When Dominica was placed in the International Monetary Fund's “structural adjustment program,” the then-prime minister extended a “highly concessionary” loan of $10 million, which was a leg up for Dominica out of its financial downturn.
“Dominica will remain eternally grateful,” Skerrit said.
Jamaicam Prime Minister Andrew Holness in his Twitter tribute described Arthur as "an economist who was passionate about his country and the dream of regional integration.”
Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell gave a more personal tribute that was published in the New Grenada newspaper. He recounts how they met as students at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus in Barbados. They not only studied together but they also played on the school's cricket team. After graduation they returned to their respective countries and entered the political arena around the same time. They remained close friends and colleagues and Mitchell described him as “one of the best political minds of the region.”
Mia Mottley, the current leader of Barbados and a mentee of Arthur, said in her tribute: “My friends, our country, Barbados, is the poorer for his passing. His intellect was larger than life. His love of country was constant as a northern star. The last title bestowed on him was the most fitting – professor of practice. For Owen was first and foremost a teacher. Taking the most complex economic issues and stripping them down to be understood by the average man and average woman in the shop. His keen sense of history and of politics shared daily with an emerging class of politicians that he would claim responsibility for bringing to public life.”
This giant of a man will be sorely missed.