The Wall Street Journal / October 2, 2000
By Larry Luxner
Sir Courtney Blackman, the longest-serving ambassador to the United States in Barbados history, has been on the job since 1995. An economist by profession, he was appointed founding governor of the Central Bank of Barbados in 1972 and remained there until 1987, when he became an international business consultant. Blackman, 67, leaves his ambassadorial post this month. Here are excerpts from our interview:
Q: How has the Barbadian economy fared during your five years as ambassador?
A: "The economy has never been better. There's very strong investment in tourism and construction, and the financial services sector is also doing very well. In fact, we now have a shortage of workers. We have to import them from Guyana, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. We have $500 million in foreign reserves -- more than it's ever been -- and our currency remains at 2:1 parity with the U.S. dollar. The challenge for us is to reposition society in order to do as well in the future as we have in the past."
Q: Why is Barbados doing so well these days?
A: "We have remarkable political stability. We've been independent for 34 years, and recrimination against the white minority [estimated at 4% of the total population of 267,000] has been minimal. There's never been a political killing in Barbados. Even before independence, nobody could remotely be described as having been a political prisoner. Since 1937, there's been no incident where policemen or soldiers have had cause to disperse a group of citizens. Political stability is the most important characteristic of Barbados. But also important is the tremendous expenditures we've made since the 1950s on education."
Q: How would you characterize U.S.-Barbados relations?
A: "Every time America's vital interests have been at stake, Barbados has been on her side. In the Revolutionary War, Basrbados was very supportive of the colonies. The words 'taxation without representation' was heard in Bridgetown long before they were heard in Boston. And Barbadians fought in both World Wars I and II, and in the Vietnam War.
"The historical ties between our countries are considerable. Barbados is in the process of rekindling them. We want to preserve our heritage, and we find that it fits in beautifully with our tourism efforts."
Q: How do you view efforts by the United States and other countries to form a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) by 2005?
A: "I came here following the Summit of the Americas in 1994. In the first two years, I represented Barbados at almost every summit review, focusing on the problems of small states within the proposed FTAA. You have 34 countries ranging in size from the United States to Dominica. You want an FTAA that helps everybody, and there was a strong tendency by some larger countries to say, 'we're going to form an FTAA, and you're going to get on board.' That battle is not over yet."
Q: Could Barbados actually benefit from a hemispheric-wide free trade agreement?
A: "That depends on what kind of FTAA we have. It's conceivable that we could have an FTAA that really hurts us and marginalizes the smaller states. A free-trade organization alone does not naturally produce equity."
Q: How does the proposed accord compare with Caricom or the European Union?
A: "The EU is a political organization as well as a free-trade organization, and that implies a much stronger sense of community than the FTAA. Development of the EU involved tremendous transfer of real resources from the wealthier countries to poorer ones like Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece. This is not contemplated under the FTAA."
Q: How much influence does Barbados really have in Washington?
A: "We're limited by our size, so what we try to do, as much as possible, is integrate with other Caricom member states and mount a common lobbying position."
Q: Are there areas where you strongly disagree with the United States?
A: "We disagree on Cuba, and more recently, we've disagreed on the approach of the OECD in the area of money-laundering. We don't differ with the objectives, but with the methodology.
"Our record in dealing with money-laundering is certainly more outstanding than that of any OECD member. If you're going to launder money, the last place you'd go is Barbados. We don't have numbered accounts, bearer bonds or secrecy laws, and we do have a Tax Information Exchange Agreement and an extradition treaty with the United States."
"On the issue of harmful tax competition, we have substantial disagreements with the OECD. We feel that the OECD is not in a legal position to threaten us with sanctions. It's not appropriate for countries to act unilaterally against their friends. But I don't expect it will come to that. A solution will be found."
Q: What about Cuba? Does Barbados feel pressured by the U.S. government to distance itself from the Castro regime?
A: "We feel we have the right to be friends with whoever we want to be. But I should point out that, during the 1983 crisis in Grenada, when the American soldiers exchanged fire with Cuban soldiers, Barbados was the base from which the U.S. operated. I don't want people to get the impression that there's an ideological affinity between Barbados and Cuba. There isn't. But the Cubans are Caribbean people too, and we find that having diplomatic relations is our way of moving Cuba back into the sphere of democratic nations."