Camillo Gonsalves For the Plaintiff & Defendant Your Honour

By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox PhD

In the early 80s I left our shores to pursue my tertiary education. On arrival at university I suffered the massive shock of people’s total ignorance and dismissal of my country. Virtually no one knew of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Even Jamaicans could only remember there were some “small island name some kind ah Saint.” This pain I still feel to day. Since then, through my practice first as an international law specialist and diplomat, and then as an international civil servant and university lecturer at institutions around the world, I have come to fully appreciate that my country and most other small islands are seen by the powerful as nuisances to be ignored. In “Globalised. Climatised. Stigmatised,” Camillo Gonsalves issues a stinking rebuke of this foul arrogance.  This work is essential reading for any politician, student, researcher, indeed patriot possessing a genuine interest in the fate of these states. Here is why.

In 185 pages Gonsalves delivers 12 essays excellently penned, convincingly demonstrating that small islands battle for survival is very real, and the forces aligned against us are not imaginary, but lawgivers of crass perfidy, mastering an international legal architecture that de facto is a hangman’s noose for us. Importantly, Gonsalves affirms in his introduction that small islands are resistant and resilient; and shall prevail!  His “We little but we talawah” opening salvo is necessary if the rational and reasonable are to keep faith amidst this threatening despair.  

The book is serialized into three sections. In the first Gonsalves surveys in five chapters the existing global situation and the place and role of small islands in the same. He shows how debt, unfair trade, economic powerlessness and marginalization, small and limited diplomatic muscles all play a hand in trying to force small islands into a debilitating situation. What is fundamental to his argument here is that this is all “rule based.” Rules established before the existence of most of these states and which are decidedly against their interests. He rightly insists these “inequitable rules” must be changed. The question is how? Of equal importance is when, for as he shows in the next section, time is of the essence to small islands.

The terror that climate change represents to small islands is the central thesis of section two. Here Gonsalves relying on facts postulates, “The greatest long-term threat to the development of small islands is climate change.” He underlines the unfolding frightening reality in the gloomiest yet apt terms, warning, “island states are on the verge of being ‘climatised’ out of existence.” As counsel for the plaintiff, his is an unambiguous call for international legislation “to penalise” the culprits. Even so, one sense and shares in his frustration with their stoic indifference, and could all but literally see him in full flight in the halls of international diplomacy unflinchingly declaring, “Island leaders have grown tired of telling the major emitters that climate change is an urgent problem – an existential problem. The defining challenge of our times. The responses to islands’ alarms has been hollow promises, crocodile tears and studied indifference to the root causes of our distress. To date the response of major emitters amounts to a reckless and criminal disregard of the consequences and obligations of their actions.”

Section three spans chapters nine to twelve and inter alia decries these Pharaoh’s penchant to legalize their every effort to close any and every pathway for small islands’ development. Gonsalves does not beat around the bush but cuts to the chase. “One of the features of modern globalisation is that its most far reaching rules and draconian punishments are conceived and enforced not through inclusive or representative intergovernmental bodies, but instead, in close opaque groups.” He leads the defence against this insisting “island state must demand the attention of the larger states, force their way into the inner sancta of global decision making, and stand confidently on the principles that are central to islands’ existence.”

He adjourns through a conclusion that is as instructive as it is inspiring. “Our ability to survive and thrive in the most difficult of circumstances has repeatedly confounded naysayers and challenged the mouldy conventional wisdom of great power politics….., the very existence of islands is a rebuke to those who ….. questioned …. their ability to navigate a rapidly globalising world.” Here Gonsalves affirms the prophecy of Brother Bob, “Dem ah go tired fe see we face. Can’t get we outta de race.” 

At no time is Gonsalves amicus curiae. He is at once committed legal advocate, plaintiff, and defendant. In him is wrapped, the anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, and the combatant against neoliberal globalization. For artillery in this fight he turns to the philosophical, ideological, wise and scholastic cannons of Marley, Chalkdust, C.L.R. James, Norman Girvan and others, showing real conviction born of a profound understanding of our reality. 

This work is a tour de force on the justice of our cause, both as plaintiff and defendant. It is much more than a work of excellent scholarship. It is a noble, passionate, convicting, inspiring and bold declaration that we will fight this nefarious intention to globalise, climatise and stigmatise us out of existence!!   

Richard A. Byron-Cox is an international law specialist, sustainable development expert and diplomat.

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