- - Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Organization of American States (OAS) is the oldest multilateral institution in the Americas, and its membership includes all independent countries of the Western Hemisphere. It is a forum in which Suriname’s active engagement with its regional partners has increased markedly in the past few years. “In the last few years, there has been a noticeable enhancement of Suriname’s engagement at the OAS, within the Councils of the Organization and its interactions with the General Secretariat. There is a renewed activism among its delegation, manifested in the leadership role it has taken on a number of issues. With Suriname’s assumption of the Chairmanship of the OAS Permanent Council on January 1, 2015, I anticipate that this renewed commitment to multilateralism will only increase,” says José Miguel Insulza, current Secretary General of the OAS.

How does multilateral engagement within the Organization of American States (OAS) help to promote Suriname’s foreign policy, particularly with regard to the notion of “economic diplomacy”?

My Government is committed to contribute to a peaceful and harmonious world order. It is our belief that through the use of negotiated solutions for regional and international conflicts, we can contribute to the promotion of peace and order within our society, our region and beyond. Now, multilateralism is an important pillar of the foreign policy of my country, and this is the context in which we engage with the OAS.

Our foreign policy reflects our specific national development goals, and our economic and social interests drive these goals. The diplomatic tool to advance these interests is economic diplomacy, by embracing national development policies to achieve socio-economic well being. The OAS, the oldest multilateral institution in the Americas, is a forum within which economic diplomacy can function as a catalyst for the interests of my country. In particular integral development – one of the four pillars on which the work of the OAS is based – provides a broad-based framework to build on my Government’s developmental objectives.

How do you see the effects of this multilateral engagement on Suriname’s goal of “development with social inclusion,” specifically with reference to key areas like health care, education and housing?

I see multilateralism as a key instrument for regional, sub-regional and national socio-economic development, in which the overall aim is to promote economic development, national prosperity and human well-being. The OAS integral development pillar aims to reduce poverty and promote social and economic development through political dialogue. This objective draws in turn from the Social Charter of the Americas and the Draft Plan of Action, which encapsulates the areas you mentioned of health care, education and housing as well as water and sanitation, scientific and technological development and others.

Suriname is actively engaged in helping to shape the regional integral development agenda through the sharing of our own programs and policies. My Government sees the human being as at the center of all development activities. So we focus on policies for social inclusion for our people to gain greater access to relevant social, economic, political and cultural systems, which we expect will reduce poverty levels and contribute to long-term development. To give you some tangible examples of this:

Suriname has embarked on an expansive social housing project aimed at providing decent and affordable housing to low-income groups, the elderly, persons with disabilities and young families in need of government assistance. The Government established a housing construction fund together with the private sector to finance this project.

The National Health Sector Plan for 2012-16 provides health services free of charge for children between 0 and 16 years of age and persons over 60. Another subsidized program targets the improvement of nutritional health for newborn babies.

The Government has abolished tuition for primary education, making it universal and free of cost. Other educational programs we support include the After School Program, aimed at providing after-school care such as homework assistance and meals to children from disadvantaged groups.

I would also like to draw your attention to an historic transformation of our society brought about by the adoption of three laws – on Minimum Wage, National Pensions and Basic Health Insurance. The political process through which this legislation was achieved underscores the Surinamese Government’s commitment to equality and social justice.

The implementation of these and other socio-economic programs in Suriname dovetails with the commitments we have made as a country at the different multilateral engagements. Each country should develop the model that is most appropriate for its own demographic, social and economic circumstances. International and regional developmental frameworks can guide this development, create more synergy in cooperative efforts and promote regional equality.

How do Suriname and its OAS partners collaborate to learn from each other’s national and regional development experiences?

Suriname’s collaboration with the OAS is a reflection of deepening Inter-American solidarity and cooperation. This provides, in my opinion, ample opportunities to complement our national efforts for our development agenda. Within the OAS, countries cooperate closely with each other through activities in sub-regional groups (for example CARICOM, SICA and ALADI). Through these sub-regional groups, country-specific experiences, circumstances and positions are continually shared among participating members.

For example Suriname collaborates and negotiates within the 14-member sub-group CARICOM (Caribbean Community). Out of this collaboration come opportunities for strategic alliances and cooperation in areas like public-private partnerships (PPPs). I find that this coalition-building at the diplomatic level creates enormous advantages in safeguarding our national, regional and sub-regional interests with a strong and common voice. Dialogue, in fact, has proven to be the strongest instrument for effecting positive change.

Perhaps you could share your thoughts on the evolution of the role of women in Suriname’s socio-economy, in particular the experience of women in diplomacy?

Women in Suriname fulfill an important role in supporting the development of our country. The participation of women in decision-making environments has progressed over the past two decades; for example, the Speaker of the National Assembly is female as is the Minister of Social Affairs and Housing. Women also hold the lead position of Permanent Secretary in various ministries and departments. I am confident that the numbers of female ambassadors will grow. It is an exciting time to be engaged in diplomacy and development!

Suriname’s unusually diverse culture – ethnically and religiously – offers a potentially compelling example to the world that “diversity works.” Is there a way for Suriname to be a prominent voice on the world stage for cultural diplomacy?

I am certain that Suriname can be a prominent voice on the world stage for cultural diplomacy. We offer a model for how a healthy diversity can bring about a peaceful and accepting society. For Suriname, unity lies in the acceptance of our cultural diversity. You can see this in many tangible, visual ways.

For example, the Ala Kondre Dron (translated as “All-Country Drum”) is a percussion and dance tradition that showcases the musical styles of Suriname’s different cultures – Maroons, Hindustanis, Javanese and Amerindians. Unity is celebrated in the poetry of Robin Ravales, also known as Dobru and a leading light of Suriname’s literary history.

A source of particular pride for me, and an image I believe the world would find riveting, is that Suriname is the only nation in the world where a Jewish synagogue stands right next to an Islamic mosque. The advent of social media and the growing global literacy of the world’s citizens – especially among the younger generations – perhaps affords us a natural megaphone through which Suriname can engage the world in cultural diplomacy.

What else would you like a reader of this article to know about Suriname?

There is much for Suriname to share with the world in terms of our cultural diversity and how as a nation we have been able to further our quest for long-term development. We are endowed with rich natural resources and exemplary biodiversity. In fact we are the greenest nation on earth, with forests covering over 90 percent of our territory.

Our Government has put great emphasis on developing these natural resources for economic benefit, while at the same time being mindful of the critical importance of environmental sustainability to safeguard our future.

We are a nation with steady economic growth and open to international cooperation. We are committed to regional integration, multilateralism and many levels of diplomacy. I am of the view that my country is gradually coming of age not only in regional politics but also on the world stage. We are on a path to have a greater, increasingly engaged presence within the Americas and beyond.

This article was produced in conjunction with The Washington Times International Advocacy Department.

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