Late LIAT chairman Sir Owen Arthur, who died yesterday, has been described as “one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century Caribbean”.
The accolade came from Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles in expressing condolences on the passing of Arthur, also a former Prime Minister of Barbados.
The 70-year-old was the fifth and longest serving Barbadian Prime Minister to date.
“Emerging from the second generation of nation builders he was a successful champion of the most important discourses of his time,” Beckles continued. “We knew him as a quintessential regionalist and a leader in development economics. He was also a humanist with deep commitment to social justice.”
Arthur was a vibrant part of the university community. In 2018, he was appointed Professor of Practice: Economics of Development at the UWI Cave Hill Campus and served until the time of his passing.
He was also a notable economist, and an alumnus of both the Cave Hill and Mona campuses. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1971 in economics and history at Cave Hill, and his Master’s degree in economics in 1974 at Mona.
Arthur began working in Jamaica in 1973, first as a research assistant at the university and later as an assistant economic planner with the Jamaica government’s National Planning Agency.
In 1981 he returned to Barbados, and worked for the Barbadian Ministry of Finance and Planning from 1981 to 1983, then 1985 to 1986, and also served as a research fellow at UWI’s Institute of Social and Economics Research from 1983 to 1985.
His political career began with his appointment to the Barbadian Senate in 1983. In 1993 he was appointed as the parliamentary Opposition Leader as head of the Barbados Labour Party and, upon the party’s decisive victory in the September 1994 elections, he became Prime Minister.
After his political career Arthur remained connected to his alma mater and continued to nurture an intimate relationship with the UWI. Since 2016, he served as one of the eminent patrons of the annual UWI Global Giving Week, which has been dedicated to cultivating support to strengthen UWI’s capacity to drive regional development.
As part of his academic life, he delivered several distinguished lectures, on topics such as “Caribbean Regionalism in the Context of Economic Challenges”, “The IMF and the Caribbean: New Directions for a New Relationship,” and “Brexit and the New Caribbean Trade Agenda”.
In 2017, he was a lead participant at the first major public event for the SUNY-UWI Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development hosted in New York—a Symposium titled “The Crisis in Correspondent Banking and its Impact on Sustainable Economic Development in the Caribbean”.
In 2018, Arthur was among 70 alumni honoured as part of UWI’s 70th anniversary celebrations and he also donated his Cabinet papers collated during his 14-year tenure in office to Cave Hill’s special collections.
In his condolences, Vice-Chancellor Beckles added, “The UWI he empowered in his role as Prime Minister, and from which he was proud to be a graduate, researcher, and lecturer, Professor of Practice, and Honorary Distinguished Fellow, celebrates his legacy. Condolences are offered to his family, and government and people of Barbados.”
Tributes were also forthcoming from Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne who said Sir Arthur was one of the region’s “most thoughtful, intelligent and iconic sons” and an “unrelenting ally” to the twin island nation.
“His roots were planted deep in the regional dream of integration; he was locked-in to this grand future by the castle of his love for the Caribbean people and their institutions.
“Most recently, when appointed by Barbados as the chairman of LIAT, he evinced his commitment to the future of our regional air carrier. He encouraged me to fight on to save LIAT from liquidation, embracing it as a regional institution that was worthy of a future,” Browne said.
“When I spoke with him last, from my Cabinet meeting room, he congratulated the shareholder governments for making the compromise that has led to LIAT’s re-organisation.”
Arthur also recently served as the head of the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Guyana’s general and regional elections.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US, Sir Ronald Sanders, said he had been in discussion with Arthur almost daily in recent weeks, until Arthur was admitted to hospital a week ago.
“He was deeply troubled by events in Guyana and about matters concerning LIAT,” Sir Ronald revealed.
“Most of all, he was worried by dangers of fragmentation in the Caribbean Community in whose cause he worked to the very end. He richly deserves to be remembered as an outstanding Caribbean champion,” he added.
Guyanese politician – and the second Commonwealth Secretary-General – Sir Shridath Ramphal said Caricom had “lost a great West Indian”.
“We are all the poorer for Owen’s going. His last leadership role was to chair the Commonwealth’s Observer Mission to the Guyana elections where he distinguished himself for his courage in speaking truth to power,” he continued.
“May his memory be honoured in the upholding of his candour. And may Caricom for all time be guided by his credo of regional integration that marked his service to Barbados and the Caribbean Community entire,” Sir Shridath added.