I had the honour to meet and briefly discuss with Dr Norman Girvan, when he spoke at a most interesting two-day symposium held in October 22009 at St Mary’s University SMU) in Halifax, along with the Cuban, Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors and several other invited guests from Latin America. Dr Girvan gave a terrific presentation on ALBA, pointing to a number of forces that have combined to bring about positive change for the majority of people in the region who have been marginalized for centuries. The topic of our own discussion was the actual role that Canada plays in the Caribbean and Latin America, which is nefarious and long-standing. Unlike imperialist academics who come to Canada to lecture, he was most open to our views, experiences and researches. (He visited SMU again in November 2013, speaking at a conference on alternative trade.) That encounter led me to read some of his writing and studies on his website. I share all the positive sentiments expressed by David Abdulah and Isaac Saney about Dr Girvan, his internationalist outlook, life and work, and his enduring legacy.
The following tribute by David Abdullah reflects the enduring significance of Dr. Norman Girvan.
The passing of a Caribbean patriot
The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) mourns the passing of a true Caribbean patriot, Professor Norman Girvan. Professor Girvan has contributed immensely to the struggle for social justice, equity, the improvement of the well being and dignity of the ordinary Caribbean man, woman and child and the sovereignty of the region.
While a Jamaican by birth, Professor Girvan has throughout his adult life been a Caribbean man. Thus his entire academic experience has been lecturing at the University of the West Indies – first at the Mona campus and later at the St. Augustine campus. He was a member of the seminal New World Group in the ‘60’s and later a founding member and former President of the Association of Caribbean Economists (ACE) which brought together leading economists from every territory in the region and from across all the language areas. Professor Girvan extended his public service from his native Jamaica where for a number of years he headed that country’s National Planning Agency to the region, serving as Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, headquartered here in Port of Spain. Since that time he and his family have made Trinidad their home. Professor Girvan contribution to regional integration is legion, beginning with studies on regional resource use in the 60’s and early 70’s to the very important study on the implementation of the Caribbean Single Economy for Caricom, a work that has never been implemented, much to the region’s loss.
Professor Girvan’s name is highly respected throughout the region not only for his academic work as the Caribbean’s foremost political economist, but as one who has championed progressive causes. He has been a friend of the Cuban revolution and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. He was in the forefront of the campaign against the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and Cariforum (Caricom plus the Dominican Republic), which he saw as an affront to Caribbean sovereignty and our ability to determine our own economic development. He supported the struggle by the Haitian people to end the UN occupation by MINUSTAH troops and most recently, he championed the cause of the Haitian descendents born in the Dominican Republic and denied citizenship by the country of their birth. Professor Girvan was also a highly respected Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General with regard to the Venezuela- Guyana border dispute.
In this regard, Professor Girvan was not simply an academic but one who recognise that his intellectual talents and skills should used in the interest of the ordinary men and women, the workers, farmers, poor – those who traditionally do not count. He was one of the few intellectuals who maintained this position throughout their life. For Norman this was not about occasional charity, it was a revolutionary duty! In this regard he must be counted together with Walter Rodney – his colleague in the famous study group organised by CLR James in London in the mid 1960’s when they were students in England.
Norman Girvan was a wonderful human being, one of the finest examples of a person that has walked the Caribbean. He was always prepared to give of his time and talent to NGO’s, the labour movement, international organisations and networks, and lectured and shared his ideas with as many people as time would permit. Professor Girvan set up his own website and through this use of social media provided a wealth of information and generated debates around important social, political and economic issues. He worked with the late Angela Cropper and Dennis Pantin around sustainable development and Chaired the Cropper Foundation. He mentored a younger generation of activists and developed with them the ground breaking “Carib 1804 Voices” – an on line journal.
Norman Girvan was simply one of best sons that Jamaica and the Caribbean has produced!
He endured the pain of his tragic accident, which occurred while he was vacationing in early January this year in Dominica with his family. For the past three months, though completely immobile, Norman’s mind was as active as ever and his spirits were always high. We had all hoped and prayed that he would be able to overcome the terrible injury that he had suffered, but sadly this was not the case.
The Caribbean has lost a fighter and believer in social justice, one who knew that another world is not only necessary but possible! The working people and poor have lost a true friend! Academia has lost of its most fertile minds! The MSJ has lost a comrade! And his family has lost a father and husband. To Jasmine, his wife, and to his children we express our very sincere sympathy and extend our solidarity.
We celebrate his life! We thank him for all that he has contributed to so many! And in the words of that great Guyanese poet, Martin Carter, we say:
If it must be
you speak no more with me
nor smile no more with me
nor march no more with me
then let me take
a patience and a calm
for even now the greener leaf explodes
sun brightens stone
and all the rivers burn
now from the mourning vanguard moving on
dear comrade I salute you and say
death must not find us thinking that we die
Farewell, Norman, rest in peace! Your work is done. You did it exceedingly well and it will live on for generations to come! A Luta Continua!
Movement for Social Justice