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No. 64, 11 July 2014

SOUTHNEWS is a service of the South Centre to provide information and news on topical issues from a South perspective.
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Reflections on the life of a `Gentle Caribbean Giant´, Dr. Norman Girvan, 1941-2014

Prof. Norman Girvan, a giant intellectual and public figure, especially in the Caribbean and the South, passed away in April, when he was receiving medical treatment in Havana. Dr. Girvan, a Jamaican, was the Vice Chairperson of the Board of the South Centre (2006-2011). Below is a tribute by a senior staff member of the South Centre.
By Mariama Williams
South Centre pays tribute to the life of a dear friend, Dr. Norman Paul Girvan, distinguished political economist, a public intellectual and a promoter of economic development grounded in the ethos of community development and social and economic justice in the Caribbean and in the Global South. His transition from this life is a great loss to all whose lives he had indelible touched through his speeches, his academic writings and his political and social advocacy.
Norman P. Girvan, Nyak, to his close friends, was a long supporter of the South Centre, having served on the Board in 2002-2011, and as its Vice Chair in 2006-2011. Girvan was born in Jamaica (1941), lived for a while in Trinidad& Tobago and died on April 10, 2014 in Cuba where he was receiving medical attention from a terrible fall that fall left him paralyzed in Dominica. Norman is survived by his wife, Jasmine, a gifted artist, and his son, Alexander and daughter, Alatash.
At the time of his death, Prof. Girvan was a professorial research fellow at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (Mona Campus, Jamaica) and at the  Graduate Institute of International Relations,( St. Augustine campus), both of the  University of the West Indies. Dr. Girvan, a member of the UN Committee on Development Policy had also been appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations to mediate the border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana. Prior to that he was the second Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States.
Girvan’s rich academic and devoted public service life was grounded in his quest for justice, his belief in the importance of ‘knowing your history, your roots, your heroes and your heroines’ and his profound believe and lived experience of respect for his fellow human beings. He was noted for his commitment to principled positions that encouraged ‘compromise, but never betrayal’.
Girvan was committed to and dedicated his effort in the struggle for social and economic justice, culturally grounded and community based development and regional integration, the latter in particular with regard to the Caribbean and Latin America. He was a strong supporter and mentor of the Caribbean NGO community, whose leadership describes him as a ‘leading exemplar in the struggle for social and economic justice’, who worked tirelessly to ensure inclusiveness across the English, Dutch, English, French and Spanish Speaking Caribbean. He loved Cuba and what it stood for in terms of independent development path and avoidance of the machinations of external powers over development pathways, including the potential deleterious effect of multinational corporations on development.
Dr. Girvan’s distinguished career as a Caribbean and development scholar and a public servant has left a wonderful legacy of writings on the five dominant themes of his professional and service:  the impact of multinational corporation (as a mechanism of under-development) and extractive industries on development; the role of debt and IMF policies, including structural adjustment programme on development; the central role of technology in development, the critical importance of regional integration in Caribbean development and the political economy of the South. He wrote eleven books, edited seven volumes and published over 100 articles and book chapters. He also founded the Association for Caribbean Economists.
His journey as a passionate and purposeful national, regional and international public intellectual (an engaged academic) ranged from   early positions as  Director of the National Planning Agency of Jamaica (1970s); to Dakar, Senegal, where he worked with the United Nations African Institute for Development and Planning in Dakar; Regional Coordinator of the Caribbean Technology Policy Studies Project of the University of the West Indies/University of Guyana; the now   (now defunct UN Centre for Transnational corporation). Norman was also a Visiting Fellow at the Universities of Chile, McGill, Northwestern.  Ultimately, he served multiply terms as a most beloved former board  member of the South Centre, Geneva, for which, at the time of his death, he was undertaking research  on the implementation process of the Economic partnership Agreement between the EU and the Caribbean.
Dr. Girvan was a passionate intellectual giant and a beacon of scholarship in service of the Caribbean and the South in general. He worked tireless on the question of economic development that could be promoted by focusing on regional integration, community development and, above all, by  independent and critical thinking.
He recently wrote that:
I subscribe to the view that true sovereignty begins with independent and critical thought…this must remain the goal for those who have been subjected to centuries of colonization and metropolitan imposition of one kind or another.
Drawing on the reflections of one of his friends and colleagues at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Brian Meeks, it seems quite appropriate to end this reflection with two lines from Dylan Thomas that so well resonates with the life and passion of this gentle giant, Norman P. Girvan, and his ultimate lesson to us all.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas
Author: Mariama Williams is Senior Programme Officer of the Global Governance for Development Programme (GGDP) of the South Centre. Contact at:
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