Sen. Camillo Gonsalves. (IWN file photo)

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

March 6th, 2014

In recent weeks, issues related to my eligibility to serve in the Parliament of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have been raised in some quarters. I was loath to respond to many of the baseless and wildly erroneous claims that were circulating regarding my citizenship and allegiance to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Indeed, I privately likened the claims against me to those made by the so-called “birthers” in the United States, who, despite ample legal and factual evidence to the contrary, continue to question H.E. Barack Obama’s constitutional right to serve as President of his country.

However, some Parliamentary members of the opposition New Democratic Party have recently decided to give credence to these false claims, and have also raised questions about my eligibility to serve in my current capacity. It is regrettable that, almost six months after they welcomed me into the Parliament of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines without objection, some members of the Opposition have allowed themselves to be misled on this issue by fringe elements and Internet crackpots. It is even more unfortunate that opposition parliamentarians with extensive legal training have been so completely bamboozled by the mindless patter of the uninformed chatterati. I listened with dismay to a radio programme on 27th February, in which opposition members, with no knowledge of the facts, and precious little understanding of the applicable law, made a series of false statements that would have confused Vincentians not only about my situation, but may have had a chilling effect on other, similarly situated individuals who may have an ambition to serve their country in a similar capacity.

In light of these recent flights of fancy by otherwise credible individuals – as opposed to the earlier rants of uninformed partisan zealots – I now feel compelled to set out the facts and the law related to my citizenship and allegiance.

I. I Am, and Have Always Been, a Citizen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

I was born on the 12th of June 1972 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Sonia Gonsalves of Jamaica. According to the Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, I became a Vincentian citizen – automatically – from the moment of my birth. Section 92 of the Vincentian Constitution states:

Persons born outside Saint Vincent on or after 27th October 1979.

92. A person born outside Saint Vincent after the commencement of this Constitution shall become a citizen at the date of his birth if, at that date, his father or mother is a citizen otherwise than by virtue of this section or section 90(3) of this Constitution.

It is important to note that persons born anywhere in the world to a Vincentian parent become citizens automatically and as of right. There is no registration process or application for such citizenship. I became a citizen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines “at the date of [my] birth.”

Subsequently, I have lived in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; attended primary and secondary school in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; worked and paid taxes in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; and purchased property in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. My Vincentian citizenship cannot be questioned.

II. I Am Constitutionally Qualified to be a Senator in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Section 25 of the Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines sets out the “Qualifications for representatives and Senators” in the following manner:

25. (1) Subject to the provisions of section 26 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be elected as a representative if, and shall not be so qualified unless, he-

a. is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of twenty-one years or upwards

b. has resided in Saint Vincent for a period of twelve months immediately before the date of his nominations for

election or is domiciled and resident in Saint Vincent at that date: and

c. is able to speak and, unless incapacitated by blindness or the physical cause, to read the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him to take an active part in the proceedings of the House.

(2) Subject to the provisions of section 26 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Senator if, and shall not be so qualified unless, he is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of twenty-one years or upwards.

Some of the “birthers,” in their ignorance of the applicable law, have sought to question the issue of the length of my residence or domicile in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines prior to my Senatorial appointment. However, thankfully, mainstream opposition members have steered clear of this particular red herring.

I hope that, beyond the fringe elements, all involved will be satisfied that I am old enough, free of the proscribed incapacities, and sufficiently literate to qualify for Senatorial appointment in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

III. The Fact that I was Born in the United States Does Not Disqualify Me From Serving as a Senator

Both the fringe “birthers” and some mainstream opposition elements have latched onto the fact of my birth in the United States as somehow disqualifying me from Senatorial appointment. In this quest, they have sought to fabricate all sorts of pseudo-legal concepts that have no basis in fact or the considerable body of established judicial opinion on this subject. Listening to the New Times radio programme on 27th February, I was shocked to hear learned lawyers pronouncing definitively on these issues after being advised – on-the-fly – by bloggers and intermittent text messages on the status of the law. Allow me to highlight relevant areas of the law on this issue.

Section 26 of the Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (“Disqualifications for Representatives and Senators”) states, in pertinent part:

26. (1) No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator (hereinafter in this section referred to as a member) if he-

a. is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state,

This provision is a common one in Commonwealth constitutions, both in the Caribbean and beyond. It is settled law that the incident of an individual’s birth in a foreign country is not “his own act” sufficient to disqualify him from being a representative or senator. Since a child cannot chose where he or she is born, the constitutional caveat of “by virtue of his own act” seeks to exempt such individuals from disqualification. Section 26(1)(a) of the Vincentian Constitution, like all such provisions in other constitutions, is designed to disqualify those persons who voluntarily swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign power, as is the case of those adults who acquire citizenship by naturalization.

Further, recent case law is also clear that the possession of passports, drivers licenses, and other “ordinary incidents of citizenship” by natural-born citizens does not disqualify them from Senatorial appointment or election. Indeed, the August 2013 judgment of Hewitt v. Rivers in the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands is instructive. In that case, the Hon. Tara Rivers, a Dual citizen of the Cayman Islands and the United States, was elected to parliament and appointed Minister of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs. Minister Rivers was born in the United States, attended university in the United States, and held a valid United States passport. Her opponent in the elections sought to disqualify her under section 62(1)(a) of the Cayman Islands Constitution, which is identical to section 26(1)(a) of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution.

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, QC ruled that Minister Rivers was not disqualified under the Cayman Islands Constitution. He recognised that Minister Rivers’ birth in the United States was not a voluntary act sufficient to merit disqualification. Further, the Chief Justice stated that:

The intention of the words is not to ensure that those legislators who may happen to hold other citizenship by birth, do not enjoy any of the rights and privileges which are the ordinary incidents of such citizenship.

The Chief Justice also opined that the Constitution and legislature of the Cayman Islands:

must now be taken as wishing to reflect the equality and freedom of all Caymanians including those born in other countries, to participate in the fullest expression of political life even when this is balanced against the needs of the society to have competent and loyal representatives in its Legislative Assembly.

The judgment of Hewitt v. Rivers is freely available online, in its entirety, at http://www.judicial.ky/wp- content/uploads/publications/newsletters/130809-JudgmentHewittvRiversetal.pdf. I continue to marvel at the ability of those who, by virtue of hyper-partisanship or simple laziness, take to the Internet to make pronouncements that are so easily refuted by preexisting, publicly-available, online information. While it may be too much to ask the fringe elements and “birthers” to read all 57 pages of Chief Justice Smellie’s cogent analysis, it is my sincere hope that the legal luminaries in the opposition New Democratic Party will take the time to absorb its implications before making further definitive pronouncements – particularly via the media – on the basis of uninformed blogs and text messages.

I am sure that, having read that judgment and the cases to which it refers, even the most partisan lawyer will concede that the fact of my birth in the United States does not disqualify me in any way from serving in my current Senatorial capacity.

IV. Despite Being Constitutionally Eligible to Serve As Senator, I Took the Personal Decision to Renounce My United States Citizenship Prior to My Appointment

From a purely legal standpoint, it is crystal clear that neither my birth in the United States, nor my resulting United States citizenship, served to disqualify me from serving as a Senator in the Parliament of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. I feel compelled to reemphasise this point, because the recent loose and reckless pronouncements on this issue may have the unfortunate consequence of deterring other foreign-born Vincentians from offering themselves in public service. For a nation like Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, whose Diaspora is larger than its local population, such a chilling effect would be particularly distressing and counterproductive.

Nonetheless, despite the fact that my foreign birth posed no legal impediment to my appointment and service as a Senator, I took a personal and private decision to renounce my United States citizenship. I submitted the requisite formal paperwork at the United States Embassy in Barbados, conduced the necessary interview with Embassy officials, and paid the US$450 fee. All of this was done prior to my taking the oath of office to serve as a senator in the Parliament of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

To be clear: I am not a citizen of the United States of America.

I took that decision as a mark of my personal and unambiguous commitment to public service in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The decision was compelled not by law, but by my own conscience and my private determination about what I consider to be the best way for me to serve the Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

At no point have I ever trumpeted my decision to renounce my United States citizenship, or sought to gain any political currency from the renunciation. The decision was private, personal, and not motivated by any political calculus. Further, I did not want to create the impression in the minds of other foreign-born Vincentians that such a decision was a necessary prerequisite to senatorial or representational service in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. I only disclose my renunciation of United States citizenship at this point in an attempt to dispel the clouds of confusion that the ill- informed and ill-intentioned seek to form around my name.

V. Conclusion

To sum up, I am, and have always been, a citizen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. I am qualified to serve as Senator in the Parliament of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. None of the Constitutional disqualifications to such service apply to me. Additionally, despite the claims of many to the contrary, I am not a citizen of the United States of America. I formally renounced that citizenship prior to taking office as Senator and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Commerce and Information Technology of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the immediate aftermath of my appointment as Senator and Minister, I commented privately that I was pleasantly surprised that opposition politicians were sufficiently mature to avoid the cheap tricks and jingoism of their base and fringe elements. However, much like the “birther” hysteria temporarily consumed more mature elements of the United States Republican Party, so too have elements from the distant fringes of our own Vincentian society managed to co-opt and lead individuals who should be expected to know better.

It is my sincere hope that this rather lengthy missive can be the last word on this unfortunate distraction. I confess that I had been tempted to stay silent, and to see if anyone would be persuaded by the fringe elements to challenge my appointment in a court of law. However, having come to office on a pledge to eschew petty political distractions, and in a time of reconstruction and nation-building in the wake of the Christmas floods, I am making these explanations and disclosures in the genuine desire to move on to more productive pursuits and mature political discourse.

Sincerely,

Camillo M. Gonsalves

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Commerce and Information Technology

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

23 replies on “Camillo Gonsalves’ open letter on his citizenship”

  1. Watching Hard says:

    Nuff said!!!! But, of course, sad but true, no amount of cogent argument, logic, law or evidence would convince rabid “birthers” of the Vincentian kind that Mr. Gonsalves is qualified or suitable for office in a country where we are in absolute dire need of service offered by talented persons like himself.

  2. Eric Williams says:

    I agree with Camillo, and have always thought the Opposition was wasting their time on this issue. In the process they may have turned off thousands of Vincentians who support them, and are in a similar situation as Camillo. Time for them to focus on more important issues.

  3. Peter Binose says:

    Unfortunatly Camillos letter is a total load of crap and I will prove so in a reply that I am writing, if Kenton will be kind to print it promptly.

    I notice this letter coincides with a letter I sent Kenton, which has since been published elsewhere prior to Camillos letter being published on I-Witness.

    Peter Binose
    15.11pm March 6 2014

  4. Teacherfang says:

    Nicely done Camillo. Nicely done.

    Now can you say, Camillo for Prime Minister in 2020?

    LOL…I am just messing with Mourine.

    Mourine!! Eustace FOR 2020?

  5. Jennifer Davis says:

    Thank you Mr. Camillo Gonsalves for making crystal clear to the people of SVG. Perhaps, now we can move on to what it more important in and for our country.

  6. Jennifer Davis says:

    Thank you Mr. Camillo Gonsalves for making crystal clear to the people of SVG. Perhaps, now we can move on to what it more important in and for our country.

  7. The more things change the more they remain the same………

    FLASH-BACK…………The government of Canada is forced to take action against the credibility of THE PEOPLE OF SVG in regard to our foreign mission and our passports. The then minister of foreign affairs avoids any openness on the issue, even to this day, blames the NDP. Shortly after a PERSONAL attack is made on the foreign minister’s credibility by the BBC and the people of SVG which then triggers an immediate open letter.

    FLASH-FORWARD………..The government of USA is forced to take action against the credibility of THE PEOPLE OF SVG in regard to our foreign mission and our passports. The then minister of foreign affairs avoids any openness on the issue, even to this day, blames the NDP. Shortly after a PERSONAL attack is made on the foreign minister’s credibility by the Straight Talkin Mount Vernon Blog and the people of SVG which then triggers an immediate open letter.

  8. Birthers and ignorance, so the purpose of this open letter was to insult all Vincentians that dear to seek clarity with the laws that govern our country.

    I am not a big fan of the NDP but it is the concern of many Vincentians and it’s sad to see your reflex action is to so easily lump everyone as part of the Opposition, then go on to attempt and insult us all. It’s more of the how than the what.

    Lastly, to write all of this in a letter of openness and not be open enough to give the date or place you renounce your US citizenship shows it’s all about trying to one up the opposition and not honestly address the concerns of Vincentians.

    If you are going to be open, do so to the extent that proof is provided:

    – Formal confirmation of the loss of U.S. citizenship is provided by the Certificate of Loss of Nationality and is received by the renunciant a number of months later.

    https://federalregister.gov/a/2013-10852

  9. It appears no matter how much explanation is given some people are either totally incompetent or maybe they indeed have ulterior motives. The Honorable Senator is absolutely correct and to be honest this is rather ridiculous. There are so many important things to do for our country. Mr. Gonsalves has served our country honorably as an ambassador and has earned accolades from leaders across the globe. Hence this issue is total nonsense. Vincentians are a lot smarter than this.

  10. Peter Binose says:

    I find it hard to believe how stupid you people are, haven’t you checked out what he wrote against the constitution.

  11. Puzzling. The young Mr. Gonsalves is no doubt a Vincentian and is therefore qualified to be a senator. My question to you Mr. young Gonslaves is why did you renounce your American citizenship. ( question mark key not functioning well) It makes no sense to me that you would do such given the fact that you are Vincentian and are not in any way disqualified form being a senator in SVG.

    It is going to take a lot more than a letter full of words that leaves a good portion of the Vincentian public confused, a few pulling out a dictionary to find the meaning of, or some just trued off from reading because they do not understand a thing you have said to convince them that you have indeed renounced your U.S citizenship. Naw, wheel and come again bro.

    Please be reminded in case you have forgotten, or if you are not aware note please: keep it simple when you address the vincentian public. Bare in mind you are not just talking to some of us but all of us as Vincentians. The education revolution has not really helped either, to improve the reading skills of Vincentians instead it sinks functional literacy among young Vincentians deeper and deeper.

    Still a letter full of crap.

  12. Horace Williams says:

    Vincentian birth is not necessary for representation in our house of representatives. In fact, most Caribbean countries do not require it.

    Who remembers that Sir John Compton (ex-St Lucian Prime Minister) was born in Canouan?

    Camillo’s father is Vincentian by birth, and that qualifies him to be Vincentian as well.

    Why do empty barrels continue to make the most noise?

  13. Kay Bacchus Browne says:

    A true leader Is someone who respects his people and practices humility . Not a good note to begin your political journey on!!

  14. C. ben-David says:

    No one has focused on a more fundamental issue, namely the extent to which Camillo is a genuine Vincie, a man who can identify with, understand, and fairly represent the needs and aspirations of the masses because he is one of them, socially, culturally, and ideologically.

    How long has he actually resided in SVG? Where and with whom did he grow up and receive his formative education?

    Can he really sympathize with the downtrodden poor when he has such elitist roots and such a privileged status?

    I am reminded of fairly recent political events in Canada where a Canadian-born Harvard professor was brought back “home” to be crowned Leader of the opposition Liberal Party. Two years latter he had to resign because the Canadian people viewed him as an elitist opportunist who had spent most of his life abroad and was out out of touch with the people and the country.

    Could this happen to Camillo?

  15. Dr. Dexter Lewis says:

    You learn something every day. I did not know pomposity and verbosity are genetically inherited. Apparently Baby Doc also read “the Prince” whose techniques Baby Doc employed here.
    He claims to have gone to the Barbados embassy to renounce his citizenship, but WHEN?
    Give us a date. No need for all the garbage attacks on Vincentians.

  16. Yes! I quote sunnyday samuel, Camillo, Vincentian na stupid…”wheel an come again”. Why did you revoke your US citizenship (by birth) if it (according to you) was not necessary. Yo think we stupid like the commissinor and the nemo man pappy have on puppet strings.

  17. my guess is, the opposition cannot find anything in his professional life to tint him with so they are stressing on this issue to score cheap political points.

  18. I guess someone forgot to tell the SVG immigration officers that a child born to a Vincention parent outside of SVG automatically becomes a Vincentian.Because 2yrs ago when I visited my homeland the immigration officer told me that my 16yr daughter can only stay on the island legally for 6mths. Apparantly I needed to file some special papers for her to stay longer or for her to ever live in the country. I guess this special law where you’re automatically a citizen only applies if you’re a Gonsalves.

  19. Peter Binose says:

    Disqualifications for Representatives and Senators.
    26. (1) No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator (hereinafter in this section referred to as a member) if he-
    a. is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state,

    This is the only clause that one may look upon as affecting a proposed senator in the parliament of SVG.

    By what he has told us, it is my opinion that such would not affect Camillo Gonsalves being a senator. But I feel he has not told the whole story. As I have said many times when writing about his father. When telling a story or giving the citizenship information, if you purposely leave out any details which are relevant to the citizenship forming an opinion, that is the same as lying.

    What I think he has failed to tell us that to become a US attorney he was required to swear allegiance to the United States and the US Constitution. That under the terms of SVG’s constitution may of excluded him from being made a Vincentian senator. So why not tell us that, instead of going into a whole load of unnecessary long winded splurge about his birth right.
    26. (1) No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator (hereinafter in this section referred to as a member) if he-
    a. is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.

    Its not about being born in the US its about what is contained in the above clause.

    The clause that he relied on to prove his birth right to citizenship was quoted as 92, because he was born before 1979 clause 92 in fact did not approve his right to citizenship, in fact the opposite. His right to citizenship by birth right via his father may of been caught up in clause 90, that is what he should of quoted at some length.
    Persons born outside Saint Vincent on or after 27th October 1979.
    92. A person born outside Saint Vincent after the commencement of this Constitution shall become a citizen at the date of his birth if, at that date, his father or mother is a citizen otherwise than by virtue of this section or section 90(3) of this Constitution.

    He was born before not after this date. This clause was about people born outside SVG after 1979, he was born in 1972.

    The clause most relevant to him is 90 (3)
    90 (3) Every person who, having been born outside Saint Vincent, is immediately before the commencement of this Constitution a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies shall, if his father or mother becomes, or would but for his death or the renunciation of his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies have become, a citizen by virtue of subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section, become a citizen at such commencement.

    All the cases he quotes have no relevance to his own matters. They are not about people that swore allegiance to the US of their own free will and volition as he did. They are about people born there after 1979. Wrong research.

    He gave up his US citizenship because he had to if he wanted to be an SVG senator. Everything else is a lot of misleading crap.

    Attempting self glorification on a wrong submission of the facts just ‘aint’ very nice.

  20. Based on this letter, I make my comments:

    1. You were born in 1972, but the constitution gives automatic citizenship to persons born after 27th October 1979. Hence your Vincentian citizenship is not automatic. You need to get your citizenship by descent organised.

    2. You are so sure of yourself and your destiny in SVG that you publicly renounced your American citizenship! As a former Ambassador of SVG to the USA you were scolded for not adhering to the barricade signs. As a citizen of and Ambassador in the USA you could not do as you pleased, so you quickly renounce America to try your pompousness on the meek Vincentians. I cannot blame you, a mighty octopus coming to devour crabs.

    3. What a way to enhance your portfolio as Minister of Foreign Affairs by being the subject of much concern.

    4. Your case law is informative, but whether you are of Vincentian parentage is not the issue. You were born before the commencement of the SVG constitution so therein lies your obstacle. Maybe if the Jamaican constitution allows then through your parent you may become a commonwealth citizen and thus qualify for your post.

    5. Humble yourself before the people. The Diplomatic immunity you crave will not be your safety net in the future for times are changing. If you are no longer an American citizen the USA may not be able to pull rank on you easily if you do wrong, but they still will keep an eye on you.

  21. Da-Ree Roberts says:

    As Vincentians I think sometimes we can become to gullible. We hear something and without proper investigation we run with it. I’ve known the writer for quite sometime now and even when he was a cop he has nothing good to say about the PM. So with the Pm’s son as a senator a lot of baseless allegations would spread. To the young senator stay firm and do not loose faith in pursuing your dream. The opposition will do anything just to side track the progress of the ULP administration, especially with the election around the corner; but I know our people has come a long way and have realized what true progress is about.

  22. Am I missing something?

    Carmillo wrote “Persons born outside Saint Vincent on or after 27th October 1979.

    92. A person born outside Saint Vincent after the commencement of this Constitution shall become a citizen at the date of his birth if, at that date, his father or mother is a citizen otherwise than by virtue of this section or section 90(3) of this Constitution.”

    But if I am not mistaken, he was born on 12th of June 1972 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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