Sen. Gonsalves says he renounced his American citizenship ahead of appointment to SVG Parliament

Sen. Camillo Gonsalves, left, and his father, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. (IWN file photo)
Camillo Gonsalves as he is sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs on Sept. 16, 2013. (IWN photo)
Camillo Gonsalves as he is sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs on Sept. 16, 2013. (IWN photo)

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Commerce and Information Technology, Sen. Camillo Gonsalves on Thursday issued an “open letter” in response to claims that he is constitutionally unqualified to be a senator in the Parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Sen. Gonsalves, the U.S.-born son of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, said he has always been a Vincentian, since the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), granted him automatic citizenship at the moment of his birth.

He further said that while the fact of his birth in the United States did not disqualify him from being a senator in SVG, he renounced his American citizenship ahead of his appointment as a senator on Sept. 16, 2013.

(Read Sen. Gonsalves’ open letter)

“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,” Sen. Gonsalves said.

He said that ahead of his appointment as a senator last September, he 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.

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“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,” Sen. Gonsalves said.

Recently on social media and on political talk shows on radio in SVG, there have been allegations that Gonsalves is not qualified to be a senator in the nation’s Parliament.

“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,” Sen. Gonsalves said in his letter.

He said he likened that claims against him 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.”

He, however, said that 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,” the senator wrote.

He said he listened “with dismay” to a radio programme on Feb. 27 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,” the senator wrote.

Always a citizen of SVG

Citing Section 92 of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sen. Gonsalves said that while he was born in Philadelphia on June 12, 1972 to his Vincentian father, and Jamaican mother, Sonia Gonsalves, “I became a Vincentian citizen — automatically — from the moment of my birth.”

Section 72 of the Vincentian Constitution, which speaks to persons born outside St. Vincent on or after 27th October 1979, says:

“ 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,” Sen. Gonsalves said.

He further said that he lived in SVG, attended primary and secondary school in SVG, worked and paid taxes in SVG, and purchased property in SVG. “My Vincentian citizenship cannot be questioned.”

Qualified to be a Senator in SVG

Sen. Gonsalves further said that his birth in the United States does not disqualify him from being a senator in SVG.

He cited Section 25 of the Constitution, which outlines the ‘Qualifications for representatives and Senators”.

The sections says:

(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,” Sen. Gonsalves said.

He further mentioned the constitutional “Disqualifications for Representatives and Senators”, as outlined in Section 26 of the COnsitution, the pertinent part of which states:

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,

Sen. Gonsalves said tis is a common provision 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.

“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,” Sen. Gonsalves said.

12 COMMENTS

  1. You know..it amazes me when the intelligent of SVG like this senator put the ignorant in their rightful place. God bless you son..son of the soil..God bless your work and intelligence. I am proud of you this day and proud of the work you’ve done internationally. I DARE ANYONE TO MATCH HIM IN WORK and DEED. Step up or SHUT UP.

  2. “He further said that while the fact of his birth in the United States did not disqualify him from being a senator in SVG, he renounced his American citizenship ahead of his appointment as a senator on Sept. 16, 2013.”. Am i to assume that this was done in August or early September?. We understand ‘ahead of’ to be days or weeks before and if that is the case please lets us know if you were a US citizen while you represented SVG at the UN.

  3. This is nonsense and it is high time Vincentians stop listening to these fools. People have questions and they want answers simple as that, you don’t have to write a book just to reply. The truth is it doesn’t matter what you want to say but in duel citizenship both countries might not respect the other and any person with duel citizenship should renounce the other if they are going to serve in the highest offices in our country.

    When ever precedence has been set it is will be very hard to change I would like that SVG amend the constitution to block anyone that hold duel citizenship to serve in our office. Just imagine a person from a country that is radical who also hold Vincentian citizenship becoming Prime Minister, that would be the biggest breach of national security that SVG will ever have. And it would happen, and I do not even want to imagine that happening to us, we could be finished if something like that happen.

    Further more we have seen time and time again when having a duel citizenship could impede someone from properly doing their job, or from progressing. The most notable in my mind is the case of Conrad Black Vs Chretien

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_v._Chr%C3%A9tien

  4. Although everyone saw this coming for sometime now , can someone please assure me this is a bad joke or very bad dream , is svg now looking to camillo for leadership ?? , and just when i thought the we had hit rock bottom .If the likes of camillo could “just come” and move with ease into leadership in this country an vincentians are happy with this or have no choice in the matter then maybe its time for me to denounce svg as my homeland .
    People everywhere are standing up for what they see as freedom and fairness but we in svg just take everything be it bad or good from anyone even when we know they will kick us in the ass afterwards .

  5. This act on Camillo Gonsalves part was totally unnecessary. There is no requirement for him to renounce his US citizenship.

    He had DUAL CITIZENSHIP, and that permitted him to be a member of parliament, since he was/is also Vincentian.

    Camillo, I suspect, did so purely in an attempt to be ABSOLUTELY TRANSPARENT, thereby removing any accusation that he is ALSO a US citizen.

  6. I am not here to applaud or disapprove this appointment of a Prime Minister’s son to take over leadership of the party and the country when he departs. However, what moves me it is how we can be partisan when it suits us most. Son Gonsalves is a Vincentian as per constitution, accepted as it stands. Thus, he is entitled to every rights and privileges as any other Vincentian. However, my concern is whether Son Gonslaves has the public service of Vincentians at heart or he is placed to continue Father Gonsalves political legacy? Which I must say “is business as usual.” Because all these political leaders of our region (the Caribbean), have one thing in common, Ralph Gonsalves no exception, always promise to be different than those they oppose and whose jobs they envy but when they assume political power they are more vicious than the “ravenous salt sea sharks.” So my question again, “is Son Gonslaves here to continue Father Gonsalves legacy or serve the interest of the Vincentian public?”
    Nicholas Earl Dutch Providence

  7. Wow! I am surprised to see you here Horace Williams, how did you get your head out of that nasty place?

    I thought of you when the passport thing blew up, and many got destroyed. Did all that frighten you into silence. Yes it was me that notified Homeland Security.

    Remember I told you, and you said they would never take any notice of me.

    How is the Chihuahua doggy-kins, still running in the park with him?

  8. He had to give up US citizenship if he wanted to follow daddys orders to become a senator.

    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. That is why he gave up citizenship, because he had to.

    Why then tell a whole lot of embroidered crap, It appears to me that he is sliding down the same slope as his father. Trying to bamboozle the public with a whole lot of legal jargon, all designed to hide the truth.

  9. It may inconvenient to hold US Citizenship and live outside of the USA after July 1st 2014. That is when the new laws kick in, making reporting of Bank accounts and Citizens assets outside of the US a legal responsibility of those Citizens.The US has seen a dramatic increase in the past year of US citizens living abroad (retired or otherwise)who wish to avoid this imposition by the US Government.Perhaps Mr Gonsalves Jr, is just smart in taking this action.
    Ref HR2847…FACTA

  10. I dont know why my previous comment was not published.I simply stated that the new US law HR2847, otherwise known as FACTA comes into effect on July 1st 2014, making it mandatory for all financial institutions outside of the US to report deposits and assets of US citizens residing in overseas territories. Likewise, the US Citizen also has the duty to report income and assets held outside of the US. It is for this reason several thousand US Citizens living overseas have given up their US citizenship.I suggested that Mr Gonsalves may have done just that. There is nothing illegal implied or suggested . It is simply an observation as to his possible and (justifiable, in my opinion) actions.
    Publish this or not, it is my opinion, and as a Caribbean person, I am entitled to it.

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