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 [email protected].
With new, fresh life given to the contemporary role and place of the Garifuna people from Belize and elsewhere, who have ancestral roots in St. Vincent, I have been taken to task somewhat for a statement I made in an article published on I Witness News last year.
The article captioned “Desirable attributes of the leader after Ralph” was published on May 8, 2014.
In it, I suggested that among the issues the next leader after Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to lead St. Vincent and the Grenadines, should look into, should include a look into the historical linkage between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize.
The statement was as follows:
“The historical linkage which exists between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize, where a great deal of its nationals (Belizeans) consider us (St. Vincent) to be their mother country, could augur well with our moves to strengthen our position in CARICOM and to deepen ties between the Caribbean and Latin America.”
What was the scope of this? Did this include any thought of the granting of Vincentian citizenship to such persons?
Before I address those questions, I must say that it is quite pleasing and encouraging to see that proposals are being made now, in some way, to address this linkage by the main Opposition Party – the NDP.
It is also very pleasing to see that leaders of the Garifuna Community, here in St. Vincent, those in the Diaspora and those regionally who feel connected to St. Vincent through ancestral roots, are all raising their voices on this all important issue.
It is also very important that the contribution of the present government in trying to take care of the local Garifuna Community and further through the Ministry of Culture, to keep certain cultural festivals and activities alive (such as; Heritage Festivals, the pilgrimage to Balliceaux with Garifuna brothers and sisters from Belize and elsewhere and the annual recognition ceremony at the Obelisks at Dorsetshire Hill to celebrate this country’s first National Hero — The Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer, Paramount Chief) is being recognised.
With all these facts in mind, the main question arises: “what is the next stage in strengthening the relations between the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Garifuna people in Belize and elsewhere who have ancestral roots here?
Let’s focus on the recent honorary citizenship proposal by the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Arnhim Eustace to grant honorary citizenship to some 800,000 persons who fall into the bracket of Garifunas who in one way or the other, have some ancestral roots in St. Vincent.
This honorary citizenship option is worth looking into from a rhetorical standpoint as, in the process, it can appease many persons who fall into this bracket.
It will also continue to stir up national discussion and debate on this issue and can cause the birth of other proposals which may reach the point of equilibrium — needed to be reached, for serious, bi-partisan consideration among both major political parties and substantive support from important NGO’s and interest groups whose interests will be directly in the balance.
This is as far as this is expected to reach.
Let’s now focus on the government’s work done and efforts made in consolidating the interests of many NGOs and other interest groups over the years in having more national prominence for Garifuna people.
There is no doubt that this administration has listened to voices such as the then vibrant National Youth Council and other groups in ensuring that Joseph Chatoyer became a national icon by conferring upon him the status of National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The month of March is celebrated as National Heroes Month, in which many activities (some started under the tenure or former culture minister Rene Baptiste) are held, to bring to light the work of Chatoyer and cement the place of the contemporary Garifuna descendants (particularly those who live in Sandy Bay, Point, Owia, Fancy, Grieggs and other areas spread across the country) to that of very high national importance.
There is a pilgrimage to Balliceaux, where our Garifuna brothers and sisters from Belize and elsewhere come to see the fateful place where their ancestors last touched, before being exiled completely from Yurumein (another name for St. Vincent).
The construction of the Bridge over the Rabbaca dry river, continued improvements to road access and other infrastructure and more educational opportunities afforded to persons in the Garifuna community are all meritorious contributions.
In the view of the current administration, specifically where further exploring a linkage between the Garifuna in Belize and those here in St. Vincent is concerned, however, is this where the sea waves break on the land?
Is there more that can or should be done?
With the on-going debate on this issue, I am confident that there is room for making proposals on this issue, once of course it does not get lost /sunk in the rough seas of hostile partisanship.
To conclude, I still hold to my view that the historical linkage between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize can be explored by a future leader.
The shape and form that this could take, may not come about by any quick-fixed, spur-of-the-moment, ill-conceived ideas, moves or policies.
Rather, this may take a long time to be assessed, in an effort to arrive at the best possible proposal(s) to address this issue, so long as the collective will and spirit exists between both the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the people from the Garifuna Community in Belize.
In the meantime, ordinary citizens can lend their voices and suggestions too.
I personally think, that among the suggestions that could be considered are as follows:
- Strengthen any existing cooperation with the Garifuna community in Belize in trade and Culture
- Strengthen any existing cooperation with the Garifuna community in Belize in Education.
All this must be done within the ambit of best practices and regulations and laws (where applicable) in the diplomatic world.
On trade, Belize is a member of CARICOM just as St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We can more readily work through the existing regulatory framework, which guide freedom of movement within CARICOM boarders and ease of establishing businesses.
As a result of this historical linkage between St. Vincent and Belize, the level of xenophobia in other CARICOM states which acts as a barrier to the full realization of freedom of movement and so on, should not be so extant between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize, if in fact, the potential and collective will strongly exists between the peoples of St. Vincent and Belize to more readily integrate.
This should result in some Belizean businesses (especially owned by members of the Garifuna Community) being established in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Some Vincentian businesses being operated in Belize.
This will be done within the borders of the CSME and its established provisions in this regard. Belize was among the six Member States that formally signed the document for implementation of the CARICOM Single Market (CSM) on January 31, 2006.
On Culture, there are many Vincentians who would love to learn the Garifuna language. If this language is present in Belize, a cultural exchange program can be developed to either have Vincentians go to Belize to learn the Language or, instead, have Belizeans come to St. Vincent to teach the language to those interested in learning it.
There has even been mention in some circles locally of including the teaching of the Garifuna language as part of our Primary School curriculum. This too can be explored.
Currently, due to cultural cooperation between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela, Vincentians can learn Spanish at the Venezuelan embassy.
Vincentians can also learn Mandarin at the Taiwanese embassy, due to cooperation between St. Vincent and Taiwan in Culture.
There are organizations such as the Garifuna Heritage Foundation (GHF), which can aid in facilitating any such move by the government, through the Ministry of Culture.
There can also be cultural exchanges through visits by students from both countries in activities relating to music and the arts in general, just as it happens between St. Vincent and Cuba.
On Education, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a leader in Nursing Education in the Caribbean, with its Nurses doing well working in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and even outside the region in the United Kingdom, Canada and the US.
The possibility of offering some scholarships to members of the Garifuna community in Belize to come to St. Vincent to pursue training in Nursing, Teaching and other suitable areas at our Community College at the Associates and Bachelors levels, where applicable, can be considered.
Even these ideas will be met with criticism and resistance in some circles and that also, is necessary to ensure that every proposal is scrutinized and critically assessed, as we seek for the best way forward on this issue.
These, to me are just a few suggestions, that can be at least considered in the whole debate.
In the end though, it is all left to the leaders of the day to take important positions and make worthy decisions on this issue.
Again, the linkage should be explored. It must, however, be done without the need for a quick fix. It must be thought out very clearly by all involved, before any major decision is taken.
Demion (Black Star) McTair
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 [email protected].