Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has restated his opposition to giving honorary citizenship to Garifunas, saying the proposal by Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace is “irresponsible and reckless”.
“I made my position clear already. Persons who want to misinterpret what I say and to put whatever political spin they want to put on it can do so,” Gonsalves said told a press conference this week.
His most recent comment comes two weeks after he suggested that under the proposal Garifunas will come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to take Vincentians’ properties and jobs, a statement for which he has been widely criticised and accused of scaremongering.
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“Let me just say this up front. Citizenship is a serious business. It cannot and must not be tampered with lightly, willy-nilly, nor with irresponsibility and recklessness. And I am satisfied that the proposal by the Leader of the Opposition is irresponsible and reckless, both in principle and practice,” Gonsalves said.
They Garifunas, who consider St. Vincent and the Grenadines their ancestral home, are descendants of indigenous Vincentians. In addition to SVG, they live in the United States, and several Central American countries, including Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
They were exiled from St. Vincent in the late 18th century after the death of their leader, Joseph Chatoyer at the hands of the British in 1795.
Eustace announced his honorary citizenship proposal at a town hall meeting in New York in late May.
In his responses since early June, Gonsalves has attempted to link it to a citizenship by investment initiative under the former New Democratic Party government, which his Unity Labour Party repealed after coming to office in 2001.
Eustace, while saying some elements of the proposal still has to be fleshed out, has said that the proposal will not grant overseas Garifunas the right to live and work in St. Vincent and the Grenadines or to have a Vincentian passport.
But Gonsalves said that Eustace purports to want to tamper with the nation’s citizenship provision.
“It is irresponsible and reckless to come out on an issue of citizenship without you yourself having thought it out. And it is clear that it was done on the run, on the hoof, in a most opportunistic manner,” he said.
Gonsalves has ministerial responsibility for citizenship issues, and his decision in this regard is not subject to the review of the court unless in cases of allege corruption.
The Prime Minister, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs, noted that a person can become a Vincentian by birth, descent, naturalization, marriage and marriage.
He told reporters that because the law says that the decision of the minister who grants citizenship cannot be questioned in a court of law, it “is all the more necessary and desirable why, when anybody approaches the issue of citizenship you approach it with care and proper consideration and not recklessly; not irresponsibly, not on the hoof and not on the run,” he told the press conference.
“So when he says honorary citizenship, which involves the grant of a passport, this proposal which he makes, and he uses honorary, I take it that he intends to issue a passport. Rather than money being paid, it’s going to be grounded in ethnicity. It is going to be grounded on an ethnic category: Garifuna,” Gonsalves said.