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].
When, in New York, after several conference calls, Mr. Arnhim Eustace used the term Honorary Citizenship to describe his response to the Garifuna issues that had been put before him, I was absolutely over bowled by the concept he had suddenly, without warning, introduced. The bells immediately began to ring and whistle in my ears and they’ve been giving off an extremely sonorous music since then. Until the recent wave, of questioning, criticizing, and bedeviling of the seemingly innocuous term by the Prime Minster and his army of disbelievers, I was convinced that we had been advocating a winning scenario. Recently, however, although there are strong signs that the bells are ringing wildly in the ears of Vincentians at home and abroad, the vociferous critique from these naysayer has been messing around with my questioning brain. For example, when we hear the word citizenship, one is forced to ask – what exactly does it mean? And, is citizenship synonymous with another confusing word – Nationality? So I had to get into my analytical mind set in order to deal with what was beginning to be the onset of confusion. Here’s my take on the issue.
In looking into the matter, I discover that nationality is the easier of the two words to get clear in one’s head. It has to do with the place where a person was born; i.e. the person is native to a particular country. No matter where one wanders after birth, one’s nationality cannot be changed. Worldwide, that fact is accepted and acknowledged. This is why, whenever one applies for citizenship in another country, the question is asked – where were you born. Your citizenship might undergo changes but not your nationality; that is fixed. This basic rule applies to Garinagu born in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the United States or any other country where Garifuna descendants may have been born.
Because of this, the homegrown Yellow Caribs (the Kalinago) and the Black Caribs of SVG, who we now refer to as the Garifuna, and their descendants, who remained in Yurumein after the majority of their brethren were disgorged, are Vincentian nationals and no Vincentian of other ethnicities or races who shares this nationality can attempt to gainsay that. The English given name, St. Vincent, (now St. Vincent and the Grenadines), has changed twice since the country was called Yurumein by the Caribs/Garifuna but, the changes of national nomenclature matter little since all of these names identify only one country and a single nationality. Descendants of Kalinagu and Garifuna who were born in SVG and whose ancestry is recorded in SVG or elsewhere are, therefore, unquestionably nationals of SVG. As nationals of SVG, they have the right to apply for and receive a Vincentian passport, the only document that declares Vincentian citizenship. To receive that document, the only requirements are proof of birth and proof of ancestry, the same documents required by Vincentian nationals of other races or ethnicities.
This same right of ancestry or descent is accorded those Vincentians who were born elsewhere but whose parental lineage is Vincentian. For instance, one of my brothers and one sister (the eldest child, a girl, was born of a different mother) were born in St. Vincent. That brother and sister can and have claimed nationality and can and have applied for citizenship. My other 5 siblings (4 brothers and 1 sister) and I were born in Aruba, Netherlands Antilles. As a result, we cannot claim Vincentian nationality but we do have, and have claimed, the right to citizenship as a result of paternal descent. Our legal right to citizenship, by descent, extends from our father, through our grandfather and grandmother, and through our great-grandfather and great-grandmother who were all nationals of SVG. That right also extends backward, through the many generations all the way to the original, inseparable Kalinagu/Garifuna nation. The same rule that applies to us also applies to Garinagu born in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the United States or any other country.
Of course, one can argue that there was no such thing as a Kalinagu/Garifuna nation but then one would have to also deal with the counter argument that there was no such thing only because the incoming European horde, the infamous plantation owners, refused to recognize that a nation, perhaps not acceptable by their marauding standards, did, in fact, exist. The modern English dictionaries, which were also created by the same Europeans, clearly specifies that “an ethnic group within a larger unit, a people having a common origin, tradition, and language, and capable of forming a state” can be considered ‘a nation within a nation.’ This right, and its application to indigenous peoples, is now recognized by the United Nations. As a result and for example, most Indian and Metis groups in Canada now refer to themselves individually as a ‘nation’ and each is accepted and dealt with by the Canadian government as distinct ‘nations’ under the umbrella of Canada and the Canadian government. But, all of these distinct nations are represented by one indigenous ‘National Body’ that speaks for the individual nations with the Canadian government.
All of this is to suggest that the Kalinagu/Garifuna of SVG who were born in SVG and who are the direct descendants of Vincentian Garifuna have the right, wherever they may live, to declare and be recognized as having the right to be recognized as a nation within a nation while, at the same time, sharing Vincentian nationality. That, however, is not the case for those Garifuna who were born elsewhere. They can claim to be part of a Garifuna nation in the particular area they inhabit. They can claim nationality in the country they were born, and, like all Garifuna including those of SVG, they can consider themselves to be part of the Garinagu. But, if the worldwide Garinagu considers the Garifuna of SVG to be a part of the worldwide Garinagu and, if the Vincentian Garifuna accept that they are part of the worldwide Garinagu, then, according to the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) which specifies that an indigenous nation is a nation across borders, then the worldwide Garinagu would have to be recognized as an integral part of the Vincentian Garifuna. But, by the same token and, particularly keeping in mind national concerns, the Vincentian Garifuna, not the worldwide Garinagu, will have to be the only body that deals directly with the Government of SVG.
To further distinguish between nationality and citizenship, I will use my own family as an example of how confusing these matters can become. In the same way that members of my family who were born in Aruba cannot claim Vincentian nationality, those Garifuna members who were born in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, the United States, Canada, Britain, or any other country, cannot claim to be nationals of SVG. Like us, they can, however, claim the right to citizenship, based on the fact that they are direct descendants of the people who comprised the original Garifuna nation — Yurumein.
If they can present the required proof of direct descent from any grouping of Garifuna in those countries, on applying they should automatically have the right to full Vincentian citizenship, through direct descent.
Based on this knowledge, which Mr. Ralph Gonsalves actually discussed with at least one Garifuna leader, Mr. Wellington Ramos, Mr. Gonsalves also promised that he would do something about it. The problem is — he did nothing. Perhaps he did not voice, pursue, or make the possibility of full Garifuna citizenship public in SVG because of his personal fear of a horde of black people rushing to SVG to claim citizenship. Perhaps that Eurocentric, nay racist, fear in him lay behind his nonsensical outburst about Garinagu coming to SVG and taking over jobs, lands, houses, even the government possibly. The problem for Mr. Gonsalves might have been that he, more than likely, recognized that the Garinagu who might want to claim Vincentian citizenship would have a problem proving one aspect of their ancestry – that of descent from an original Garifuna family, especially as a result of changes, from Garifuna to Spanish names, as a result of living in Spanish territories for 218 years. No doubt, he realized that, without such documentation, the matter of Garifuna citizenship was moot. Therefore, he saw no reason to take the matter further and seek solutions to the only citizenship problem facing the Garifuna.
Unlike Mr. Gonslaves, in his meetings with the Garifuna, Mr. Eustace did not display, nor did he seem to contemplate, any such fears. It was clear to us that Mr. Eustace approached the discussion from at least four inherently positive and overarching perspectives:
- the Garifuna, (800,000 of them) are the main surviving, but unnecessarily excluded, body of people from our original and impoverished nation;
- since they have maintained, through 218 years, that their homeland is Yurumein/SVG, as individuals and as a representative body, they have the right to be welcomed back to SVG at any time, as visitors or as full citizens;
- their return will infuse new vigour into the cultural, social, educational, and economic life and livelihoods of SVG;
- acceptance of them by Vincentians will infuse Vincentians, the Vincentian Diasporas, and the worldwide body of Garinagu with new life, greater international meaning, and deserved international respect.
To me, these are the four pillars upon which Mr. Eustace’s offer of Honorary Citizenship seems to be based. The use of the word honorary is symbolic in that it has the capacity to remain constantly waving on an imaginary flagpole in a futuristic wind. Like a symbol, it grabs the attention of those who glimpse it. But, it also has psychological depth in that it awakens the desire to satisfy the dream and wish of the entire Garinagu – that simple, misunderstood, spiritual but undying desire to put foot on their Yurumein. The term reflects positively in the minds of the Garinagu in that it says to them that, more than anyone else on earth, they are most welcome, at last, to visit Yurumein, their long lost Homeland in organized droves. Based on the responses from Vincentians throughout the nation, like the Garinagu, they too seem to be responding positively, emotionally and culturally, to Mr. Eustace’s heartfelt invitation to our missing brothers and sisters.
Mr Eustace and most thinking Vincentians know that most Garifuna people living in the many countries where they were born are not stupid. They know that the Garinagu will never discard their lives, livelihood, and citizenship to those prosperous diaspora countries they now occupy in order to come and live in an impoverished SVG. They discern that a well-organized marketing campaign can attract far more visiting Garinagu/Vincentian diaspora members to SVG than has ever been hitherto contemplated. They sense that, with this type of unique, indigenous, and specific tourism, growing year after year, the economic fortune of SVG, their original homeland, can improve rapidly and turn unused lands and horrific nightmares, such as barren Baliceaux and Argyle International Airport, for example, into huge successes rather than a millstone around their and their brethren’s necks. They know that, with this type of tourism, the agricultural and farming communities, the private businesses, the cultural institutions, every aspect of Vincentian life will begin to bloom once again but also, that their type of tourism will be uniquely different from that being pursued and parlayed by all other Caribbean nations; theirs could be eco-tourism in its finest imaginable perspective.
There will be those few Garinagu who, after a first, second, or third visit, might want to settle, on a part-time or full-time basis in SVG. They would likely consist of a small number of retirees seeking, like me, a treasured place in the sun, a place where they can escape the wintry cold. They would have no need of jobs in that their income would, more than likely be assured, coming from pension funds accumulated in the diaspora. Certainly, they would need access to a variety of higher quality retirement homes but, their numbers will always be very low and they will be a source of higher income for our tradesmen and women. There will be those younger individuals with sufficient economic strength who would want to invest in private businesses, either directly or through new-found relatives, families, and friends but, their numbers will also be very low. There will be those who would want to extend their stay, lingering a little longer in their new-found-land but, they too will be very low in numbers. Despite Mr. Gonsalves’s harping on the subject, nowhere in the plan is there need for economic citizenship or any variations of it.
Requests for full personal or family citizenship will likely emanate, over time, from the very low numbers of identified groups of people. The representatives of the Garifuna who spoke to Mr. Eustace have undertaken to set up the means of identifying the ancestry of these groups of individuals and any other groups of Garifuna that might seek full Vincentian citizenship, now and in the future. On his side, Mr. Eustace has signaled his intention to put in place the means of identifying and accommodating these types of Garinagu citizenship needs. These are the only items left to be negotiated between the Garinagu and the new Government of SVG.
Far more involved than citizenship are the establishments that are necessary to implement the interactions between the Garinagu/Vincentian diasporas in terms of tourism development, banking structures, diaspora involvements, consular participation etc., all subjects requiring input from Vincentians at home and abroad In attempting to deal with these latter issues, many new and different jobs, requiring trained and capable individuals in SVG and in the diasporas will have to be created. Most of these beginning and experienced individuals will come from the vast number of highly trained graduates who are in the diaspora or who have returned to SVG from places of higher education and who find themselves useless, unemployed, or under-employed in SVG and the diaspora today.
A new day, the dawning of the real Reparation, a new era that explores true Reparations, is dawning for our St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Either we get with it or we don’t. Let’s not get bogged down in an unnecessary debate about citizenship. Instead, let us fasten our eyes and hitch a ride on the new, beckoning and glorious horizon.
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].