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The headline of the July 31, 2015 Searchlight newspaper reads “Garifuna Politics,” a reference to the visit to our country of a Garifuna delegation headed by Dr. Wellington Ramos, vice president of the United Garifuna Association, to discuss the promise made by the leader of the New Democratic Party, Arnhim Eustace, to grant “honorary citizenship” to our exiled founding people should his party gain power in the next election.
The visit of this group and comments from Professor Ramos have touched a raw nerve at Searchlight, whose July 31, 2015 editorial, presumably written by Clare Keizer, the editor of the newspaper, bizarrely accuses the Garifuna leader of threatening “the Vincentian-Garifuna compact”.
This “compact,” as she calls it, consists entirely of emotive but materially empty symbolism and celebration: “elevation of the Garifuna Paramount Chief Chatoyer as SVG’s first and only national hero … and the living experience of our national holiday”.
Ms Keizer, or her proxy, goes on to say, “It is therefore with deep unease that we are witnessing a breach of the concord that should underpin the relationship between the Garifuna people and Vincentians.”
What this “concord” and “compact” consist of besides a one-day annual holiday during which only a handful of people attend the associated ceremonials and the granting of national hero status to Chatoyer, a hero few Vincentians know much about, gestures that can never come close to repairing or atoning for the brutal damage done to our first people, she fails to reveal.
The editorial goes on to claim that blame for “breach of the concord” lies with Arnhim Eustace for mischievously introducing the idea of “honorary citizenship” and Dr. Ramos for presumptuously stating that he has lost “all respect” for our esteemed Prime Minister, the Honorable Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, for quickly rejecting it out of hand and claiming that the Garifuna would descend on us to claim our jobs and homes.
This is why the editorial is so bizarre. Mr. Eustace, surely has the right — indeed duty — to make promises that he feels will either enhance the country’s well being or atone for historical injustices. The leader of the opposition claims honorary citizenship for the exiled Garifuna will do both. Whether this will prove to be true remains to be seen. But he has every right to make this proposal, regardless of whether Clare Keizer believes it is mischievous or not.
Equally bizarre is Ms Keizer’s claim that Dr. Ramos’ comments are “utterly feckless, ill-considered, and completely demeaning” because, “It is one thing for Mr. Eustace to attack the Prime Minister … It is quite another thing for Mr. Ramos or any other Garifuna leader to attack a sitting Prime Minister” because “morally, the only ground the Garifuna can and must occupy in the context of Vincentian national politics is complete neutrality”.
This is sheer nonsense. Does she mean that only Vincentians, whether politicians or not, can criticize the views of other Vincentians, whether politicians or not? Is Ms Keizer unaware of the manner in which various Caribbean Prime Ministers and other elected officials have attacked their foes elsewhere in the Caribbean on the political platform of their ideological soul mates during various election campaigns? Is she unaware of the way various world leaders breached her peculiar sense of morality by verbally assaulting Adolf Hitler during the 1930s when he began persecuting the Jews? Is she unaware of the way Barack Obama has just shamed the leadership of various West African countries — in their presence on the same platform — for their oppression of homosexuals during his visit to the region? Is she unaware of the way the American leadership vilified the Cuban leadership for over 50 years and is now damning the Venezuelan leadership in the same way?
Equally specious is her aversion to Professor Ramos’ “poisonous” separation of reparations for the Garifuna from reparations for slavery because he said that “the Garifuna were not slaves”. Indeed, they were not, which, together with their tiny numbers compared to the descendants of African slaves, is why they are a mere appendage to the Gonsalves-led reparations movement, something the Garifuna well know. More important, the Garifuna must also know that the reparations efforts have no chance of success, on the one hand, and that only the independent and sovereign nation-state of SVG has the legal and moral obligation to return at least some of the land that was stolen from them after the second Carib war, on the other.
Let us hope and pray that other Garifuna leaders follow Dr. Ramos’ example in demanding social justice for our First People.
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