Making the Grenadine island of Balliceaux a sacred site is something that St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has to “discuss and think about carefully”, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says.
He made the observation on Monday as he addressed the opening ceremony of the 5th International Garifuna Conference in Kingstown.
The conference was held under the theme, “The Island of Balliceaux: Sacred Lands or Economic Opportunity?”
In the late 18th century, some 5,000 Garifuna –indigenous Vincentians – were taken to Balliceaux — a 320-acre island east of Bequia – after the death in battle on Dorsetshire Hill of their leader, Joseph Chatoyer, who was declared SVG’s first national hero on March 14, 2002.
Gonsalves said that from 1899, the Linleys have owned Balliceaux and Battowia — a 151-acre island.
The asking price for both islands was US$27 million, Gonsalves said, adding that when he asked how much Balliceaux alone cost, the owners said between US$20 million and US$22 million.
He said that Battowia is a beautiful bird sanctuary.
“You can’t go and build anything on that. It is a fantastic site for rare birds.”
The prime minister said that, in 2008, someone paid a deposit on Balliceaux and Battowia but the sale did not go through because of the global economic meltdown.
“And about a year ago, it looked as if some people were interested…” he said, adding that it was around that time that he got a letter from the Garifuna Heritage Foundation saying that their preference is for the Balliceaux to remain as a sacred site.
He made it clear that his government will not give development permission for Battowia.
“You need a lot of money and you will have to put some infrastructure yourself,” Gonsalves said.
“The question what we have to discuss is whether somebody wants to do an appropriate development there and whether if a development comes — appropriate development — that it is possible to have, at the same time, a suitable remembrance. How many acres out of these 320? I don’t know. That is something that we have to talk about,” Gonsalves said.
“And there is a lot of history. It is not that you are selling yourself. But there is a lot of history where we can educate people and we can see how — because all over this country, there is a lot of history about Garifuna. Plenty, plenty spots, when you study the history. Of course, for African peoples too, during slavery and after slavery. And other ethnic groups, because let us not forget that we are a veritable symphony…” Gonsalves said.