Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell as described as “alarming” an invitation by St. Vincent’s leader Ralph Gonsalves to residents of Grenada’s Carriacou and Petite Martinique to buy food in Union Island.
Mitchell’s comments, on Saturday, while not identifying Gonsalves by name, is the latest in comments that the leaders have aimed at each other’s country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kingstown and St. George’s have taken different approaches to the deadly novel corona virus, with Grenada, a tri-island nation shutting its borders.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), however, remains open, with only internal access by sea and air remaining between the several islands that form its multi-island state
There have been, historically, close links between Carriacou and Petit Martinique and the southern Grenadine island of Union Island, which forms part of SVG.
And, at an April 6 press conference, Mitchell said he had a concern “with Carriacou and Petit Martinique in the context of what is taking place in the Grenadines”.
He said that his point might be “slightly controversial” as he went on to note that SVG has not closed it borders, adding that he had to “speak to that because I have to be concerned about life.
“I cannot tell the leadership of St. Vincent what to do but if their decision affects the life of the people of Carriacou and Petit Martinique, I have to be concerned,” Mitchell said.
“A lot of people get foodstuff from St. Vincent and, therefore, one has to be careful,” he said, adding that the border between the Grenadines and Petit Martinique “is almost open”.
He said that the Grenadian police chief and constabulary “would have to be doing a lot more work”.
“The fact is, if we close our borders, because of the possibility of infection, whether it is from a Caribbean country or whether it is from the United States or China or Russia or wherever the country comes from, we have to protect our people.
“I remember when this all started, there was all this concern about Chinese, Chinese, Chinese; Chinese coming here. The infections we have had so far have not been any Chinese coming in here with anyone here. Right? I want us to be concerned.
“As I said, I am speaking, I know it is controversial but I am not the type who likes to hold my mouth when I see something is absolutely necessary to speak about. So we have to protect our brothers and sisters in Carriacou and Petit Martinique from what is taking place at this particular time.”
Then, on April 9, in comments on WE FM, an SVG radio station, Gonsalves said he was not “answering anybody” but was speaking “factual things” when he said Carriacou, and Petite Martinique and the Vincentian islands of Petit St. Vincent and Palm Island are “like one location, one country”.
“A lot of people from PSV come to Union Island for medical attention you know? A lot of people come from Carriacou to Union for food,” Gonsalves said.
“If somebody comes from Petite Martinique, to Union Island for medical attention or food why must I turn them away? They come all the time.”
Gonsalves said that Vincentian police would only turn away “criminal elements”.
“Whether you lock down tight as a drum or not, people will have their natural movements; that is a historic thing,” the Vincentian prime minister said.
And, speaking on Friday, Gonsalves extended an invitation to the people of Carriacou and Petit Martinique to buy food and cooking gas in Union Island.
“And I want to say to the people of Carriacou and Petit Martinique that if you are having difficulty getting food, we can help because we have a lot of it in Union Island and we can get to Union Island. I want to tell our brothers and sisters that,” he said at a ceremony at which Kingstown received a donation of COVID-19 test kits from Venezuela.
“And if you want to get cooking gas, we can help you but let us do it in a structured and organised manner. I want to say all of those things to our brothers and sisters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and throughout the Grenadines.”
However, in a statement on Saturday, Mitchell urged his citizens “to remember that the borders of our country remain closed to all internal and external travel, except as provided for in the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations”.
Mitchell said that although cultural norms and practices allow for seamless travel between Carriacou and Petite Martinique and the Grenadine islands, “the danger we now face from the COVID-19 pandemic means we must adopt new approaches to how we do things”.
The Grenadian leader said it was “alarming that our citizens will be called upon to break the law by the leader of another country.
“It is a grossly irresponsible action that has the potential for not only legal consequences but also pose a significant threat to public health and public safety,” Mitchell said.
He called on Grenadians, particularly those in Carriacou and Petite Martinique to “not be misguided into flouting the law of the land; do not knowingly endanger your health and that of your family. I encourage you to think and act wisely.
“There is no shortage of food and we are continuously revising our operations to ensure that we optimise the distribution of goods and restocking of grocery stores,” Mitchell said.
The Grenadian leader said that many countries have instituted stringent measures while others have opted for “a more relaxed approach, which in some cases, have resulted in dire consequences.
“In the fluidity of the pandemic, it may be hard to say which is the right or wrong approach, but countries retain a sovereign right to determine what works best and when decisions are made, citizens must abide by the laws of their respective countries. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the law must prevail,” he said.
Grenada has also instituted restriction on internal travel, with only essential workers allowed to cross parish borders. They must, however, obtain from police and show a special pass at the parish border control point.
Persons are allowed to go shopping in their parish on approved shopping days, and residents of Petit Martinique are allowed to travel to Carriacou on shopping days, but are not permitted to leave the Grenada’s territorial waters.
Persons found guilty of violating the regulations can be fined up to EC$1,000 and will be placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days.