Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves is representing St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and his father, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, in Barbados, as that nation becomes a republic at midnight tonight (Monday)
The formal swearing-in ceremony of the first President of Barbados, Dame Sandra Prunella Mason takes place at midnight as the nation celebrates its 55th anniversary of independence from Britain.
With the move, Barbados will replace Queen Elizabeth II with a ceremonial president as the nation’s head of state.
In a Nov. 22 letter to his Barbadian counterpart, Mia Mottley, which PM Gonsalves’ office released to the media on Monday, Gonsalves said that he is unable to attend the event, “due to certain exigent circumstances”.
“I have accordingly deputed, with your permission, my first-born, the Honourable Camillo Michael Gonsalves, Minister of Finance and Economic Development, to represent St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and me, personally,” the prime minister wrote in a 19-page, 9,000-word letter to Mottley
“As a dutiful off-spring of our Caribbean civilisation, and as a great admirer of Barbados, of Dame Sandra, and of you, Camillo is most pleased to be in Barbados to celebrate this truly historic achievement of republican status, in friendship, love, and solidarity, and in the splendid company of your government, the Barbadian people, our Caribbean brothers and sisters, and the representatives of the global family of nations.
“I am sure that you are aware that Camillo attended elementary school in Barbados when I lectured at University of the West Indies at Cave Hill between 1976 and 1979. He is married to a Barbadian of Jamaican parentage. So, he, too, is Bajan in spirit, and more. I know that you will look after him well while he is in Barbados,” the prime minister wrote.
Barbados becomes a republic 12 years after PM Gonsalves and his Unity Labour Party failed to convince the Vincentian electorate to make a similar move.
A change to home-grown ceremonial president was among proposed changes to the 1979 constitution, left by the British, that the Vincentian electorate voted down in 2009, after a years-long review of the constitution.
In his letter, among other things, Gonsalves spoke about the relationship between SVG and Barbados.
He noted that SVG, located 100 miles to the west of Barbados, is the country’s closest neighbour.
“We are both at the core of our regional family. Indeed, between us there are strong familial ties,” Gonsalves wrote, adding that as early as the 17th century, natives of Barbados and SVG have bonded in resistance to colonialism, slavery, foreign domination, and human exploitation.
“Africans who were enslaved in Barbados repeatedly found refuge in St. Vincent and the Grenadines when they escaped the savagery and inhumanity of slavery. The wooded mountains of St. Vincent hid significant numbers of Africans who resisted enslavement but who were unable to hide in Barbados,” Gonsalves said.
He said that over time, those Africans built family relations with the indigenous Callinagoes, and Garifuna (the off-spring of the Callinagoes and Africans).
“Indeed, these African brothers and sisters who escaped slavery in Barbados provided much militancy to the anti-colonial and anti-enslavement struggles in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. These African brothers and sisters were determined never to return to slavery; so they fought magnificently in their adopted home of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The British were never able to enslave the Callinago and Garifuna people!”
Gonsalves said that between 1764 and 1795, during the Callinago and Garifuna resistance to British colonialism in SVG, many fighters in the guerrilla army of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer (now National Hero) and his astute lieutenant Duvallé, hailed from Barbados.
He said that his personal links with Barbados are deep and wide.
“At the St. Vincent Boys’ Grammar School, which I attended between January 1959 and June 1965, each of my Headmasters were Barbadians, in succession: Gilbert C. Miller; Ronnie Hughes; Theodore M. Worrell; and Ulric G. Crick. They helped to mould me; they educated me; they trained me; they loved me; and they cared for me. I shall always remember them with love and gratitude.”
He said that between August 1976 and July 1979, he was employed as a lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados.
“I taught large numbers of Barbadian students who have since occupied senior positions, in Barbados, the region, and the world, in academia, business, the professions, politics, the public service. And as I traversed Barbados as an observer of life, living, and production, I learnt so much from Barbadians, especially the working people, the marginalised, and the youths. As a public intellectual I gave of my time freely to communities, secondary school students, the media, including the mid-week Nation newspaper in which I wrote a weekly column under the rubric “Straight Talk”. I hold Barbados and Barbadians in the highest regard. My 2014 essay entitled ‘The Idea of Barbados’ tells the story of my attachments to, and my love for, Barbados and Barbadians.
“Now, today, I celebrate with you joyously on your severing of the links, institutionally, with the British monarchy and the elevation of our home-grown Head of State. I say ‘our’ because even though I am not a citizen of Barbados, I feel a sense of belonging to the extraordinary landscape and seascape of this blessed land, and to its people, my brothers and sisters in this our Caribbean civilisation.”
Gonsalves said that in April 2021, nature, in the form of a series of volcanic eruptions at La Soufriere, yet again emphasised the joinder between SVG and Barbados.
“Between April 9th and April 22nd, the mountain of ash emitted from the volcano covered St. Vincent, and travelled substantially to Barbados causing, among other things. a closure for several days of the Grantley Adams International Airport and many businesses. Barbados and our CARICOM family came to our aid quite generously. The hurricanes and storms affect us jointly. So, too, the ill winds of the global political economy; and, together, the COVID pandemic has been ravaging us. The Caribbean Sea separates us but links us inextricably: The inward gaze within our respective countries is accompanied always with an outward look across the Caribbean Sea, and beyond. Geography, history, demography, culture, politics, and economics place us together like peas in a pod. We cannot escape each other. So, the achievement of your removal of certain colonial shackles brings us joy and hopefulness. Congratulations Barbados on your republican status!” Gonsalves wrote to this Barbadian counterpart.”