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The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is moving to purchase or acquire Balliceaux, a 320-acre Grenadine island to which thousands of Garifuna were taken and died in the late 17th century after the death of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer. 

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said he would speak more on this during the Budget Debate, which begins today (Monday).

He said in media appearances over the past few days that he has asked the chief surveyor to have a valuation done for the island, which is privately owned.

The government is hoping to purchase if it can reach an agreement with the owners, “but if we can’t have agreement to invoke the law in relation to acquisition.

“Of course, you’d have to be fair and reasonable compensation. If we can’t agree, we’ll have to go to a tribunal under the law. I spoke to the lawyer for those who have acknowledged that they have title to the land,” Gonsalves said. 

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He said the title “would have to be interrogated to make sure that everything is in order as if government is buying anything or acquiring anything, any land”.

Chatoyer is SVG sole national hero and is commemorated on March 14, National Heroes’ Day, the date on which he died in 1795.

“Of course, you know, almost every year, around March 14, some agency of some kind, will publish some astronomical number in relation to the value of Balliceaux…” Gonsalves said.

Last year, the island was listed for sale for US$30 million. 

He reiterated that an alien land holding license, which is required if a non-national wants to purchase the island, “will not be easily granted. 

“Because this is a historical site,” said, adding, this is a place for a memorial and if you’re having a development, which is of value, but which has a certain amount of land set aside for the memorial. 

“And it is clear that there are really no takers,” he said, referring to the attempts to sell the islands.

“And the owners either don’t have the inclination or don’t have the resources to develop because to develop that is going to cause a huge amount of money. 

“There is only one little piece of a beach; the place to have any infrastructure; nothing at all.”

Last March, Gonsalves said that the historic significance of Balliceaux does not mean it cannot be developed but listed some of the things that must be considered in doing so.

In March 2018, responding to calls to make the island a sacred site, Gonsalves said this is something the country has to “discuss and think about carefully.

In his recent comment, Gonsalves maintained, as he also did in 2018, that Battowia, located near Balliceaux must remain a bird sanctuary. 

He said that the proposed sale of Balliceaux was being twinned with Battowia.

“I have said that we will never give and will never allow development on Battowia because it is a bird sanctuary and that has to be kept as a natural habitat. So, in practical terms, anybody owns that you really don’t own anything because there’s not going to be any development on it there,” the prime minister said. 

“And in the case of Balliceaux, there can only be particular types of development, which have a sensitivity towards the historic, cultural, memorial dimensions, because that is where 2,500 of our ancestors, Garifuna, where 5,000 or thereabout were put after the British defeated the Garifuna, Calinago resistance in 1795 and ambushed and killed His Right Excellent Joseph Chatoyer, paramount chief of the Garifuna people and our national hero.”

He said he is hoping to have matters relating to the purchase or acquisition sorted by March 14.

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