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Conversation with Elma


There are probably more Vincentians in the ‘Diaspora’ than they are at home, and when we add to this the fact that many of them would at least have had their early education here at public expense, I have always held the view that they need to be part of our national debate, and should be willing to share their experiences and knowledge.{{more}} One proviso, however, is that they do not assume that because they are living in one of the more developed countries, they automatically have the answers to all our problems. Their views have, therefore, always caught my attention. And so I was intrigued by a letter, captioned “Put our best foot forward as a people”, that appeared in the Vincentian of January 13, written by Elma Gabriel.

The writer begins by stating: “There is a saying, “Come see me and come live with me.” “Therefore, my observation of a three week visit to St.Vincent and the Grenadines is only expressed experience of that period, since the last time I visited was eight years ago.” I have interpreted this to mean that she will be reluctant to make judgements based on a three week visit, having not lived in SVG for a while. If my interpretation is correct, I applaud this. I also realise that some times when we are at the centre of things, we miss quite a lot, and, therefore, the experiences of those outside are important. I wasn’t sure what was the purpose of the letter but believe that its primary focus was geared toward persons in Canada and Vincentians generally who would welcome a neutral voice, given her view of the “on-going political choruses…one side, the other side and so on.” Her role in SVG was “to listen, empathize and /or positively encourage…”

I have entitled this column “Conversation with Elma” because I want to draw her out on certain issues which she has touched on, but never really developed. St.Vincent is described as a “prosperous and fertile island where there is no limit to business opportunities for both local and foreign investors.” If this observation was made after a three week visit, it will be good to hear some more because I wonder why are our people not taking advantage of these and why are the foreign investors not flocking to our shores. She goes on to state: “We are surely in the developmental mode at a time when other large developed countries are boarding their trade potentials within our Caribbean boundaries”. It will be interesting to find out precisely what she means by this. What is this developmental mode, and is it a new phase we are going through?

Elma makes reference to an article in the Toronto Star that we have heard so much about, “SVG- Is this Caribbean idyll the worst place in the world to be a woman?” As a Vincentian, living, I believe, in Toronto, this issue would definitely have been of interest to her. But her manner of dealing with it was not what one would have expected. She does say that “This is a matter which cannot be tossed under the carpet, but must be dealt with as a cultural imperil…” This is an issue affecting women in SVG, but she wants to deal with it “especially within our Ontario community; a shortcoming made obvious due to the ongoing struggles to the acceptance of female development in leadership within the main SVG/Ontario community.” Having spoken to people on the ground here, does she have a better understanding of that matter and was it something blown out of all proportions by the Toronto Star?

Elma “visited several of the infrastructures”, including the Rabacca Bridge, and wanted “to confirm that it is wide enough for two trucks to pass at the same time.” I was certainly not aware that the width of the Bridge was such a serious issue that demanded confirmation by someone visiting from abroad. Maybe I am ignorant of the context in which this was taking place. Elma, coming from Ontario, was prepared to declare that “The roads to the Leeward and Windward are superb”. The road to the Windward part of the island is in good condition, having recently been completed, but either she did not drive to the Leeward side or went there by helicopter. Those are certainly not the roads that I drive on quite regularly, especially those between Upper Montrose and Layou. Simeon James writing in the News of January 6 stated in a letter captioned “Leeward Roads crying Out for Repair!” “There are massive potholes in Rillan, Questelles, and Lowmans Leeward. There are some other large, dangerous potholes elsewhere such as in Rose Bank and in a number of areas in Chateaubelair.”

Crime is now one of the major issues in our country. Elma admits that but states, “crime exists as it does across the world” This she said is “the main reason for much emphasis to be placed on the motivation and education of the Police, including the renovation of the Police Barracks:” The emphasis was “to be placed”, so she has advanced information and is not basing this on observation. I don’t know if there are many Vincentians who feel that the answer to crime is to motivate and educate the Police and to renovate the Police Barracks. Her final point has to do with “the incredible Argyle International Airport Development, a necessity to the advancement of any country, and a project long overdue”. I am not sure that she understands the kinds of sacrifices the people of this country are called upon to make to ensure the establishment of an International Airport. This, however, I will take up at a later stage.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.