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That honorary citizenship promise to the Garifuna

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The New Democratic Party (NDP) has stated its intention to make all 700,000 Garifuna in the diaspora, honorary citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), immediately upon taking office, should they win the next general elections.

As President of the NDP Arnhim Eustace said when he made the declaration last Sunday night, the story of the Garifuna is a remarkable one which should never be ignored nor taken for granted.{{more}}

The Garifuna’s claim to SVG as their ancestral homeland is well known and generally accepted and welcomed here in SVG. Many persons here interpret the Garifuna’s concept of SVG as home, to be of a spirtual nature – a sacred land, home to their ancestors, a place for the veneration of the dead. Most Vincentians understand and embrace this connection the Garifuna feel with Yurumein, as is seen, for example, in the manner in which the Garifuna are welcomed to the country annually around the time of National Heroes Day and our participation with them in the annual pilgrimages to Baliceaux.

But a recent letter to the editor, published in SEARCHLIGHT on May 8, written by Wellington C Ramos, a Garifuna from Belize, revealed a different concept of St Vincent, the homeland the Garifuna speak of. Professor Ramos said the Garifuna people have a legitimate right to citizenship of SVG by descent and he called on the government to make a declaration to that effect. Mr Eustace’s declaration on Sunday night seems to be a promised answer to that call by Professor Ramos.

But questions abound, and should the NDP win the next general elections, it would be interesting to see how the honorary citizenship programme is implemented. What would honorary citizenship entail? Would the Garifuna be issued passports and have the right to permanent residence here, or would honorary citizenship simply be ceremonial, with no legal entitlements attached to it?

But even before we get to the stage of determining the benefits to be conferred upon an honorary citizen, there is the hurdle to be overcome of determining just who is Garifuna. What method would be used – DNA testing?

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