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Twin streams of the freedom struggle

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The country of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has quite a unique history. Although we share native genocide, European colonization, slavery and indentureship with the rest of the region, this country has marked variations on these themes.

To begin with, no historical evidence has yet been presented to support the claim that we were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on January 22, 1498.{{more}} That is not to say that the “discovery” concept has any validity whatever in relation to the rest of the Caribbean, the Americas, or wherever European settlers first encountered civilized peoples, much to their astonishment.

Then the valiant resistance of the Kalinago and Garifuna peoples, along with slave rebellions, ensured that the inhuman system of slavery had a much shorter existence in SVG than in most of the rest of the region. Less than a half a century separated the conquest of the Garifuna and the proclamation of Emancipation.

These facts provide a solid base for us, as Vincentian people, to have reason to link the twin streams of our freedom struggles — those of the slaves against human bondage and that of the Garifuna for national liberation. Significant milestones are marked for each stream in the month of August, beginning with Emancipation Day on August 1.

It is on this platform that the call for reparations, fully endorsed by the governments of the region, is rooted. We can debate the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’, but the ‘why’ is unquestionable.

“Righting the historical wrongs” has today become so indisputable, that even those who poured scorn on the concept of reparations when it was first mooted, are now proud to advance it.

But there is not always a melodious tune coming from a harmonious choir in this regard. Two noticeable, but related, disruptive streams are trying hard to introduce cacophony to the reparations melody. Both do it in a self-righteous manner.

There is an apparent Afro-conscious trickle, which sets out to challenge the credentials of any who would raise the reparations banner. For these self proclaimed advocates of black nationalism, only the purest, the ‘blackest’ are deemed fit to call for reparations. They heap ‘fire and brimstone’ on all others – CARICOM Heads, Professor Beckles and all.

The complementary tributary comes from a similarly purist perspective. It emanates from within the Garifuna community, where some elements have ascribed to themselves the sole right, not only to speak for the Garifuna people, but also to decide who their allies must be.

Both are misguided at best, mischievous undoubtedly and inimical to the interests of our people, whose historical legacy they portend to defend. The claim for reparations can only be successful if it has the broadest possible support amongst all our people, whether descendants of Africans, Kalinago, Garifuna, Indians or Europeans. It is a response to an historical monstrosity which continues to impact on our development up until today and for many moons to come.

Whatever the narrow perspectives of the purists and ‘splitters’, division on such an important issue works against the interests of us all.

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