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Enormous social, economic challenges at our 37th Anniversary of Independence

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When our country marched into independence on October 27, 1979, hopes were high in many quarters that it would usher in a new era of progress and development for both country and people. Those hopes are expressed in the words of our National Anthem, “Whate’er our future brings, our faith will see us through.” But the circumstances of the time were such that there was not much time for national reflection, because political, or more specifically, electoral dictates took over.{{more}}

We are now approaching the fortieth year of our Independence. We have had four Prime Ministers over the period and no small measure of political controversy. The world today is very much different from that of October 1979. Then, the dangerous rivalries of Cold War politics shaped global perspectives. In fact, 1979 has been immortalized by the legendary calypso bard, the Mighty Sparrow, in his song “The Rule of the Tyrants”, commenting on the revolutionary tide sweeping the world, taking dictators with it.

St Vincent and the Grenadines became independent a mere seven months after that revolutionary tide had engulfed our southern neighbour, Grenada, and within two months of its new life, had to face a rebellion on Union Island, military intervention by Barbadian troops and a state of emergency. Not an auspicious start for a young nation!

How have we coped over the years? How well have we managed our Independent status? Have we succeeded in fulfilling the early hopes and dreams? That requires a study of its own, but in making general comments, it would be reasonable to say that over those 37 years, we cannot be too displeased with our level of progress in some areas, particularly socially. The social landscape today, whether in education, health, social protection is a far cry from that at Independence. In housing and construction, we have made remarkable progress in transforming our physical infrastructure. Yes, there remain significant challenges, especially with regard to our relationship with the environment, but we have indisputably progressed.

Our economic challenges have been formidable. At Independence, we had a subsistence economy, largely dependent on agricultural exports. Today, our open economy has been transformed by external forces into one where the services sector is dominant, though we are still struggling to shape our own direction in this sphere.

Politically, Independence afforded us space and new tools to facilitate our economic and social progress. We have utilized the space in external relations to build very valuable partnerships with some foreign governments which have redounded to our benefit. Those with the governments of Taiwan, Cuba, Venezuela, the European Union, the United States, Canada, agencies of the United Nations, and other international bodies have been rewarding. It is true, nevertheless, that we have not always utilized those opportunities in our best interests and have squandered some valuable ones.

Perhaps our greatest failure has been in the failure to develop a strong sense of national consciousness and national identity. The St Vincent and the Grenadines of 2016 is, politically, a very divided nation, with our people unable to distinguish between partisan interests and national goals. Never before in our history have we been as bitterly divided as we are today.

This compromises our ability to meet the enormous social and economic challenges we have today, the growing drift of our youth, the debilitating effects of drugs and crime. It restricts us in the drive to address economic transformation to meet the needs of our growing population and the demands of the time. It is an imperative that we must face if we are to entertain prospects for real development of our people.

The Chair, directors, management and staff of Interactive Media Ltd (publishers of SEARCHLIGHT) extend best wishes to all Vincentians on the attainment of our 37th Anniversary of Independence.

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