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Garifuna Leaders speak out about honorary citizenship

Garifuna Leaders speak out about honorary citizenship

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“The issue of citizenship is important to address – not because the people want to go back to St Vincent to become citizens, but because there is no closure…”

Wellington Ramos, vice-president of the United Garifuna Association Inc, is applauding Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace on making{{more}} the “bold” move of pledging honorary citizenship to the Garifuna people in the diaspora, should he become the next prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, Ramos, however, claims that according to the Constitution of SVG, members of the Garinagu diaspora automatically qualify for citizenship through descent, and should be given more than just honorary citizenship.

“I read the constitution of St Vincent… there is a provision that is called citizenship through descent… they qualify for citizenship in St Vincent,” he asserted.

A legal expert however told SEARCHLIGHT that currently, the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines provides for citizenship by descent, but this is available only to children who were born outside of the state of St Vincent and the Grenadines to parents who themselves were born within the state of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

When pressed to explain what he understood by the promise of honorary citizenship to the Garinagu by the Leader of the Opposition, Ramos admitted that he is unsure of what it really means.

“So when you talk about honorary citizenship… I don’t know what that really means.”

Despite this, Ramos pointed out that no other political leader has made this proclamation before, and he hopes that should the Government change hands in the next general election, Eustace will make good on his promise.

“All that is happening is a lot of talk. People come… promising this and promising that; nothing has happened… There are a lot of Garifuna people who have worked with the current government over the years… They were hoping and praying that the Prime Minister was going to deliver on his promises.”

Describing the current government in SVG as a “one-man show,” Ramos criticized it for not doing anything to “benefit the masses of the Garifuna people” throughout Central and North America.“When you have these groups in the control for so long, people become secure, they become complacent and they relax,” he said. “This issue and the recent comments made by the Prime Minister against it [are] not going to help his party.”

Despite the criticism, Ramos – a professor of History at the Boricua College in New York – insisted that he and the Garinagu in the diaspora are not affiliating themselves with any particular political party in SVG.

“If we affiliate ourselves with any particular political party, it’s going to be to our detriment. However, we cannot isolate ourselves from political parties… we have to weigh the political parties and see which one will benefit us the most… we’re not going to stop our people whether they want to be NDP or ULP… but the number one thing, if we find that a party is not to our benefit, we will let our people know.”

On the issue of citizenship for Garifuna persons in the diaspora, he added: “We know that legislation has to go into place. So, anybody can promise anybody anything, but if you do not win an election, and do not legislate what you say you are going to do, everything is just talk.”

When asked if he believes that the Garinagu people in the diaspora will want to move to St Vincent and the Grenadines if they are granted honorary citizenship, he replied: “Not in my opinion.

“In the countries where we live, we have a lot of land. We have always been farmers and fishermen… The problem we have is [lack of] money to work the land!”

Another problem he identified within the Garinagu diaspora in Central America is that the younger generation have come to resent farming because they would have seen how hard their parents had to work the land with little resources.

“What they want now are some machines to clear the land and go into high tech farming.”

He also explained that in many Central American countries, Garinagu people are still treated with hostility – Honduras being the worst.

“There is a series of human rights violations going on against our people when it comes to taking away their land. The government does not include them in their programmes; there is a lot of poverty, a lot of uneducated people.

“As the countries’ populations are growing, land is becoming more valuable. So the land that was reserved for the Garifuna people in Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Nicaragua… these governments are now taking these lands away for tourists… They are encroaching on the Garifuna people.”

Additionally, Ramos said this issue of citizenship is not only important to him, but all Garifuna people.

“When we were little children growing up, our grandparents always tell us that the countries that we live in [are] not really our home.

“When they physically removed everybody, we were not removed in spirit, because a lot of our ancestors that got killed in St Vincent and Balliceaux, their spirits are not at rest… We have not separated ourselves from the island. It is impossible to break the spiritual connection, and the oral history and tradition.” (JSV)