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Responding to our post-1979 challenges

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Your role in the process: A case for St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

Excerpt from feature address delivered at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies on Thursday, 6th November, 2008.

The state of St. Vincent & the Grenadines is a nation of laws, with a longstanding and deeply entrenched respect for justice and the rule of law. It is also a State in which morality and ethical conduct are essential threads in the tapestry of our national psyche.{{more}}

I crave your indulgence, as I attempt to humanize the theory of plate tectonics, as I analyze the forces critical to the synthesis of our circumstances which have forged our unique Vincentian identity.

The theory of plate tectonics states that the outer crust of the earth is comprised of several large plates which form the lithosphere. These plates float continuously within a soft zone within the mantle known as the asthenosphere. At areas where two plates meet, a plate margin is created, and owing to further movement, various land forms are created which possess their distinct identities as a result of the geology of the various parts in interaction. There are three (3) main types of plate margins, namely – convergent, divergent and transform margins. Convergent pate margins quite naturally occur where two plates move towards each other; divergent when they move apart; and transform where they move pass each other.

Our unique Vincentian identity as we know it today has been shaped both by our pre and post colonial circumstances. It is as a result of the convergence of the resilient spirit of our Garifuna and Calinago ancestors; the perseverance of our African foreparents, as they fought against a most evil system of slavery; and the particular struggles of our Portuguese and Indian forebears through indentureship, has brought about a distinctly featured crystallization of human processes, which has informed the molecular constitution of our Vincentian civilization.

Like various types of rocks, for example, igneous rocks are characterized by their formation when fire rocks or magma cools; and metamorphic rocks, such as marble and gneiss, known for their formation as a result of alterations of a preexisting rock – the parent rock, due to heat and pressure; so to our Vincentian people have become known for being fully imbued with a special type of resilience we have survived the almost total annihilation of our native people; struggled and achieved freedom from slavery; a volcanic eruption in 1902 did not paralyse us with fear; we participated fully in the fight for independence and finally established a sovereign nation state less than two hundred days after the earth’s crust shook uncontrollably in the 1979 eruption of La Soufriere. What a great people!

Our struggles for independence have informed and occupied a great extent of our pre-1979 challenges. However, the tasks do not end there; instead we must constantly reposition ourselves to respond to our post-1979 challenges, since independence brings with it a unique set of circumstances which must be given particular attention. The following sectors, though not an exhaustive list, comprises key areas to be critically assessed in order to structure a modern Vincentian Society operating in the shadows of a very dark colonial past:

  •  Regional Integration
  •  Agriculture
  •  Education
  •  Tourism
  •  Air Transport
  •  Culture and Youth
  •  Health

Regional Integration- Our region, its constant evolution, and the projected resultant implications of the successes or failures of delayed or speedy integration will forever be an increasingly compelling subject for study. Our efforts to bring our region together will be fruitful once grounded in the deep-seated faith that within us resides the ability to conquer and move forward. However, our regional leaders must exercise the necessary political will to move the process forward. St. Vincent & the Grenadines has proudly shown leadership with distinction when a motion on Economic Union in the Southern and Eastern Caribbean was taken to Parliament on Thursday, 9th October, 2008. The intent being to move towards the achievement of a single economy and political integration among Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.

We have chosen as a nation to exercise the requisite political will correctly and forthrightly in the same light as former Prime Minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson encouraged when he noted: “We are bound together by a historical process. There is an enormous psychological bonding, yet we find elusive and sometimes difficult the necessary political will to cement all of the historical social and cultural bonds into an economic foundation.”

If we ought to do justice to an analysis of the post independence period in which we live, we must first understand that we have been colonies for far longer than we have been independent. How then do we construct a modern agricultural sector in the shadows of our colonial past? Firstly, we must free our minds from the notion that agricultural work is a reincarnation of slavery in some modern form. Whilst slave labour was forced labour, organized accordingly to sustain agricultural production during slavery, today’s agricultural production resides at the centre of our existence and should not be tabooed. Hence, our Government has embarked on the development and a creation of a national food production plan; a land bank; legislation to protect our farmers from thieves; huge investment in fisheries – 33 million in the Owia Fishing Complex and 6 million for a fleet expansion programme; and the restructuring of the Banana Industry. The efforts are not limited to those mentioned.

Critical as well is the establishment of a sound education system. Our National Library Project; our achievement to have universal secondary education; and the bid to have at least one university graduate for each of the thirty three thousand households by the year 2025 at the latest, are steps in the right direction, as we strive to foster the environment which will enhance our possibilities to create a more certified human productive sector.

Our future would be grim if we fail to pay attention to airport development and air transport. Our Hon. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves noted in his 2008 Budget Address that, “The Government of St. Vincent & the Grenadines is cognizant of the economic and social impact of airport development. Hence current policies are based on the premise that airport development has an important bearing on the movement of goods and people. It is within this context that Government has embarked on several initiatives aimed at enhancing airport development throughout the State.” A national treasure is in the making. The Argyle International Airport is coming in 2011 and we have already completed a jet port in Canouan. This unquestionably shows that we are an administration of action!

WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN THE PROCESS? Our nation sees you our students as fundamental to the building of a much needed exceptional cadre of multi-talented youth who will not only develop your personal lives, but the future of our nation; sub-region in the form of the OECS; and the region as it relates to CARICOM. It is only by preaching the gospel of people empowerment may we have a chance to change the world. Our young people must break the silence; participate fully in our nation’s decision-making process by using the adequate forms and structures; and become active citizens, as we attempt to establish new trends in youth expression. I see a great day coming for us as a nation, as we continue to witness a convergence of our positive forces. “We have a nation to build. If we don’t do it, who will?”

Saboto Caesar is a Lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.

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