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Homecoming on our 30th anniversary of Independence

Homecoming on our 30th anniversary of Independence

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23.OCT.09

by Dr. The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Thirty years ago on October 27, 1979, our nation achieved formal, constitutional independence. This status accorded us the right to assume the direction of our nation’s external affairs and defence.

Since 1969 we were in charge of our “internal affairs” occasioned by the grant of a status of “associate statehood” by the colonising power, Britain.{{more}} Still, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Constitution of 1979 contained the retention of three irksome colonial impositions: First, that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England is the Queen of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and our Head of Sate; secondly, that the London-based Privy Council is our final appellate Court in both civil and criminal matters; and thirdly, that to alter our Constitution in any fundamental way required not only a two-thirds majority in Parliament but also a two-thirds majority in a “referendum election”.

Up to October 27, 1979, only one other English-speaking Caribbean country, Grenada of the bizarre autocrat Eric Gairy, had been saddled with such a draconian requirement of a two-thirds majority in a popular referendum to alter, fundamentally, its Constitution. The other Caribbean countries either required no referendum or a simple majority, the universal democratic measure, in a referendum. Thus, our nation was burdened with a limitation which is most difficult to surmount in a competitive, political system. In short, the “take-it or leave-it” imposition by the departing colonialism was a shackle designed to prevent the alteration of a Constitution stuffed with weaknesses, to which the people had not consented at all.

Yet in the year of our 30th anniversary of independence, our people will vote on November 25th in a referendum to alter, in major ways for the better, the Constitution of 1979. The Constitution which goes before the people in the forthcoming referendum was shaped by their own hands over a seven-year period in a thoroughly extensive and intensive way, never witnessed hitherto, anywhere, in the process of constitution- making. This is truly a home-grown effort in the year marked for our nation’s Homecoming. In our lifetime, no other public policy decision is of such importance as this one. For the love of country, Vote “Yes”.

Homecoming has been misconstrued by some to mean the physical return of our compatriots from our scattered diaspora to celebrate our nation’s 30th anniversary of independence. The return of our overseas-based nationals is the easy part: Buy an airline ticket, get on the plane and land in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to be with friends and family. We welcome and encourage this. But Homecoming is more profound; it is coming home to ourselves as individuals and as a nation; to know ourselves and our nation’s history; to grasp the compromises which we are and the extant possibilities, despite all the limitations; to be a truly great people in a small country; and to be the best we can.

To come home, to advance, to develop as individuals and as a nation, we must have self-belief, self-confidence, and a sense of self-mastery, not as “atomised” individuals but as social individuals in solidarity with one another, and with our friends and allies overseas. We must avoid a debilitating learned helplessness and a constraining sense of inferiority which colonialism has sought to inculcate, and distort or divert our trajectory for upliftment and ennoblement. In all this we affirm that, as Vincentians, we believe in the supremacy of God and the freedom and dignity of man. We are not better than anyone else; but no one is better than us.

In a real sense, our Independence of 1979 represents our rebirth as a nation, but with deformities to be corrected or altered. After all, European colonialism conquered, settled in, and exploited the independent nation of the Garifuna people, our heroic forbears. The Europeans subverted the independence of the Garifuna nation; stole their lands; and eventually, largely decimated the Garifuna through a criminal genocide and forced deportations. The Europeans introduced the barbaric enslavement of Africans; and the damning indentureship of “liberated” Africans, the Madeirans (Portuguese) and Indians.

Conquest, exploitation, genocide, slavery, indentureship, racism, colonialism, and imperialism. Our nation has endured all this and has thrived. We have fashioned a multi-ethnic, liberal democratic and tolerant society, but grounded on a narrow economic base resident in our landscape and seascape. We have come from our yesterdays leaping from the oppressor’s hate and the scorn of ourselves; we have come to the world with scars upon our souls, wounds on our bodies, fury in our hands. We turn to the histories of men and the lives of our peoples; we examine the shower of sparks and the wealth of our dreams; we are pleased with the glories and sad with the sorrows, rich with the riches, poor with the loss. From our yesterdays we have come with our burdens; to the word of tomorrow we turn with our strengths. These words borrowed and adapted from the deceased Poet Laureate of Guyana, Martin Carter, constitute a veritable anthem for our Caribbean civilisation and its magnificent Vincentian counterpart. We have made our St. Vincent and the Grenadines largely by our ourselves, despite the burdens of colonialism and imperialism.

On an occasion like our 30th anniversary of independence, no useful purpose will properly be served to document in detail our immense achievements, save and except to assert that we have done far better in 30 years of independence than 200-plus years of British colonialism in all material spheres of life and living. Still, too many inferior passions haunt our spirit and actions, particularly our vanities and discourtesies; the tendency of a tiny minority to violent criminality and laziness; the selfishness and greed of some; and the avoidance of commitment to nationhood by too many. These limitations we must correct, individually and collectively. Further, and most importantly, we must address more assuredly the intractable pockets of poverty in our midst.

At this time we must honour the efforts of our forbears whose sacrifices and hard work have laid a solid foundation for us. Our leaders from the past and present, we must honour appropriately: Our National Hero, Joseph Chatoyer, Paramount Chief of the Garifuna people; Hugh Mulzac; George Augustus Mc Intosh; Elma Francois; George Hamilton Charles; Ebenezer Theodore Joshua; Robert Milton Cato; Hudson Tannis; Sir Vincent Beache, Sir James Mitchell, and Arnhim Eustace. We must honour, too, our unsung heroes who selflessly seek to make our lives better.

At the same time, let us not forget that the true measure of our civilisation resides not only in the individual efforts of leaders and distinguished persons, but in the community and solidarity of the people, as a whole, in the process of nation-building:

  • the ordinary workers in agriculture, industry, fisheries, construction, and tourism;
  • the professionalism and extra efforts of our health personnel, educators, police officers, public servants, and social workers;
  • the collective spirit and endeavours of the youths in tackling community problems;
  • the day-to-day travails of women in keeping their families together and guiding their off-spring;
  • the struggles of the poor in addressing their housing and other material needs, with or without State assistance;
  • the daily grind of ordinary folk in their quest for greater democratic control on the State administration, and for justice;
  • the striving of our sportsmen, sportswomen, cultural creators and writers of the creative imagination, professionals of all kinds, peasants, farmers, workers of excellence;
  • the efforts of our compatriots in the diaspora to help their families and nation at home;
  • the building of friendships regionally and internationally between peoples and nations; and
  • generally the collective actions of our peoples in the judiciary, the arts, culture, production, architecture, religion, journalism, politics, and sports.

All these endeavours, and more, of the civilised whole ennoble us. Contrary actions lead to our diminution.

Let us celebrate our 30th Anniversary of independence wholesomely. Let us COME HOME!

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