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Luncheon brings curtains down on independence celebrations

Luncheon brings curtains down on independence celebrations

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by Nelson A. King in New York

A former St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ United Nations, United States and Organization of American States (OAS) envoy has advocated the carving out of a special space for his multi-island nation in an increasingly, highly competitive global environment.

In a 30-minute address to nationals Sunday, at a gala luncheon that culminated a week of activities here commemorating the 25th anniversary of the nation’s political independence, Kingsley Layne, currently the OAS bureau chief in Suriname, said it was paramount that St. Vincent and the Grenadines create its own space in the seemingly tumultuous global status quo. {{more}}

“Our possibilities must be viewed in the context of the historical, geographical, political, economic and social environment,” said Layne in his keynote address at Le Cordon Bleu, an elegant catering house on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. The event was organized by the 14-member, Brooklyn-based, Vincentian umbrella organization, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc.

“Is it possible for all stakeholders to work together?” he asked rhetorically in his speech that could be regarded as a policy statement before a different forum. “After 25 years, where do we go from here? Are our competitive strength in agriculture, manufacturing or export of our people?”

Layne, a trained economist, whose invitation to speak at the event created controversy in some quarters here and at home, primarily along protocol lines, noted that the world has changed dramatically since St. Vincent and the Grenadines attained political independence from Great Britain on Oct. 27, 1979.

Jackson Farrell, the Council’s public relations officer, who introduced Layne, said that Layne was asked to deliver the featured address not because of politics but “because of the human works he did in reviving the Council”.

Layne’s final months as the New Democratic Party-appointed ambassador to the U.S. and OAS ended in a cloud over allegations of unaccounted travel expenses, which became a major campaign issue for the incumbent Unity Labor Party administration. (He subsequently produced credit card receipts to corroborate his innocence.)

Layne said that the end of the cold war, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the disbanding of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the phenomenal growth rate of the so-called Asian tiger countries, the rapidly changing technological environment and the onslaught of globalization, among other things, make it increasingly necessary for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to position themselves “strategically and mentally”.

He said that it was pertinent that St. Vincent and the Grenadines remain fully committed to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the sub-regional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), noting their beneficial effects.

And he seemed to indicate his full support for the soon-to-be established Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), saying that its formation is the region’s response to globalization.

“The CSME involves the highest level of integration,” Layne said. “The seminal role of this new structure will affect the lives of our people.”

But he could not restrain himself from cringing at what the future portends in light of the impending imperil of the banana industry, the “targeted demise” of the offshore banking industry, the aftermath of the “horrific” events of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the “focused attention” on global terrorism.

“In this turbulent scenario, whither St. Vincent and the Grenadines!” he said.

Layne, therefore, urged his compatriots here to continue making their contributions to their homeland, issuing the caveat: “the quality of national life would be diminished without your contribution.”

Council president Arnold C. “Lydon” Charles, a certified public accountant, identified stable social, political and economic institutions, guarantees of fundamental rights and freedoms, and long-lasting customs and traditions among hallmarks of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ achievements since independence.

But he pointed out, like Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, while much has been accomplished, a lot more still needs to be done.

Charles said that efforts must be unabated in seriously addressing unemployment, adult literacy and law and order.

“The first two have been in existence for quite a long time,” he said, “but the last is a relatively recent phenomenon – a disproportionately high crime rate that has raised the level of fear in many parts of the state.

“However, methods of dealing with these are currently being debated,” he added.

New York Consul General Cosmus Cozier represented the incumbent Unity Labor Party (ULP) administration at the celebratory finale, at which mas producer Wesley Millington and netball organizer Gailene Windsor were honoured.

Millington is the producer and founder of the Brooklyn-based Mas Productions Unlimited, the lone Vincentian mas band in New York; and Windsor is immediate past president and founding member of the Brooklyn-based Caribbean-American Netball Association, the largest netball association in the United States.

Windsor was also the president of the American Netball Association and Hairoun Sports Club. She’s currently the public relations officer of the Brooklyn-based group, Vincentian-American National Charities, Inc.

Both honourees also received proclamations from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“Being honoured is itself a particular honour,” Millington said afterwards in an interview. “Sharing the honor with one of the members who set up the organization is special.

“The honour is not only for me but for Mas Productions,” he added. “We went through a lot. One of the things is to be recognized as a St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ organization. This award validates everything we’ve been doing.”

Windsor, who is an ex-recording secretary of the Council, was very tart in her remarks.

“I felt accepting this award from the Council is deeply an honour,” she said, “especially during the 25th anniversary of independence.”

After dining on filet of fish and baked chicken, washing them down with champagne, patrons then danced the afternoon away to the pulsating sounds of the Vision Band. A group of Garifuna dancers from Belize also provided entertainment.

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