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Gonsalves did not say ‘switch bananas for ganja’

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CORRECTION

Last Friday, in the Weekend Edition of Searchlight, we carried a story on our front page headlined: “Switch bananas for ganja – Gonsalves” based on a speech Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves gave at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) on January 25, 2016.{{more}}

The story, written by Barbadian freelance journalist George Alleyne, also stated in its opening sentence that the Prime Minister said “marijuana would have been a better crop” than bananas.

Since the publication of the article, Searchlight obtained an audio recording of Gonsalves’ entire presentation and we are satisfied that he never said that bananas should be switched for marijuana, nor did he say that marijuana would have been a better crop.

We apologize to the Prime Minister and our readers for the error and publish below the full text of what Dr Gonsalves said in relation to bananas and marijuana.

“I am disappointed that at no campus of the UWI has there been any, or any useful research done on the contemporary banana industry or the marijuana enterprise. I am satisfied that the banana industry, despite its important historical contribution to several Caribbean economies particularly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, has been the most environmentally degrading commercial agricultural crop since conquest and settlement.

Of course, when the ‘green gold’ is there, this kind of a proposition I am advancing here, it’s heresy because everybody get a wall house and they move from a Suzuki scooter to a motorcar, ‘sketels’ they call them, bringing them second hand. So it increase the wealth and that’s perfectly in order, I have no quarrel with that; but look at it objectively and see what happens to the environment as a consequence of bananas. People talk about ganja; ganja is nowhere as environmentally destructive as bananas and I’ll explain why.

St Vincent, St Lucia, and Dominica, for example, in the hey-day of market preferences in the United Kingdom, farmers cultivated bananas in substantial quantities above the 1,000 foot contour and in the adjacent undulating valleys. The upshot of all this has been deforestation and the erosion of the hills and valleys, of course ganja helps with that problem too but it has been going on for nearly 50 years with bananas, so that when the rains come and you have flooding, the land gets washed away into the river; trees themselves get dug out and they block up the rivers, they mash up the bridges, they destroy homes and they kill people. These are realities you know, and we have to take stock as to what is happening and come up with practical solutions.

The extensive chemical spraying of the banana plants, the sleeving of the banana fruits with plastic, the wanton misuse and abuse of pesticides and weedicides have polluted streams and rivers, degraded the land, and caused unwanted debris, including plastic, to be deposited on certain beaches, and in the nearby seas. The sum total of this environmental degradation is yet to be properly assessed; the research is yet to be done, and the requisite corrective action has not yet been properly articulated and implemented.

Europe which purchased our bananas for decades ought reasonably within the context of the recently proclaimed Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations, to partner with us in implementing remedial measures to this environmental challenge. So, I ask pointedly, where is the Faculty of Social Sciences in this mammoth research and policy venture?

Similarly, the marijuana business is evolving from the shadow of illegality to a more enlightened decriminalization, particularly in respect of medical marijuana and small quantities of the herb for recreational and religious/sacramental use. If you don’t believe that you have your head buried somewhere else in this world. In the changing global context, (I’m not saying that the majority of people in the country agree with that you know, but if you’re leading you can’t wait until the majority lead you; you have to see things and you have to build with education and build the consensus in going forward. But we have to have the studies. That’s why I advocated the Caribbean Marijuana Commission).

In the changing global context, especially in the United States of America and Europe; the changing context of marijuana use, Caribbean economists, and other relevant professionals including those in the pharmaceutical industry, ought to be ahead of the curve in conducting relevant research, not rehearsing traversed territory, (I don’t want to see a book on ganja on the Caribbean that you just present the information that what I could just go on the Internet and just read, I want a serious research about what is happening in the region). And we need the research and we need the provision of appropriate policy advice for the general public and policy-makers. If not, if we don’t do that with marijuana, the people of our Caribbean civilisation are likely, on this and other allied matters, to be damned forever, as were the inhabitants of the ancient biblical city of Gibeon, at the time of the prophet Joshua, as bondsmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water, in the service of others from afar and near; and the metaphoric spoils of our land would be appropriated by others, not necessarily through the threat of physical harm, but by ignoble covenants forced upon us by our straightened circumstances, induced in part by our own negligence or a failure or refusal to act with urgency and good sense.”

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