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‘Honorary’ citizenship

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by Dr Garrie Michael Dennie

Over the last few days, a chasm has seemingly opened up between the Unity Labour Party (ULP) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) on the declaration by Leader of the Opposition Mr Arnhim Eustace that if elected to office, the NDP will confer honorary citizenship on all Garifuna and their descendants.{{more}} In the heat of the vexatiousness that is the hallmark of the relationship between both parties, a sense of perspective has been lost.

incentian Government has gone to extraordinary lengths above and beyond every other Caribbean country in honouring its earliest inhabitants and their descendants. Chatoyer’s elevation to the position of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ first and only national hero makes this crystal clear. Our national holiday elaborates upon this. The decade of national orations given by the Prime Minister on the Garifuna should be required reading on what it means to honour the Garifuna. The international conferences which have been held in St Vincent, all strongly supported by the Government, also confirm this. The fact that the Government and the Prime Minister, in particular, have led the Caribbean governments in making the call for reparations for the historic injustices committed against Africans and indigenous Caribbean people speak eloquently to the Vincentian national sensibility that we carry a special trust: to give voice and substance to our commitment to honour our Garifuna brethren and sisthren. In short, the Vincentian Government, led by Dr Ralph Gonsalves, has constructed an entire architecture of dignity that accords the Garifuna a special place in the Vincentian collective memory in a manner that is without precedent in Vincentian history.

What then is one to make of this current tumult over the notion of honorary citizenship being granted to the Garifuna? It suggests that Dr Gonsalves is surprisingly unaware that all that he has done on behalf of the Garifuna already fit that bill. Indeed, if one places the stress on ‘honorary’ rather than ‘citizenship’, it is therefore possible and indeed necessary to see Mr Eustace’s call for ‘honorary’ citizenship being conferred on the Garifuna as a fundamental acceptance of a policy platform long articulated by Dr Ralph Gonsalves. This current controversy therefore indicates that Mr Eustace’s unexpected rhetorical intervention into a realm of public debate, long dominated by Dr Gonsalves, should have been met by a simple response from Dr Gonsalves: “Welcome.”

By way of analogy, think of what is meant by the conferring of an honorary doctorate. It does not afford the conferee any set of rights and responsibilities within academia. But it is also a public recognition of the value and impact of that person on the broader community. Above all, it is a statement of respect to the work and worth of that individual. Unqualified citizenship, as spelt out in our constitution, outlines the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of all Vincentians. Honorary citizenship is qualified citizenship – that is, whatever we wish it to be, once it does not contravene our existing laws. Clearly, since Mr Eustace has not outlined a set of rights and privileges to ‘honorary’ citizens that do not exist for full citizens, there is no need to speculate on what he might have in mind. He should be afforded the opportunity to flesh out his ideas. Dr Gonsalves’ own record on honouring the Garifuna, however, needs no burnishing. Hence, whatever his political instincts might be in battling Eustace, he should be careful that it does not pollute what is already an extraordinary legacy of honouring the Garifuna.

Dr Dennie is a Vincentian professor of History residing in the United States

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