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Mr Arnhim Eustace and Garifuna Honorary Citizenship

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Editor: There has been an issue making the rounds within recent times and which has been the subject of much debate, i.e. the question of honorary citizenship for Garifuna in the diaspora. I will not attempt to discuss the merits or demerits of such an offer, but will rather focus on the context within which it is mooted, in order to expose the clear political opportunism which gave rise to this offer by the leader of the New Democratic Party and Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Hon Arnhim Eustace.{{more}}

No rational thinking Vincentian can, with all honesty, negate the role played by the present administration in heightening the consciousness of Vincentians about our heritage, our history and culture and particularly, the Garifuna component of this rich history.

There is no single person who has done more to promote our Garifuna heritage during her tenure as Minister of Culture between 2001 and 2010, than Mama Culture, Ms René Baptiste. She could not have done this without a deliberate policy framework designed and implemented by the Government, which placed our heritage and culture squarely within the parameters of the developmental agenda of the country; and most importantly, she couldn’t have done it without the support of her colleagues in Cabinet.

The heightened awareness on the Garifuna heritage and their struggle against British colonialism, which were brought to the fore by the progressive movements of the 1970s and early 1980s, among them YULIMO, was finally and deservedly given the legislative and institutional backing of the state machinery under the current administration. First and foremost was the recognition of Paramount Chief HE Joseph Chatoyer as the first and only National Hero of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The date of his death was declared a national holiday and is celebrated as National Heroes Day and the month of March as Heritage Month, honouring the contributions of other stalwarts such as Ebenezer Joshua and George MacIntosh.

In addition, one can identify with other significant activities and events which, over the past decade and a half, have underlined the growing awareness and importance of the Garifuna story in St Vincent and the Grenadines, among these: l the national wreath laying ceremony at the obelisk in Dorsetshire Hill, to honour our national hero; an event designed to cut across political party lines and bring the political leadership and ordinary Vincentians in one place to pay homage to HE Joseph Chatoyer;

  • the annual pilgrimage of our Garifuna brothers and sisters to Balliceaux, to pay tribute to the ancestors on the rock where genocide was committed by British colonialism;
  • the teaching of Garifuna dance in schools and for the first time, a Garifuna/English dictionary donated to the Ministry of Culture, to take pride of place in our national literary reservoir;
  • the creation of two Garifuna organizations in St Vincent and the Grenadines to facilitate greater promotion and awareness of the Garifuna nation and its culture;
  • periodic visits of Garifuna personalities from the diaspora to participate in related activities and,
  • the lead role played by the current administration in internationalizing the issue of reparation for slavery and native genocide, very much an issue linked to the Garifuna story.

Given that record of achievement and on the heels of all these activities, the leader of the New Democratic Party and Opposition Leader Mr Arnhim Eustace has suddenly woken up and now purports to champion the cause of the Garifuna by promising honorary citizenship, if he gets into office after the general elections. It begs the question, why the sudden interest by Mr Eustace in the Garifuna? Has he just experienced an awakening? This new found love by Mr Eustace for our heroic ancestors and their descendents has prompted me to trace his track record on the Garifuna issue and to highlight the rank opportunism which is played out here.

Mr Eustace was part of an administration (both as adviser and as Minister), which for nearly two decades in power, never attached any importance whatsoever to the Garifuna. Indeed, our history, our heritage and culture were mere irritants in the national policy framework during that era. He was Prime Minister for five months and had a window of opportunity to rally the nation to recapture our Garifuna heritage. He did absolutely nothing.

Has Mr Eustace for the past 14 years ever attended the solemn national event (arguably among the most important on the nations calendar given its historic significance) at Dorsetshire Hill, to honour and commemorate the death of the ultimate Garifuna leader? Doesn’t his conspicuous absence every year constitute a total lack of respect for our National Hero and, by extension, the Garifuna nation, on whom he now wishes to bestow honorary citizenship? I could only assume that for all of these years during the National Heroes Day celebrations, he was either out of state or too ill to attend.

I have attended most of the activities at the Victoria Park to mark National Independence and I cannot recall Mr Eustace being present since October 2001. One may question my reference to independence within this context, but indeed, there is an inextricable link between the Garifuna and our independence. Under Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, the Garifuna were the ones who fought two long wars in the second half of the 18th century to defend the sovereignty of our country. They were the standard bearers of our independence and failure to appreciate this connection and failure to exercise patriotic leadership at this important national event is tantamount to disrespect and a non-recognition of the sacrifice made by the Garifuna, in fighting for sovereignty and independence over two centuries ago.

Mr Eustace has been lukewarm at best on the issue of reparation for slavery and native genocide and I am being extremely generous to him here. Indeed, he has shown no enthusiasm and support for the cause, because he thinks that there are more urgent economic issues to address than a call for reparation. Is Mr Eustace saying that the reparation cause and current economic issues are mutually exclusive? He should be advised that the call for reparation for slavery and native genocide is at the heart of the Garifuna isuue. It is a rallying call for the leaders of Britain and other European nations to apologize and take responsibility for the genocide and the atrocities committed by their forebears during those dark days. They are not separate, but one and the same, the Garifuna genocide being a component of the wider reparation cause.

How then, could someone so far removed from the issues which touch and concern our Garifuna heritage, someone who has poured cold water on the call for reparation, now suddenly project himself as a champion of the Garifuna cause, by brandishing honorary citizenship to demonstrate this new “awakening”? I contend that this is solely designed to extract a few more sympathy votes from above the Dry River. One cannot on the one hand pretend to be a champion of the modern day Garifuna cause, while at the same time discounting, undervaluing and shunning the call of reparation. But why am I surprised? This posture is just a continuation of the level of backwardness displayed during the 2009 referendum on constitutional change.

The Garifuna nation was almost exterminated. Native genocide took place on Balliceaux. St Vincent and the Grenadines was stripped of its culture, language and traditions. Herein lies the essence of a most important element of the call for reparation. So, please, Mr Eustace, be consistent and let us see a genuine concern on your part for our heritage, by respecting the institutions set up to honour Joseph Chatoyer and our Garifuna heroes and don’t try to squeeze in the backdoor and position yourself as a “protector of the Garifuna” for political expediency.

The current administration does not have to defend itself on the Garifuna issue. Its record speaks for itself. No other administration in the history of this country has done more to recapture our past and project the values and ideals of independence and sovereignty and the role played by our Garifuna ancestors than the current administration. The political opportunism of Mr Eustace on this issue “stinks” of desperation.

Newton Scott

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