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March, march, march

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I write from the formerly embattled Northern Ireland capital of Belfast where I am on the road as a Fairtrade soldier, campaigning for the Irish people to buy Fairtrade bananas from the Windwards Islands and thus provide more opportunities for our farmers. But even as I go about on this promotional tour there as those, in this case the government of Ecuador, trying to get the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Union (EU) to make it harder (and more expensive) for us to export to Europe.

It makes such missions as the current one all the more important for us the islands. In Britain and Ireland they are currently celebrating Fairtrade Fortnight highlighting the success of this initiative in securing livelihoods for farmers such as those in St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Dominica and Grenada.{{more}} Fairtrade sales have soared at an incredible rate and in the case of banana, first, the giant Supermarket chain SAINBURY’s and now WAITROSE, have decided to sell all their bananas under the Fairtrade label.

Those who decried Fairtrade in the early days are now having to face the reality that it is no fly-by-night, sorry-for-poor scheme, but a real initiative where consumers are making a conscious choice, using the market mechanism. There is no better mechanism than consumer choice and that is what Fairtrade is. In spite of all the efforts by enemies of our farmers to make market access more difficult for Windwards farmers and to under-sell us with cheap bananas produced on the backs of exploited banana workers in Latin America and Africa, our own bananas are still selling, even at higher costs.

We are now making efforts to broaden those choices reaching out to Irish consumers and the response have already been most heartening. The Dominican Prime Minister Skerritt is guest of honour in Britain’s Fairtrade Fortnight, on the invitation of the Fairtrade Foundation. In Ireland it is Renwick Rose of WINFA holding the flag for our producers. Having visited Dublin, Belfast is next on the schedule.

There is an annual season in Belfast called the “Marching Season” with historical roots to the bitter divide between Catholics and Protestants, rifts that they are now attempting to heal. It is not yet marching season in Belfast but with the month of March approaching, it seems as though back in SVG we are preparing for our own marching season. When I left home preparations were being made for a political march by the Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP). Aimed at the Government it was nevertheless being advertised as a march “against corruption, drugs crime,” etc. One can only infer that somehow the Government is being linked with those evils though it is not clear. Indeed several marches have been held over the past couple years against those same manifestations of degradation, principally by evangelical churches and youth groups. Further I remember the ULP in opposition, itself staging some of those all-encompassing marches. Perhaps the NDP continues to be convinced that it can adopt ULP tactics of the nineties as its road to power.

Whatever the outcome, March is here with us. It is a very significant month in our history, this year with added importance. March follows February, now commemorated in the Caribbean as well as Black History Month. It is the month when we solemnly mark the death of our National Hero, His Excellency the Rt. Joseph Chatoyer, Paramount Chief of the Callinago People, Defender of our homeland. Not all of us are as yet comfortable with this either out of ignorance or bias. We simply have to intensify the process of education and consciousness-raising. Our patriotism must be rooted in the works of Chatoyer and his courageous people.

This year, in addition to the activities for National Heroes Month, there will be special focus on the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The Committee established to spearhead activities in this regard, has already started work building up to the climax of this month’s events, the Freedom Concert at Argyle on March 25th, exactly 200 years after the passage of the Abolition of Slavery Act, 1807.

Those who are still skeptical are constantly being reminded of the significance of the occasion. In the former slave-owing countries of Britain and the United States, more and more prominent spokespersons are coming out expressing their regrets or apologizing for slavery. Only last Saturday for instance, lawmakers in the US State of Virginia, passed a Resolution by 96 votes to none expressing “profound regret” for slavery. Another US State, Missouri, is said to be considering a similar measure.

The resolution uses forceful language to describe slavery, saying it “ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation’s history.” It went on to state that, “the abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices towards American of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias and racial misunderstanding.”

It was slavery and those same practices that led to not only genocide against the Callinago but the import of indentured labour, including from Ireland to our shores. Whilst on Irish soil, I will seek to re-establish those relations on a new basis, of social justice and solidarity, the principles of FAIRTRADE.

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