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Independence, reparation and the constitution

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There will be no shortage of comments, locally and beyond our shores, on the Independence address of Prime Minister Gonsalves. In the main, though, I expect that these will concentrate largely on the basket of ‘goodies’ that he announced as his Independence ‘gift’, as has become the custom. This year the basket was unusually large and the gift package very generously extended, a remarkable feat in these ‘hard guava-crop’ times. Can we afford this? Is it an act of caring generosity, or a deed of political expediency, bearing in mind the upcoming referendum?{{more}} Around these issues the debate will rage right up to November 25.

But there ought to be no reason for any basket of goodies in order to influence a YES vote in the referendum. The case for the reform of the Constitution is an overwhelming one, born out of our political and constitutional experiences. Those who advocate to the contrary have no leg to stand on, hence they resort to all kinds of economic and social issues, strewing the path with boatloads of red herrings. Is it that the reform does not go far enough? Then, if so, it is not a reason to vote NO, but an affirmation that the reform is necessary, only that those proposed are not the be-all and end- all. The struggle must continue beyond November 25, whatever the outcome.

What is amazing is that the leadership of the NDP, having gotten itself in the anti-historical position of opposing Constitution reform, has allowed their original principled support for reform to drift to the extent where the ‘ancient mariner’ of our politics has virtually hijacked the ship and put it on a different course. We are, therefore, no longer talking of content of the reform, but opposition to it, entirely on the grounds that the British-bequeathed Constitution is sacrosanct and must not be touched.

For that reason I attach far greater significance to what the Prime Minister had to say before announcing his Independence gift than to the nature of that gift. His excellent historical analysis was not only ‘spot-on”, but very relevant to the debate about constitutional reform. His was a firm rebuff to those who hold in awe the supposed “gifts’ of British colonialism (mistakenly called “civilization”). It is on this basis that we are not supposed to even contemplate tinkering with the greatest “gift” of all, the Independence Constitution. Never mind that it was not until the current reform process was initiated that the vast majority of our people have had the word Constitution emanating from their lips for the first time and actually seen, if not read, the articles of the highest law of the land under which we have been governed for 30 years.

P.M. Gonsalves’ address has again made the case for reparation, an act of courage which singles him out among his Caribbean colleagues. The word ‘reparation’ has long been considered taboo, especially in official circles, thought to be preserve of “Black Power radicals” and Rastafarians. It is not so. Reparation, for the crimes committed against our nation, the subjugation of its people, the denial of our sovereignty, is a legitimate claim that we all must not be afraid to advance”. We will not be the first people to advance such a claim. Others have done so successfully, whether they be Jews or the native people of North America. Except for the offspring of the British colonizers, all our people, be they descended from the Kallinago, Garifuna, Africans or the indentured groups (Portuguese, Scots, Irish and Indians), have suffered as a result, the development of our country stymied so that others can benefit.

These acts of national rape established the basis on which British rule and plantocracy flourished. Plantation slavery and plutocratic rule brought with them many attendant economic, political and social ills, for which even today we are still paying the price. We cannot afford to, we MUST NOT lose sight of this. Whatever the shortcomings or mistakes of our leaders – Joshua, Cato, Mitchell, Eustace or Gonsalves – they pale in comparison to the crimes committed against us, collectively during the period of conquest.

It is a pity that the connection between these and the need for a “made In SVG” Constitution was not sufficiently highlighted by the Prime Minister. Part of our liberation involves reshaping the instruments of our governance to enable us to build a more democratic and people-centred country. Our reparation will not be complete without it.

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