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Not even Gibbs, Ram or Val could spin this one


Each anniversary of our nation’s Independence, we find ourselves scrambling to atone for the grievous mistakes made in our accession to independent status. The year 1979 was a most eventful one in many different ways, with the eruption of the Soufriere volcano and the general elections, less than six weeks after the ‘birth’ of the nation, sharing the limelight with the October 27 Independence date.{{more}}

The convergence of these events crowded the independence process, particularly as the government of the day seemed to lack a clear historical perspective and understanding of what nationhood should mean. As a result, our constitutional advancement was short-changed, and besides the pomp and glory, there was not much to leave a lasting impression or a legacy to the young nation. We had already adopted a rather sterile national anthem when we advanced to statehood ten years before, replete with its patronising lyrics, (“those little sister isles……those gems the lovely Grenadines……..). We crafted a one-sided flag with the breadfruit leaf, identified with a particular political party. Unlike our neighbours in the Windward islands, there was not even an attempt at a national dress; we were confused as to what was the composition of the national dish and our highest honours, to this day, 32 years on, remain those bestowed by Elizabeth of the house of Windsor, still monarch of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Such was the state of disarray in which we approached independence. We have not been able to rectify this sorry state of affairs, not even after more than three decades of being in charge of our own affairs. The most noble effort, the constitutional review process of 2003/09, ended in disappointing failure, as a combination of narrow political partisanship and the scars of colonialist rule doomed the 2009 Constitution to defeat in the referendum of that year. In between, we have set up several Committees and Commissions to try and grapple with the unfinished business-the flag, national dress etc. But save for changing the flag in 1985, not much else has been accomplished in this regard. And that flag changing process was flawed and seriously compromised, when after a local design, by cultural icon Sulle, was declared the winner of the competition to choose a new flag, the Prime Minister of the day high-handedly chose a foreign design and imposed it on the nation.

In the early years of the life of the Unity Labour Party government, an attempt was made to formalise a national dress. That too floundered and in 2011, we find ourselves in a national pageant still trying to find answers. To its credit though, the Gonsalves government has made some steps towards re-instilling pride in the national flag and national colours and has revived the idea of national honours, first raised by its predecessor in office, the New Democratic Party.

The most significant achievement has been the dumping into the dustbin of history of the shameful Discovery Day/National Day holiday on January 22 and the formal declaration of March 14 as National Heroes Day. In conjunction with this, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, our symbol of resistance to foreign domination, was proclaimed our First, and so far, one and only, National Hero. Commendable as this is, a lot more needs to be done to give real meaning to this symbol of our independence, the obelisk at Dorsetshire Hill and the limp annual pilgrimage being inadequate to honour such a figure. More than two decades ago, a former Culture Minister spoke of getting a bronze statue of Chatoyer, (from Venezuela if my fading memory still serves me right). There has been no appearance up to this day.

Chatoyer’s place as National Hero is unchallenged, though some may harbour colonial reservations. But, among the political classes, there are attempts to go further. When the National Hero idea was first mooted, other names were thrown into the ring, the most prominent ones being Captain Hugh Mulzac, the labour leaders/anti-colonial fighters and politicians George McIntosh and Ebenezer Joshua, and our first Premier and Prime Minister Robert Milton Cato. All of these have a place in our history, having each made a contribution to our political, economic and social development.

The names Cato and Joshua, in particular, stir a lot of political passion, with strong views being advanced for and against National Hero status. We have had quite a lot of national debate on that score and the consensus seemed to emerge that, in the absence of broad popular agreement, it would be best, at least for the time being, to settle for Chatoyer as our lone national hero. However, for some strange reason, the name of Milton Cato is again making the rounds. This has caused profound disquiet among those of my generation, who recognize Mr. Cato for his achievements, but are deeply disturbed when the accolade “National Hero” is touted for him. The powers that be would be well-advised to balk at such a step. Reconciling Cato with National Hero status would be a miracle of spin that neither Lance Gibbs nor the renowned “spin-twins”, Ramadin and Valentine, could conjure up.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.