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Mobilizing the diaspora

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From all reports, last Saturday’s Vincentian Diaspora and Development Conference in New York turned out to be a success. Spearheaded by the SVG Diaspora Committee of New York, in conjunction with the Consulate of St Vincent and the Grenadines in New York and other supportive Vincentian organisations, the conference was aimed at broadly integrating the Vincentian diaspora in a more focused way in the development process of their native land.{{more}}

In recent years, there has been a renewed recognition of the importance of Vincentians abroad and the role they can play in national development. Previously, given the remittances that Vincentian migrants have been sending home to their families and their support for charitable causes, there has been a tendency to stereotype their role as in the calypso “Send Dis, Send Dat …” But Vincentians abroad are a far more important resource than simple providers of remittances or senders of the famous ‘barrels’.

Within the Vincentian diaspora, whether in New York, Toronto, Port of Spain, Calgary or St Croix, are some of the most qualified sons and daughters of our soil, whose skills, if applied to the national effort, can make a tremendous difference to our output. The migrant community also possesses a relatively untapped financial pool and business acumen which holds great possibilities for investment and economic development.

For these reasons and more, the emphasis on the role of the diaspora is a positive step in the right direction. But one needs to be principled, consistent and to avoid opportunistic tendencies which have in the past affected relations between the Vincentian communities abroad and those of us still on ‘home base’. These inconsistencies and contradictions have led in the past towards a failure to maximize the role of the diaspora and sometimes to a souring of relationships.

There have also been manifestations of partisan political brinksmanship, on both sides, with some persons more interested in political and personal gain, than in promoting genuine diaspora/homeland relations.

The 2012 Diaspora Conference follows up on earlier efforts which, in 2009, helped to bring about the organisation of a Diaspora Homecoming Conference to mark the 30th anniversary of our country’s Independence. For various reasons, that gathering was not as successful as it should have been, but out of it there emerged a broad Framework for Action Plan. One of the aims of last Saturday’s New York meeting was to help to promote this action plan.

The Vincentian diaspora has also been very much involved in two other major national undertakings. During the six-year campaign on Constitutional Reform (2003-2009), extensive discussions were held with Vincentians in North America, the U.K, and several Caribbean islands to solicit their views. Interestingly, many Vincentians at home did not take too kindly to recommendations for a more direct participation by Vincentians abroad in the electoral process. It is as though we were saying “yes” to remittances and barrels but “no” to equal opportunity to influence the political process.

The other major interlink, again involving delegations travelling from SVG to Vincentian communities overseas, occurred during discussions on the proposed 20-year National Development Plan. Unfortunately, neither the people in the diaspora nor those here at home, have been given a clue as to what has become of this ‘Plan’ and their recommendations for it.

In order to forge deeper and more harmonious links between Vincentians at home and overseas, a people-to-people focus is necessary. This means developing stronger ties between Vincentian organisations here and those in the diaspora. Thus, business and investment ties between the Chamber of Commerce, Hotel and Tourism Association and relevant counterparts in the Vincentian migrant communities can prove very fruitful. Likewise links in the cultural, sporting and other such fields are essential elements in building the global Vincentian fraternity.

One aspect which cannot be ignored must be the wise choice by governments of suitable personnel in the various embassies and consulates. It will be a great boon if those persons have the skill and commitment to mobilize the migrant community and to interact positively with them.

The 2012 Diaspora Conference in New York has taken place at a most critical moment for American politics. In just over a month’s time, the American electorate will cast its verdict in presidential and congressional elections. Four years ago, most black voters, including those from the migrant community qualified to vote, supported Barack Obama to make history by becoming the first black president of the USA.

It was a heady and emotional moment in history. In 2012, the stakes have been raised significantly. White racist reaction to President Obama, heavily funded by big-business, is mounting a threat not just to Obama and his Democratic Party, but to migrant communities as well. The reactionary agenda is among the worst ever, portraying workers, black people and migrants as “scroungers”, living off American largesse and threatening clampdown on the social security net and the rights of migrants.

Whatever the weaknesses of the Obama administration, this right-wing agenda must be resisted and rolled back. The voting migrant community has an important role to play. Those of our relatives abroad do not hesitate when we have elections here at home, to call home, e-mail or write us, advising us as to what choice we should make at the polls. For November 2012, we must reverse the trend. Call, email, tweet, or write your relatives and friends abroad who are qualified to vote. Urge them to beat back the impending danger by ensuring that they GO OUT AND VOTE and RE-ELECT OBAMA!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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