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‘Our Country first’ – our only motto

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For all the historical reasons outlined in my last column, we have quite a task to inculcate a spirit of patriotism and love of country in our people. We seem to have lost a sense of balance and every negative act is being turned in some quarters as justification for this anti-national and unpatriotic view. It is as though we wish the worst for our country in order to justify our selfishness and backwardness; as if there is little of which Vincentians can be proud.{{more}}

Our approach to the annual Independence celebrations reflects this mood of virtual despair. We started with a street “jump-up”, but the showers in 1981 soon put a dampener on that and we have limped along since, occasionally lifting our spirits and enthusiasm, only to slip back into complacency. It is true that the early bungling around such important symbols as the national anthem and flag did not exactly help to build that spirit of oneness and unity, and that the move to change the flag ended up in subversion of the national effort, imposing a foreign-designed flag, rejecting a choice made by democratic means.

All this contributed to the political tribalism, whereby those out of power seem to scoff at all national efforts. This has been the feed for the unpatriotic stream, which has been constantly undermining national consciousness. I mentioned last week some more positive efforts to overcome these negatives, such as the annual Independence community competitions. The Nine-Mornings village lighting-up, though based around Christmas, falls in this category.

One big boost to the Independence spirit came with the election to office of the current Ralph Gonsalves’ administration. Given Gonsalves’ own impeccable anti-colonial credentials, it was no surprise that from the outset he tried to breathe new life in the floundering Independence activities. Even if the nature of the activities were not fundamentally changed, and there remained a heavy ministerial hand in their direction, for the first time we were treated to Independence addresses which sought to put the event in a proper historical context. One most welcome reaction was the proud displaying of the national flag on a scale never before witnessed in SVG.

In spite of these positive features the pernicious influence of rabid partisanship and “oppositionism” continues to retard efforts to put country before all else. Those opponents of Gonsalves and his ULP seem unable to make the distinction between opposition to the policies and programmes of the Government, a right to which they are entitled, and opposing measures which are clearly in the national interest. That has led them to mire themselves in a cesspool of backwardness and ignorance.

This is manifested in many ways, none more so than in the hostility to the Argyle international airport project, a long-overdue dream of all Vincentians. Naturally, as happens with any major project, there will be differing views, on approaches, on the cost factor, on concerns about long-term viability etc etc. To lift these to the extent that not only is the project opposed, but it is as though some persons are wishing it to fail is downright anti-national. Who will suffer if that happens?

Worse, rather than lift the level of understanding of their supporters, they lead them down the dark hole of ignorance. Imagine, in this day and age, well into the 21st century, we have people questioning whether the airport could ever be completed! Similarly, the mooted issue of a tunnel connection between Arnos Vale and Kingstown, was pooh-poohed as if it were some archaeological wonder. Leaders owe it to their supporters to lift their level of understanding, not to take advantage of backwardness when the leaders know better. That is a gross disservice to one’s followers.

That same misleading of people permeates a lot of views aired on radio about international relations. At a time when all enlightened countries are broadening their foreign relations, every new initiative is greeted with scare-mongering. Venezuela’s President Chavez is a special target, as though he has committed some crime against the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. He was the butt of crude attacks during our Referendum on the Constitution, including having his face printed on an imagined imprint of a new “currency” that was supposed to replace the EC dollar, should the people vote in favour of the proposed Constitution. Those responsible have never owned up to their misdeed or apologised for the blatant deception.

How could we profess to love our country and still propose to ‘unsign’ the Petro-Caribe accord, which is providing great benefits to a broad swathe of Caribbean people, whether from Jamaica, Dominica, Antigua or St Vincent and the Grenadines? What manner of love for our country would prompt us to continue to promote disaffection against Cuban workers who are building us an airport, who allowed many of us to have the continued use of our eyesight? Or, suddenly to be casting aspersions on the aims of the valuable assistance being provided by the Taiwanese?

The modernising of our Constitution is a necessary step in our political and constitutional advance. One cannot be patriotic and continue to support a foreign Head of State, to prefer a Privy Council, which does not welcome us, over our own judges, and to reach the depths of attacking our very distinguished Justice Adrian Saunders, the lone Vincentian on the Caribbean Court of Justice. Patriotism cannot be built on such pillars, cannot be subject to the whims of political expediency. Country must come first – there is no other way.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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