Garifuna to become honorary Vincentian citizens

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace says, if his New Democratic Party (NDP) wins the next general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, his administration would honor the Garifuna people by making them “Honorary Citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

“I want to bring them closer to St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Eustace, leader of the country’s main opposition party, in making the announcement Sunday night at a town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, flanked by Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Roland “Patel” Matthews, and former Communications and Works Minister in a former NDP administration, Glenford Stewart.

“There are those who say it can’t be done, but it will be done,” added the former prime minister to loud applause, with some Garifuna in the audience. “I have naysayers who say ‘it’ll be a drain on the economy.’ There’s a saying, ‘where ignorance is bliss, it’s folly to be wise.’

“I must say, they’ll (Garifuna) make the most marvelous contribution to St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” continued the NDP president. “There’s no way they can pull us down; they’ll pull us up.

“Tonight, I say to the Garifuna, ‘welcome home’,” Eustace declared. “We’ve stated our position tonight, and we’ll stand by it.”

During his week-long visit to New York, Eustace said he had met with a number of Garifuna, descendants of Black Caribs from St. Vincent and the Grenadines and “got an understanding of what took place” (leading up to and during their exile by the British on Balliceaux – a rocky island in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Roatan, an island off Honduras).

“They are, therefore, ours,” the Opposition Leader said. “It is time that we take steps to remedy this situation. We cannot allow, in good conscience, the situation to continue.”

In recent years, Eustace said he had heard “more and more of the Garifuna and their commitment to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which they call Yuremein.

“It became more and more clear that we cannot ignore this matter,” he said. “We must address it.”

He noted that, about 218 years ago, the British “mistreated and exiled a lot of people we now call Garifuna,” stating that they were first sent to Balliceaux “where many of them died” and then to exile in Roatan.

“Therefore, a lot of people were not aware of the extent and despicable nature that took place,” Eustace said. “Five hundred people who left Balliceaux 218 years later now number 700,000. But they’re from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, having gone to Honduras, gone to Belize and so forth, and 400,000 here (in the United States).

“I believe this is a remarkable story,” he added. “It’s a remarkable story because many of them are professionals in different parts of the world.”

Douglas Howard – an NDP activist and former president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Progressive Organization of New York (SPOONY), the NDP New York affiliate that sponsored the town hall meeting – thanked Eustace for his gesture towards the Garifuna and recommended that Balliceaux be declared a “National Shrine.”

Eustace agreed, adding that he had already communicated that suggestion to the group of Garifuna with whom he met in New York.

“Your announcement is most welcome,” Belizean Joseph Guerrero, who spoke on behalf of the Garifuna people, told Eustace in the question-and-answer segment. “And, on behalf of the Garifuna people worldwide, thank you.”

Wellington Ramos, who was also part of the Garifuna delegation and who also hails from Belize, said he found Eustace to be “a very sincere person” in their “deliberations.”

“I want to say, if somebody can’t give you something in 14 years, why you have to wait another hour,” asked Ramos, an adjunct lecturer in politics at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University and a newspaper columnist, stating that the Garifuna had been waiting indefinitely to become “Honorary Citizens” of their motherland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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