While Grenada is seeking to enforce a total shutdown of travel in and out of the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has indicated that St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) will remain open to residents of Petite Martinique and Carriacou who need food and cooking gas.
This invitation however does not sit well with Dr Keith Mitchell, prime minister of Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinque, who has described Gonsalves’ invitation to Grenadian citizens as “alarming” and “grossly irresponsible”.
The Grenadian prime minister first brought the “slightly controversial” topic into the public realm at an evening press conference held on April 6.
“I have a concern with Carriacou, Petite Martinique in the context of what is taking place in the Grenadines,” he explained, referring to two smaller islands to the north of the main island of Grenada, which are in very close proximity to the Grenadine islands of SVG.
“St Vincent has not locked down their borders… and I mean I have to speak to that because I have to be concerned about life,” Mitchell continued.
He noted that he cannot tell the leadership of SVG what to do, “but if their decision affects the life of the people of Carriacou, Petite Martinique, I have to be concerned.”
Many persons get food items from St Vincent, Mitchell indicated, which means one has to be careful.
“The borders between St Vincent, the Grenadines, and Petite Martinique [are] almost open. The Commissioner and his people would have to be doing a lot more work,” he commented, gesturing to the Acting Commissioner of Police (COP) for Grenada Edvin Martin, also at the press conference.
“I know it’s controversial, but I am not the type who like to hold my mouth when I see something is absolutely necessary to speak about,” Mitchell declared.
Three days after this statement, on Thursday April 9, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves spoke on the topic, while saying that he’s not “answering anybody” and instead only talking about “factual things.”
“The people of Union Island and Carriacou, and Petite Martinique, and PSV (Petit St Vincent), and Palm Island – they like one location, one country,” he said on We FM 99.9.
“A lot of people from PSV come to Union Island for medical attention you know? A lot of people come from Carriacou to Union for food…,” Gonsalves explained, and that they have a custom of doing so.
“If somebody comes from Petite Martinique, to Union Island for medical attention or food why must I turn them away? They come all the time,” he asked, noting that it is only “criminal elements” that the police would stop.
He also explained that persons coming from Carriacou and Petite Martinique go to Union Island in their boats in the same way that Union Island people do, and persons from Union Island travel to Carriacou as well.
“Whether you lock down tight as a drum or not, people will have their natural movements, that is a historic thing,” Gonsalves stated.
He also raised the issue that the border of SVG also includes a small part of one of the Grenada Grenadines.
Gonsalves, speaking at the Argyle International Airport on April 10, where he had gone to receive a shipment of Covid-19 testing strips from Venezuela, indicated outright to the people of Petite Martinique and Carriacou, that if they are “having difficulties getting food”, SVG can help.
” ‘Cause we have a lot of it in Union Island, and we can get to Union Island.”
He added that if “our brothers and sisters” want to get cooking gas, SVG can help, “but let us do it in a structured and organized manner.”
However, the Grenadian prime minister, in a statement to the Grenadian people on April 11 reiterated that their borders remain closed to all travel.
“Although cultural norms and practices allow for seamless travel between our sister islands and the neighbouring Grenadine islands, the danger we now face from the COVID-19 pandemic means we must adopt new approaches to how we do things,” he stated.
“The selfish and irresponsible actions of a few can have a detrimental impact on our success in the fight against COVID-19 thus far,” Mitchell also stated, noting that Grenada has recorded 14 cases of COVID-19, with no community spread.
The Grenadian Prime Minister continued, “it is unwise for us to jeopardise our health, the health of our loved ones, the health of our community, by travelling to neighbouring islands,” adding that while it may be tradition, change is “a necessary part of this new reality.”
He noted that different countries have adopted different approaches, some more stringent than others, that it is hard to tell in the heart of the pandemic which one may be right or wrong, “but countries retain a sovereign right to determine what works best and when decisions are made, citizens must abide by the laws of their respective countries.”
“It is alarming that our citizens will be called upon to break the law by the leader of another country. It is a grossly irresponsible action that has the potential for not only legal consequences but also pose a significant threat to public health and public safety,” he continued.
Advising Grenadian citizens not to “flout the law”, and “endanger your health”, Mitchell noted “There is no shortage of food and we are continuously revising our operations to ensure that we optimise the distribution of goods and restocking of grocery stores.”
The people of Petite Martinique and Carriacou have traditionally had strong ties with the St Vincent Grenadines. Petite Martinique and Carriacou are located only 6.5 miles and 8 miles respectively from Union Island, but 34 miles and 39 miles respectively from Grenada. It is claimed that the North Point area of Petite Martinique lies within the territorial boundaries of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
[[UPDATED ON Sunday, April 12, 2020 at 12:41 pm to include the entire comment made on the matter by Prime Minister of SVG Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Friday, April 10 at the Argyle International Airport. We had previously omitted that in relation to shopping on Union Island by Grenadians, Gonsalves said: “let us do it in a structured and organized manner.”]]
[[UPDATED on Monday, April 13, 2020 at 9:26 am to replace the previous video of Prime Minister of SVG Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. The previous video did not capture the PM’s entire comment on the Grenada matter. The video which is now included, does.]]