March 7, 2014
American Citizenship renounced, qualified to serve as Senator: Camillo Gonsalves

Government Senator Camillo Gonsalves renounced his United States citizenship ahead of his appointment as Senator in the parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines and a Minister of Government last year.{{more}} And, he claims it was done not because being a US citizen would have posed a legal impediment to his appointment, but as a mark of his personal and unambiguous commitment to public service in this country.

Gonsalves’ disclosure came in an open letter issued yesterday, in response to strong and repeated claims, including by opposition members of parliament, that his birth in the United States and consequent US citizenship made him ineligible to hold political office in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“…despite the fact that my foreign birth posed no legal impediment to my appointment and service as a Senator, I took a personal and private decision to renounce my United States citizenship. I submitted the requisite formal paperwork at the United States Embassy in Barbados, conducted the necessary interview with embassy officials, and paid the US$450 fee. All of this was done prior to my taking the oath of office to serve as a senator in the parliament of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,” the United States-born Gonsalves disclosed in his letter.

“To be clear: I am not a citizen of the United States of America,” he stated.

Gonsalves however stated that even without taking the act of renouncing his US citizenship, he was qualified to assume public office by virtue of having always been a Vincentian by birth, and by also meeting the stipulated qualifications for representatives and senators as laid out by the Vincentian constitution.

Gonsalves said he automatically became a Vincentian at birth, because section 92 of the constitution provides that persons born anywhere in the world to a Vincentian parent become citizens automatically and as of right.

“I was born on the 12th of June 1972 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Sonia Gonsalves of Jamaica. According to the constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines I am a Vincentian citizen – automatically – from the moment of my birth,” he said.

Beyond his US birth, the debate has raged over whether Gonsalves was disqualified to be a Senator because of his allegiance to the United states – an argument linked to section 26 of the constitution related to ‘Disqualifications for representatives and senators, and which states in part:

“No person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative or Senator …if he – a) is by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state…”

Gonsalves in response said:

“It is settled law that the incident of an individual’s birth in a foreign country is not “his own act” sufficiently to disqualify him from being a representative or senator. Since a child cannot choose where he or she is born, the constitutional caveat of “by virtue of his own act” seeks to exempt such individuals from disqualification.

“Section 26(1)(a) of the Vincentian constitution, like all such provisions in other constitutions, is designed to disqualify those persons who voluntarily swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign power, as in the case of those adults who acquire citizenship by naturalization,” he added, referencing the recent case of ‘Hewitt v Rivers’ in the Cayman Islands to support his position.

Gonsalves was sworn in as a Senator in the local Parliament on September 16th last year and appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade Commerce and Information Technology.

Debate on the legality of his appointment began a few weeks ago after a post on a blog named “Straight Talk in Mount Vernon” reportedly managed by an overseas-based Vincentian. The alleged blogger and a number of other callers have kept the issue current on the radio talk shows, calling on Government to clarify the issue, and several senior opposition Parliaments have publicly supported the position that Gonsalves appointment is illegal.

Gonsalves expressed concern that the debate on the matter, fueled by ‘false statements’ and ‘little knowledge of applicable law’, could have deterred other similarly situated individuals with the ambition to serve their country in a similar capacity. He said he found it regrettable that opposition MPs “have allowed themselves to be misled on this issue by fringe elements and internet crackpots”, and he hopes that with the “explanations and disclosures” “this issue can now cease to be an irrelevant and unwanted distraction from matters of genuine national importance.”