August 11, 2015
Garifuna deserve full citizenship – historian

A local historian has said that if the decision were his, he would grant full Vincentian citizenship to Garifuna persons in the diaspora – not just honorary citizenship.

This was the assertion of Curtis King, who is also the headmaster of the St Vincent Grammar School, as he discussed the matter of proposed honorary citizenship for the Garinagu on the ‘Hitz Talk’ radio programme (Hitz FM) last Sunday.{{more}}

King said that as a “strong advocate of reparations”, he is of the opinion that Garifuna people in the diaspora are entitled to more than honorary citizenship.

“I would have offered them full citizenship,” he asserted during the panel discussion.

“When I look at our Constitution, I believe in Chapter 7 (94)… [it] speaks to acquisition and renunciation… of citizenship.”

Quoting from the Constitution, King said: “There shall be such provision as may be made by Parliament for (a) the acquisition of citizenship by persons who are not eligible or who are no longer eligible to become citizens under this chapter…”

He further opined: “I am arguing that with citizenship, it is clear in my mind what the people are entitled to.”

King argued that as the matter of honorary citizenship is unclear at present and would take some time to resolve, it would be best if full citizenship is granted, because the constitution already outlines what it means.

He added that with honorary citizenship in places such as Canada and the United States, the process is “symbolic”, and persons don’t take an oath; therefore, they are not really citizens.

“I believe that these people, having been forcefully removed from

St Vincent, were done an injustice; and they require reparatory justice….

“Nineteenth century emancipation and 20th century independence have failed us in the Caribbean terribly… it never brought closure to the issue of slavery and genocide, as practised by the British.”

King also criticized both the Unity Labour Party and the New Democratic Party for the manner in which they both have been handling the matter of proposed honorary citizenship thus far.

“Both parties should have sat down with the Garifuna people and also with us… and tried to come up with a workable proposal… If you are saying these people are entitled to a right, give them! Don’t look like you’re coming with any half measures.”

Another local historian Dr Adrian Fraser and local activist Clive Bishop, were also on the discussion panel. Whilst not opposing the suggestion of full citizenship, they both indicated that honorary citizenship would be the “least contentious” path to pursue in the immediate future.

Bishop said: “Given the historical significance of the Garifuna people and culture, and its own intricate link with our own history in St Vincent and the Grenadines, to me it’s very obvious that we should be interested… in the question of honorary citizenship at this time.”

He opined that honorary citizenship is part of a process which can develop further down the line, as long as frameworks have to be set out and full understanding achieved before this matter is decided upon – by not only politicians, but the entire nation.

Dr Fraser noted that one of the major challenges with this issue is that persons do not know what exactly honorary citizenship will entail.

“That does not mean that we automatically throw it aside for full citizenship,” he insisted.

Also on the panel was former minister of culture René Baptiste, who also drove home the importance of the public fully understanding the history and culture of the Garinagu in order to dispel myths and fallacies that could hold the process back.

“This process of retrieval and reconnection started several years ago,” noted Baptiste. “It perhaps may be timely that we need to learn some more and then we can come up with what we believe would be a proposal…

“The country has to come behind this issue and all its different formulations… You have to have a basis of understanding what you are doing, and don’t just make the mistake again.”

Additionally, Bishop acknowledged the concerns of some in regard to what the Garifuna diaspora would be entitled to if granted citizenship, and if it would detract from what locals received.

He, however, pointed out that over the years, thousands of Caribbean persons (of African descent) have voluntarily repatriated to African countries such as Ghana and Liberia, and have been contributing positively to those economies.

“They have not been prohibited by the constitution or the laws of these countries from [going] there – they have welcomed them!” (JSV)