As the nation celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the reclamation of its Independence following the 200 plus years of British colonialism, we do so with a greater appreciation and understanding of the roles played by our forebears and the ultimate sacrifices made by them, to bequeath to the post-independent generations an authentic Vincentian identity molded out of resistance, struggle and resilience and heralded as a proud component of a great and noble Caribbean civilization.
St Vincent and the Grenadines and its people have traversed centuries of human history, dating from the pre-Columbian period to modern day. We have lived through the relatively peaceful communal existence of our earliest inhabitants, the Callinago and Garifuna peoples; British invasion and occupation; resistance in the face of native genocide; the dehumanizing system of enslavement of Africans; indentureship; colonialism and servitude; the struggles of the first half of the 20th century for basic, fundamental rights and people’s representation, punctuated by the historic People’s Uprising of 1935; Universal Adult Suffrage; partial self-governance through Associated Statehood; until finally reclaiming our Independence on October 27, 1979.
It’s a long, historic trajectory that has forged in us an immense pride of being Vincentians, even while recognizing our “Caribbeanness” and being a part of the ethnic and cultural diversity which is the Caribbean. This recognition of our place within the Caribbean began to take shape in the earliest attempts at regional integration in the 1950s, when as a colony; we were led into the short-lived Federation of the West Indies. Though largely a construct of British colonialism and lacking the internal, homegrown dynamism and drive needed for success, the Federation was nevertheless a step in the right direction.
CARICOM and its predecessor CARIFTA, and the earlier sub-regional integration mechanisms such as the West Indies Associated States, which gave rise to its successor the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in the post-independence period, were all noble integration initiatives of which St. Vincent and the Grenadines and its political leaders of the past era played a pivotal role. The strictures of colonialism as eurocentric as they were, never allowed for even a cursory glimpse into the possibilities which lay beyond the horizons of the English speaking Caribbean. The outlook was predominantly colonial, narrow and british-centred. After all, as a colony, our strategic direction could only be formulated in the hallowed halls of Westminster.
Even up to two decades after the reclamation of Independence, the initiatives associated with economic cooperation and integration remain largely within the narrow corridors of former colonial relationships, hardly venturing, if at all very timidly, outside the parametres of the English speaking Caribbean and the existing vertical relations with Britain and her close allies. The 40th Anniversary of the reclamation of Independence is therefore as good an occasion as any, to reflect from whence we came, while simultaneously casting our eyes far and wide, to see what opportunities lie beyond the horizon.
It’s all the more reason that the often repeated formulation of Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, of “building a post-colonial economy that is at once national, regional and international” holds tremendous significance. It is a formulation pregnant with meaning and visionary in its scope. In my humble view, it transcends the mere implementation of a package of socio economic measures, by entering the realms of a contemporary philosophical thought. In essence, it not only signals a definitive break with the colonial mode of societal organization in all its dimensions but also importantly, it recognizes that we are not an “island onto ourselves”, but an integral part of a multilateral framework from which we draw, in order to complement and strengthen our own internal resources for the betterment of our people.
The post-independence era has brought its own sets of challenges, but it has also opened up opportunities that were hitherto unforeseen. Indeed, the challenges have become more acute over the last two decades. The twin phenomena of liberalization and globalization that turn the wheels of the world economy, fueled by the revolution in Information and Communication Technology, global warming and the climate change agenda, international terrorism and transnational organized crime, all have established new frontiers and new hurdles from which we are not immune and with which Vincentian society has had to contend.
These new challenges have caused us to collectively draw on our inner resolve and be even more determined. Domestically, we have grown to repose more confidence in our own abilities and to rely more on the genius and creativity of our people, especially the young. The concerted and intense focus on the education of the nation’s youth is an investment of gigantic proportions that has begun to pay dividends. The growing awareness of our history, heritage and culture and the legacy of our forebears, even amidst the barrage of external influences on the television screen and at our fingertips, are helping to mold and shape a society, whose strength also lies in its ethnic and cultural mix. We have journeyed far since October 1979 and have reaped successes yet, much more needs to be accomplished.
The challenges have also spurred the growth and development of new relationships through the implementation of an independent foreign policy, which is forward looking and progressive. Solidarity and fraternal relationships assume greater significance. The widening of the scope for convergence beyond the traditional concentric circles of integration, to include our Latin American neighbours has taken root and; a greater understanding and awareness of the climate change agenda all find resonance in a foreign policy which is both bold and creative.
Likewise, our strident advocacy in several international fora in which we participate, for democracy and the rule of law, multilateralism and defence of the interests of small, vulnerable island states, sets us apart as a small nation which has earned the respect of the international community. There is no better manifestation of this respect than St Vincent and the Grenadines’ accession to the United Nations Security Council for the two-year period January 2010 to December 2021, achieved with the votes and confidence of 96 percent of the world’s nations.
As the smallest member state of the 74-year-old United Nations to ever achieve that distinction, this historic milestone has to be classified among the highest of our achievements, the crowning glory of our nation state as a member of the international community of nations, in this the 40th year of the reclamation of our Independence. There is no better way for us to celebrate as a nation state. We all should be justly proud.