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A very different Independence experience: ‘Our Nation, Our Choice’

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THE PEOPLE of St Vincent and the Grenadines will this year have a very different experience for our anniversary of national independence next week.

In the 42 years of modern nationhood, we have had no shortage of challenges which have impacted on our independence celebrations.

From Day 1 in 1979, it was always an uphill struggle, for we regained our national independence in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, which, as the one of 2021, had profound implications for economic and social life on this tiny multi-island state. In the two years following, 1980 and 1981, independence met us still reeling from the destructive effects of hurricanes and tropical storms. Our faith saw us through as our national anthem vows.

In 1983 there was the unprecedented tragedy of Grenada where counter- revolution destroyed the hopes of the entire Caribbean people of an alternative path to development, and put us into the club of Latin American nations which had the misfortune of experiencing military invasion and political domination from the north. We managed to survive collectively but the Caribbean has never been the same since then.

In the 21st century the administrations led by current Prime Minister Gonsalves have had to face formidable challenges , natural disasters including the 2021 eruption of La Soufriere, and global financial collapses which have severely restricted prospects for economic growth and social development. Yet it is true to say that none of these have had the direct impact on the lives of our people as the global pandemic which is COVID -19.

Clearly, as National Independence Day approaches, there is neither atmosphere nor appetite for celebration. Significantly the Prime Minister has cancelled important international engagements which have possibilities for development prospects in order to remain at the helm of the ship while we try to chart our way through unchartered waters and tumultuous waves. That should send us a message about the gravity of our plight.

It is a message reinforced by the appeals of NEMO and Health officials for us to maintain our guard over the holiday and respect the health guidelines and protocols. The independence holiday must not become a catalyst for the further spread of the dreaded virus. That is emphasized by the cancellation of the Independence Day parade this year, though I wonder that with older folks and children in mind, whether it would not have been possible to re-broadcast the television coverage of last year’s parade, splicing in the Prime Minister’s 2021 address instead of the 2020 version.

While the primary focus will be of the effects of the pandemic on the health of the nation, particularly the ever-rising death toll, it is of paramount importance that Dr Gonsalves uses his national address to focus on a much-overlooked but equally deadly threat – that which can undermine our economic recovery.

At the same time, the opportunity must be grasped to salute and pay tribute to those on the front line in the fight against COVID and those workers and volunteers who kept the nation afloat in the face of the ‘double whammy’- the natural disasters plus the pandemic. The heroic workers in health and sacrifice of the Chief Medical Officer and staff, Nemo’s CEO and its entire apparatus, the Water Authority, BRAGSA, VINLEC , the Police Service, Medical workers, those in the Public Service who went the extra mile, we must all, through the P.M, express our profound gratitude. And, Dr. Gonsalves, take a bow on behalf of the sterling contribution of you and your government in spite of the limitations and your own shortcomings.

We spend a lot of time, in social media and on the airwaves in discussion on a number of issues, many of them trivial and irrelevant. Yet it may prove easier to arrest the spread of the virus that to refloat the economy and provide for our nation’s needs in 2022 and beyond. The vaccine hesitancy has certainly not helped.

Budget 2022 and our attitude to life and production, the choice of our priorities and the willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to put the national interests, particularly those of our youth and children above all else will be our major challenge. We must change the discourse from the selfish, “My body, my choice” to “Our Nation, Our Future, Our Choice”

● Renwick Rose is a community activist and social comm entator.

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