A very busy week: CELAC-EU, NIS, Gov’t changes
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves (left) co-chair of the CELAC-EU
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
July 21, 2023
A very busy week: CELAC-EU, NIS, Gov’t changes

The past week has been a very busy one where the government and people of SVG are concerned. Pride of place was the Latin American/Caribbean Summit with the European Union in Brussels. Historic from a Vincentian perspective in that our Prime Minister co-chaired such an important global gathering.

Locally, there was an equally historic occasion, the first meeting of the Parliament outside the capital city, in the temporary location at Calliaqua followed by Ministerial changes overshadowed only by the grim warnings from Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, about the National Insurance Services (NIS) if appropriate and timely action is not taken. And of course, there continued to be post-carnival issues. Clearly time and space place restrictions on any comments, but we can at least try. The great pity is that given the dominance of the social media and its emphasis on more trivial matters, many Vincentians will not be paying much attention to such matters. The local print media is suffering as a result, but I suppose that we will “only miss the water when the well runs dry”.

On a personal note, though, I must crave my readers’ indulgence to pay my respects and express my condolences to the Millington and George families on the passing of two outstanding sons of our soil, Elliot “Moory” Millington of Sion Hill and footballing fame, and Frankie George of New Montrose identified with the Eagles sports club and the “Bridge Boys” before his migration.

I will give my tributes in a subsequent issue, but the losses are huge.

Speaking with “forked tongue”?

As I begin my comments on the CELAC- EU Summit, one announcement stands out to me. That is the announcement by the European Union that it is committed to provide 45 billion euros to support its partnership with CELAC states for the period up to 2027. Perhaps my experiences with Europe and similar promises make me cynical, but I can’t help recalling reading comic books when I was a boy and the indigenous leaders of North America, the so-called “American Indians”, saying that “paleface speaks with a forked tongue”. In other words, one cannot trust the commitments of the Europeans. Just ask the folks in our Economic Planning Unit and the Ministry of Finance!

Still, things do not remain static, and it is clear that the growing importance of the CELAC bloc, its increasing unity and firm and enlightened leadership will help to change things. A rather long final statement has been issued at the end of the Summit and while, clearly, the Latin American /Caribbean group may not have achieved all they desired, some positive signs have emerged.

Thus, on the contentious issue of reparatory justice, the Final Declaration states:

“We acknowledge and profoundly regret the untold suffering inflicted on millions of men, women and children as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade”.

Then having acknowledged in apologetic language that “slavery and the slave trade … were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity … and are a crime against humanity”, in true European form it stops short of any commitment to reparations. Instead, all the Declaration does is to mention that “CELAC referred to the CARICOM ten-point Plan for Reparatory Justice”.

It tells us that we have a long struggle ahead of us still, though important steps have been taken. A similar state of affairs exists in relation to the demand by CELAC for an end to the illegal “economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba”. The Declaration concedes that “we recall our opposition to laws and regulations with extra-territorial effect”.

It also states that the action of the US government in the “re-designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism and its maintenance on the list, has introduced obstacles to international financial transactions with the island”. There are other positive elements in the Declaration but there must be no illusion that a lot of political work needs to be done, including full mobilization of support by the people in CELAC countries to further the process.

NIS – consensus necessary

A most significant pronouncement by Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, with grave implications for our country and people may have escaped the attention of many still enveloped in the carnival spirit, or captivated by the social media chit-chat. It revolves around the future of the National Insurance Services and its continued viability to continue to serve the Vincentian people. While as yet, there is no need for unfounded alarm, it is clear that this is a national issue that we all must take seriously.

Somehow, every effort must be made to reach the people of the country, to get them not only to understand the gravity of the situation, but to become engaged. First and foremost, every attempt must be made in the House of Assembly to arrive at some sort of consensus on the issue and not to make a political football out of an issue which affects us all. It will not be easy, given the continued cross-party hostility in Parliament, but it must be attempted at least. Crucially as well, a huge public education programme must be launched and dialogue with civil society, especially trade unions and workers organizations, farmers and fisherfolk, community organizations and religious bodies made an urgent priority.

We cannot afford to fail in this regard.

  • Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.