LEARNING from the past and building on present strengths were the key messages sent to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines nationals at a short flag-raising ceremony held last Tuesday to observe that island’s 36th anniversary of independence from Britain.
The ceremony was held in the courtyard of the OECS Commission’s headquarters on Morne Fortune where staff – some of them Vincentian nationals – joined with others to celebrate the neighbouring island’s special day.
Bentley Browne was one of the two speakers making brief remarks at the ceremony. A Vincentian national himself, Browne told the gathering that 225 years of British colonialism had “led to a profound disruption of the simple livelihood of our native population and underdevelopment of our Youroumei, Youlou, Hairouna – land of the blessed”. Vincentians, he said, have had to overcome many challenges on their path to independence.
“Colonialism brought new spatial development and economic production systems which resulted in the genocide and banishment of our indigenous people — the Kalinago and Garifuna – from their homeland, the enslavement of thousands of African and indentureship with imported Indian and Portuguese people,” Browne explained. “It is therefore no surprise that our government and other CARICOM governments are demanding reparation and an apology for these historic wrongs.”
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines attained its independence from Britain on October 27, 1979, just eight months after sister island, Saint Lucia, became independent. Prior to independence in 1979, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had become an Associated State on October 27, 1969.
With a land mass of 150 square miles and a population size of 103,000 (2013 estimate), the first Europeans to settle on the island were the French in 1719 following the native Caribs’ strong efforts to keep foreign settlers out.
Browne said Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has also had to overcome insurmountable odds since nationhood, including adapting to globalization, trade liberalization, global financial crises and climate change. Nevertheless, he said, the island nation has recorded much progress in its economic, social, human development, cultural, physical development and technological spheres.
Such strides, he said, include reducing extreme poverty from 26% of the population to 2.9%, achieving universal secondary education, reduced under-five child mortality rate by half, giving 98% of the population access to pipe-borne water and making significant improvement in physical infrastructure, settlements and in housing quality and access to housing by the poor.
OECS Director-General Dr.Didacus Jules told the Vincentian nationals present that while they aspire to make a regional contribution through their employment the OECS Commission, they also need to retain a deep sense of national pride. National pride, he said, is the cornerstone of regional pride. Dr. Jules also hailed Vincentians for their contributions to the region. His words dovetail with the theme chosen for this year’s independence celebrations in that country: “Working together to build national pride”.
“We want to recognize the tremendous efforts and accomplishments made by this country over the past 36 years of independence,” Dr. Jules said in his remarks. “I would like simply to say to all and sundry and to convey to the government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines our heartfelt congratulations on achieving this milestone.”
Dr. Jules continued: “These are not easy times for small island developing states. Thus the very survival and progress of every one of our member states in the face of such adversity as we now face is a testimony to the resilience of our people and the quality of leadership that we enjoy.”
Safiya Horne-Bique is among the Vincentian nationals based in Saint Lucia and serving at the regional level. Since becoming a Programme Office in the OECS Regional Integration Unit (RIU) two and a half years ago, she has had to work away from home in order to make her contribution to the sub-region. Nevertheless, she said, her homeland’s milestone is close to her heart.
“It’s very significant to me. In fact, I’m twenty days older than my country, so I really didn’t really know what colonialism was,” Horne-Bique told The VOICE. “But I’ve seen my country mature over the years and seen us grow from strength to strength. So for me to be part of an organization such as the OECS and part of such a celebration like this is critical because we need to remember that we’re Vincies. No matter where we are, we ought to be contributing to building our nation as our theme says.”