Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is unlikely to say ‘I told you so…’ to his fellow Caribbean Heads of Government singing the blues on the issue of economic citizenship.
But he did make it clear, way-back-when, that his country’s “sovereignty isn’t for sale” and his government “isn’t interested in the business of selling passports.”
Those behind the global scheme of selling alternative citizenship to anyone who can buy have coined all sorts of sanitized names for selling passports to the highest bidder.
The Caribbean version, Citizenship by Investment (CBI), is sold through Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIPs) through national CIP Units.
It’s not a Caribbean invention, as the UK and USA also go head-over-heels competing to sell citizenship to anyone who can pay the One Billion US dollars or One Billion Pounds (Sterling) it normally costs billionaires fleeing native nations for reasons ranging from economics to politics to family business.
Russian oligarchs were the pride of expatriate citizenship in the UK and USA, until London and Washington needed to punish Putin from a long distance through third persons and parties.
Their mega-yachts, football clubs and stately mansions all over Europe and America were held-up as fine examples of how hard work can bring easy life and to suggest there could have been so many more if not for communism in the Soviet Union.
Same with the Chinese billionaires in the UK and USA, against whom any straw can be pulled once it’s politically necessary or convenient.
When the host nations turn against or sanction billionaires who’ve ran out of favor, the hunters for new homes for their capital become the hunted, forced to flee their adopted nations and fly the skies or ply the seas with their billion-dollar private aircraft and super yachts in search of neutral or welcoming air and/or sea ports.
The Russian billionaires sanctioned for Ukraine today have seen scores of their aircraft grounded and their yachts scurrying to faraway isles and climes, including the Caribbean, where several ports can and/or do offer legal safe haven for mega yachts of all types.
Interestingly, when it came to the Russian billionaires seeking shelter in Caribbean ports and waters, the UK and USA have no qualms about deciding to render their CIP operations illegal and outlaw them if they simply decide not to adopt UK and US-led sanctions.
In Saint Lucia’s case, the island’s CIP Minister, Dr Ernest Hilaire, was forced to backpedal on his earlier insistence that Saint Lucia could run its CIP program as it likes as an independent nation.
Hilaire had earlier argued against Saint Lucia joining Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis (other OECS member-states) to apply the US and UK sanctions by refusing to process CIP applications from Russia and Belarus citizens.
He insisted that Saint Lucia would not “discriminate against Russians just because of where they were born…” but soon changed his mind as it became clear the UK and US were indeed ready to slice the island’s CIP at the neck if he didn’t relent.
And even if he laughed, he wouldn’t be wrong because he’s been proven right: Citizenship is priceless – and no price can pay for the embarrassment bequeathed in the aftermath of the scandals left in their wake after death, wake or not…
The lessons from the current experiences are many, but perhaps the most important is that in the search for economic survival there are red lines that shouldn’t be crossed, the aspect of citizenship being a key one.
It is felt in nations that fought wars and lost lives for their independence and sovereignty that those that didn’t fight for that independence through national liberation struggles are wasting-out the value of sovereignty and citizenship by just selling it to the highest bidder, who, in most cases, will be a millionaire or billionaire.
The Caribbean’s experiences since 2001 have taught very painful and costly lessons about the ability of those who can afford to take advantage of loopholes and lapses in local laws or pay solicitors to solicit in their favor.
For example, choosing between whether Russian billionaires are friends of or fleeing Putin should not be the basis for qualification for citizenship, as, in either case, Regime Change can result in any regime changing it’s mind on whether an applicant is worthy of the adopted citizenship.
So, what does all that have to do with St. Vincent’s Prime Minister?
Well, for starters, St. Vincent never joined the CIP conga line when OECS leaders were lining-up to take a common approach to selling citizenship, Prime Minister Gonsalves simply insisting his country’s sovereignty cannot be bought or sold at any price.
Dr Gonsalves, the longest-serving Head of Government in CARICOM, has steadfastly refused to allow any administration he’s led since he first took office in 2001 to join or start any CIP scheme.
Today, St. Vincent & The Grenadines is the only OECS member-state that can’t be punished by the US or UK for daring to follow their examples and also sell citizenship by way of passports to the highest-qualifying bidder.
At the same time, international marine traffic trackers have traced and tracked some of the mega-yachts owned by Russian and American billionaires spread in the 32 islands that make-up St. Vincent & The Grenadines, where the billionaire owners cannot buy citizenship, but they can rent anchorage for their mega-yachts.
So, was Prime Minister Gonsalves right to refuse to sell citizenship, or wrong to protect his country’s sovereignty?
Either way, while he wouldn’t laugh at such a serious matter, the Vincentian Prime Minister would have every right to say to those who laughed at him during the past two decades each time he said ‘St. Vincent citizenship is not for sale’, “I told you so!”
But today, agree or not, CIP programs are more-than-less prone to being taken advantage of than being respected by those who can afford.