By Wellington C. Ramos
As a Garifuna person from Dangriga Town, Belize, who is a descendant of the people who lived in the country of Saint Vincent under the leadership of our great King Joseph Chatoyer, I applaud this bold move that the prime minister of Saint Vincent, Ralph Gonsalves is about to embark on, with some recommendations.
First, the prime minister of Saint Vincent must have his House of Representative pass legislation that any person who is a Garifuna will be eligible for citizenship status in the country of Saint Vincent, no matter where in the world he or she resides.
Secondly, the government of Saint Vincent should sponsor a bill to allow their citizens to engage in a cultural awareness program so that they can learn all the aspects of the Garifuna culture that they were not allowed to practice during British colonial rule and even up to today.
Thirdly, the government of Saint Vincent should formulate a cultural exchange program with all the countries where the Garifuna people are currently residing, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, the United States of America and any other country in the world where it has been confirmed that a legitimate number of Garifuna people are residing. In studying the history of the deportation from the island of Saint Vincent, there is a strong possibility that some of our people were left off at other islands and countries on their forced journey to Roatan, Honduras.
Fourthly, that the prime minister of Saint Vincent and his government should utilize the office of the attorney general on behalf of all the Garinagu people in Saint Vincent and the Diaspora until a just settlement is rendered by the International Court of Justice on behalf of all the Garifuna people.
Prior to the British takeover of the island of Saint Vincent, most historical evidence suggests that the Garinagu people lived as autonomous communities with their separate chiefs, as a confederacy under the leadership of King Joseph Chatoyer. Even up to today, this is a trait that can still be seen as a pattern of behavior among them, despite the fact that they come from the same race.
A good example is in Dangriga Town where there are Loubana and Whyhima people from the north and south side of the same town. As the town is expanding there will be more communities added to this list. I have spoken to other Garifuna people in the country of Belize and in the towns and villages where they reside, similar patterns of behavior were observed by them.
The Garifuna people have the tendency to resist any decision that is not made through consultation and consensus. This is one of the main reasons why many leaders of our current Garifuna associations are having problems getting the Garifuna people to join their associations or supporting their causes. Until the current leaders of these Garifuna associations return to the masses and seek consultation, nothing much will be accomplished by these associations and our people will continue to live in poverty, be manipulated and our culture will be at risk.
I now call on every Garifuna person to take over all these current associations that are not doing anything constructive to promote our overall welfare and preserve this culture. If we fail to act, then when we start to experience our culture declining and our people losing their autonomy then we will have nobody to blame but ourselves. It is for these reasons, why I am recommending that, while the idea of reparation is good, we must approach it by consulting all the other Garifuna people and that the decisions are made through consensus rather than by a few individuals.
The atrocities that the British committed against our people cannot be settled with any monetary award, because the long term effects of those atrocities are still affecting our people up to this day. When the Garifuna people were dropped off on the island of Roatan in Honduras, they were slaughtered in Honduras, causing them to leave to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.
Even up to this day, the repressive governments of Honduras continue to commit serious violations of human rights against our people as was recently done to Miriam Miranda of Triumfo De La Cruz, when she was shot by Honduran troops for demonstrating against government injustices.
In Livingston, Guatemala, there have been several incidents where the government has encroached upon their lands and sold them to foreigners without their consent. In Nicaragua, the Garifuna culture is becoming extinct because in the past they were not allowed to practice their culture openly.
In Belize, when the Garifuna people first landed in Belize, they were told that they could only live in the southern part of the country in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. If they were seen anywhere else in the country they would be arrested for violating their curfews. Today, due to the mass migration of Maya Indians from Guatemala, El Salvador and the other neighboring countries, they are forcefully occupying lands at will and some of the lands that they are occupying were designated as Carib Reserves in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts.
I believe that if we approach reparation without taking these recommendations into consideration, we will fail to build a united front and the British will take full advantage to divide our people and try to seek settlements with some factions of our people. Some of our Garifuna people in our midst today do not have our Garifuna culture at heart but are only using the Garifuna culture to promote their own self interest and their personal political agendas.
These people can be indentified easily because they will never use their personal resources for the preservation of the Garifuna culture. Only funds received through their engagements as representatives in Garifuna associations.
We as a people should demand that these people be removed from the current offices they hold and to discontinue any further activities on behalf of our culture. We must not be afraid to remove them because this culture does not belong to them and their families but to all the Garinagu people. Some of them have even described themselves as experts on the Garifuna culture without any academic credentials to support their false claims.
The time for foolishness to end is now, before we seek reparation for the atrocities committed against our people and the financial rewards we might gain from this settlement vanish like melting ice.
April 20, 2011