Saturday, May 10, 2008

Government of St. Vincent Planning Sale of Island Central to Garifuna History

Thanks to a number of colleagues, especially Joseph Palacio, Paul Lewis, and Wellington Ramos, for forwarding this news over the past three weeks (my apologies for the delay in posting these items). This news concerns moves by the Government of St. Vincent & The Grenadines to possibly sell off the island of Balliceaux:

Garifuna may lose the right to visit the island of Balliceaux

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

By: Paul E. Lewis

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent: If Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is allowed to have his way, the Garifuna and all Vincentians may soon lose the right to visit Balliceaux . This small island, which is located on the south-east coast of St Vincent was the scene of the internment of the black Caribs after their defeat by British forces in the Second Carib War in 1795-96. Now the government wants to sell/lease a privately owned island to foreign developers for hotel construction. Never mind the government does not own the island, it has assiduously sought foreign financiers to develop this small and historically neglected island in the hope of saving its disastrous economic policies. Chances are, however, these islands might have acquired a new owner in recent times, unknown to the general public.

Balliceaux, long neglected by central governments, has played a pivotal role in the history of the defeated black Caribs, now know as the Garifuna. The Treaty of Paris (1763) gave Britain control over St Vincent and ushered in a period of 33 years of concerted efforts by Westminster to parcel out land to Englishmen. Such efforts to control the best lands on the island for sugar production and general colonization and to destroy the culture of the native Caribs resulted in two so-called Carib Wars of 1772-73 and 1795-96.

The struggle by these indigenous groups led by the more numerous black Caribs, a hybrid group of shipwrecked and escaped Africans on the one hand, and island Caribs on the other, against the rapacious French and British colonials, resulted in the Caribs in St Vincent being the last of the indigenous people in the region to hold out against rampant European imperialism. Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, first National Hero of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is the most visible symbol of that struggle to maintain the sovereignty of lands that today are being ‘returned’ to its 18th century usurpers.

The British-Carib Wars were culture conflicts -- a clash of values and lifestyles between two widely differing peoples and cultures that hardly understood each other, and made little effort to do so, especially in the case of the British. One side desired to be left alone in its unique cultural milieu, while the other was determined to conquer that group’s land and change the society, if necessary in complete disregard of the others wishes. This culture clash pitted a society with relatively high technological capabilities, notions of economic progress and a commitment to the application of reason, science and military power, against one in communion with nature. Notions of intuition, a communal lifestyle, and a belief in the supernatural and non-christian deities informed and conditioned Carib society. In another sense, it was a conflict between an acquisitive society and a self-abnegating one.

The Carib Wars were wars of liberation. However, the numerically superior British forces and advanced military equipment defeated the locals, and approximately 5,000 Caribs surrendered and were subsequently interned on Balliceaux, a small island off the mainland. Disease, melancholy and starvation reduced the population to 2,500 when the remainder were rounded up in British naval ships and, under the leadership of Captain Barrett of the HMS Experiment, were shipped off to Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras , there to begin a period of wandering and subsequent settlement in many Central American republics, including Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize . The survivors of British injustice formed the nucleus of the modern Garifuna community in the Diaspora.

In defeat, the indigenous enemies of the British were treated differently from their French allies. While the French were accorded the usual treatment and sent back to Guadeloupe, the Caribs were required to surrender unconditionally, this included loss of entire homeland, culture and ultimately their lives. By late October 1796, approximately 4,195 black Caribs, 44 slaves and 102 “yellow Caribs,” were sent to Balliceaux -- the last two categories were subsequently returned to the mainland.

The genocidal act of British authorities on Balliceaux resulted in the deaths of thousands from a “malignant fever”, variously diagnosed as either typhus or yellow fever. Nancy Gonzalez in Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenisis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna, has noted that while the primary disease for many Englishmen in the Caribbean was yellow fever, the descriptions of the illness matched that of typhus. And while contemporaries claimed that it was not an important disease in the tropics, Barbados had reported an outbreak in 1795. Be that as it may, more than half of those interned fell to typhus or yellow fever. The death rate compared favorably to the mortality rates of New World natives when they were initially exposed to contacts with Europeans in 1492. Many Gaifuna died within a week on contracting the mysterious illness and death was frequently accompanied by pain that included fevers, petchial ulcers, emaciation and weakness (Gonzalez). The Garifuna were also affected by overcrowded conditions and a paucity of clean drinking water.

The British decision to return light-skinned Caribs to the mainland divided the indigenous community since one obvious consequence was the breakup of family groups. It was a political act too that “rewarded” those who were assumed to have supported the British -- a devious and mischievous decision by the British. Later some planters continued to press for the removal of all Caribs, again for other reasons, to Central America. However, no more deportations took place after 1797 and the remanding Caribs were “pardoned”, given lands, but denied all political rights.

Historically, Battowia was blessed with relatively more water than Balliceaux that in turn had more of an abundance of pasture land. The Linley family capitalised on this good fortune and for many years worked as farmers, producing cotton, sugar, and raising stock animals as cash crops. The family built small boats to facilitate the transport of goods to market on the mainland. But the islands were never settled in the true sense and, and apart from the great ‘Disastrous Migration’ of the Internment years when the owner, a Mr Campbell was paid £1,731.15 by the government for the use of the island (Adams) , neither Balliceaux nor Battowia was ever settled, and the Linley family had always retained control of the islands. But having survived for over 200 years in ‘splendid isolation’, a progressive government of ‘right thinking’ individuals were determined to end this somewhat rustic but idyllic life for those who lived on Balliceaux, by pulling this land of farmers and their itinerant helpers into the maelstrom of 20th century economic development and corporate politics -- another demonstrable manifestation of ‘good governance’ by Ralph Gonsalves.

On or about January 4, 2008, immediately after Dr Ralph Gonsalves was accused of rape and sexual assault by a female police officer, he departed for Europe to seek investment funds to develop the island of Balliceaux. There had been no public discussion/debate on development for Balliceaux or Battowia. Transparency is not his style. But force of circumstances catapulted him into bearing gifts to the nation. In this case it was development for one of our sacred places -- Balliceaux. This tendency of the PM to pull something out of the hat whenever he is in a spot of difficulty has become his modus operandi.

The B & B Project must be placed into a wider political context: (1) the desire of the Gonsalves regime to turn this 150 square mile island into a first world country in quick time, but without the requisite human resources and material infrastructure to do so, (2) to leave his mark in the annals of Vincentian history as the greatest political leader, and (3) to transfer the development agenda of the nation into the hands of white foreigners. The Portuguese Gonsalves considers himself to be the ‘blackest politician” in SVG, yet he seems to favour white entrepreneurs since “Vincentians can’t manage anything.”

Gonsalves, a leader of the radical student movement of the UWI, Mona Campus during the 1970s, a self-professed ‘black power’ advocate, a fierce critic of the Tom Adams government in Barbados, and a solid supporter of Marxist Leninist principles in his younger days and who still considers himself an “old communist,” has jettisoned all political principles and now seeks comfort in the entrepreneurial efficacy of the white expatriate developer class! Balliceaux will be offered to the Gods of Neocolonialism -- the new economic credo of this regime -- complements of the ‘blackest politician’ and ‘second best run black government in the world!’

Last week a foreign-born local businessman with media interests, himself a substantial landholder in SVG, took some potential European investors to Balliceaux and Battowia to view the ‘investment.’ The title to the islands is vested in the hands of the Linley family and not in the government of Ralph Gonsalves. All potential investors must be aware of such legal implications. The likely orchestrated visit of potential buyers might be used by the government to ‘strong arm’ the owners of Balliceaux and Battowia to sell the islands for the economic benefits of foreign operators. The sale would not be in the long term interests of the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. But the fact that Gonsalves announced to the nation in January that he was proceeding to Europe to secure development funds for a number of projects, including Balliceaux, strongly indicated that a sale may have taken place or was about to be concluded. If that is the case, and if as reported the recent visit of those Europeans “looked serious,” then Balliceaux and Battowia could soon slip out of the control of Vincentians and into the hands of a European commercial house. And if Joseph Linley, the court appointed controller of Balliceaux, has effected such a sale , then the government must ensure that certain guarantees are put in place that would protect the interests of Vincentians. It is critical that government:

1. Establish a memorial park to the Garifuna People, and institutionalize an annual commemoration ceremony
2. Guarantee Vincentians access to the island, including significant heritage and natural sites
3. Guarantee that Banana Bay and other archaeological sites remain in situ and not be disturbed to construct jetties etc.
4. Conduct extensive archaeological Investigations on Balliceaux and Battowia
5. Impose a ban on the construction of large living structures
6. Monitor that all beaches remain public beaches
7. Monitor and enforce all applicable environmental laws

Many Vincentians believe that both islands hold too important a place in the historical record, and are too valuable as the home of rare birds and wild life to be cavalierly given to foreigners for commercial exploitation. If, on the other hand, no deal has been struck then there is still time for the government to reconsider its position. There is a growing consensus that the 1796-7 site of the severe suffering of the Garifuna people should be a heritage protected zone , set aside permanently for the use of all , especially the Vincentian people. The ideal solution would be for the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines to purchase the island as a National Heritage Park. It should not be sold to foreign developers.

We must be concerned about turning over a site of such huge historical and archaeological significance to foreign developers for purely commercial exploitation. Insufficient archaeological excavation, especially at Banana Bay, has been done to give us a satisfactory picture of the internment period, and to square the historical records as to the number of people who were effectively corralled into that small space. Questions such as: Were there really 5,000 people living simultaneously on the island? What diseases did most of the Garifuna die from? What artifacts did they take with them to the island? What can these artifacts tell us about the black Carib society of the 1790’s? Apart from the investigations of Bullen and Bullen (with the assistance of Early Kirby), and the earlier investigations of Fewkes, no follow up work has been done since.

There is the real fear that any hotel development will effectively shut out all relevant activities of locals and visitors alike: An inability to use the beaches, experience the exquisite landscape, and a denial to visit the site of the fallen Garifuna brethren will be a psychological blow to the Garifuna at home and abroad.

Such fears are real because a hotel development in Balliceaux would most likely go the route of Mustique – a playground for the rich and famous and perhaps not so famous too! Privacy and exclusivity would b be the operative words to describe such a development and locals visiting the island will not be appreciated. And, will known burial sites remain in situ or be bulldozed to put up fancy homes for the new ‘settlers’? Any such development will be tragic and a severe indictment of our government that is making some tentative steps under Minister Baptiste to show greater respect for our heritage.

Baptiste, however, cannot do it alone, and it is difficult to find anyone else in the cabinet with some degree of sensitivity and commitment to cultural issues. The lack of response from some Garifuna groups in SVG in relation to indigenous issues has concerned many Vincentians in recent times. The Garifuna Cultural Foundation headed by Zoila Ellis Browne, Belizean born wife of Mike Brown, Minister of National Mobilization , has said nothing and is not expected to say much about this issue, just as it kept silent during the 2005 Disney-Carib controversy over the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean when Disney producers insisted on writing scenes of Carib ‘cannibalism’ into the movie . So I call on Minister Baptiste, the only Minister with any “cultural worth” to protest against the sale/ lease of Balliceaux to any foreign developer.

The sad part though is that when there is a conflict between heritage preservation and economic development, the preservation and protection of the nation’s heritage s not given equal weight in the discussion. Too often the heritage agenda seems an ‘inconvenient moment ‘for the politician who is too busy ‘wheeling and dealing’ to stay in power; and the cry of economic development is always made to resonate more with the voters. But when we give away all our lands to foreigners and the critical decisions are made elsewhere, what tin pot politician with a hugely inflated ego will have the political and economic clout to influence a board meeting of a multinational firm in London, Paris, New York or Rome?

Today there is the real danger of the region losing ‘effective’ sovereignty to multi-national corporations when it hands over (selling/leasing) significant strips of territory to persons with unknown international connections. Such individuals, if not properly screened and effectively monitored, can bring more harm than good to our small and vulnerable island states in the Caribbean. We do not wish to be drawn into the vortex of the dangerous international drug cartels. The Regional Security System (RSS) and the local Coast Guards are still unable to adequately handle drug trafficking in the region, hence the importance of British and American naval forces in the region; and with so many islands now effectively controlled by foreign interests- Palm Island, Mustique, Canouan and now the prospect of both Balliceaux and Mayreau drifting further away from the control of the mainland, alarms bells must be sounded both at home and abroad.

The sale of Balliceaux is symptomatic of Caribbean peoples’ plight to retain control of their living spaces. Moreover, it is a slap in the face of organizations and experts who have counselled governments to be more cognizant of indigenous citizens’ rights to land ownership. The recent remarks of Dr Len Ishmael, Director-General of the OECS Secretariat, who in her address to the 46th Meeting of the OECS Authority in Dominica 16-18, January 2008, expressed alarm at the tremendous land sales to foreigners that was slowly disenfranchising locals from owning property. Ishmael noted that locals are not only being alienated from the ‘quiet use and enjoyment’ of their lands, but further criticized developers who were “acting in ways to intimidate locals from using beaches on which their resorts have frontage.” More importantly, she asked a number of fundamental questions:” What are we doing in the name of development? At what price is development? Is no price too high? Is the alienation of the rights of islanders a realistic price for what we define as progress? After the land is gone, what’s left?” After Balliceaux is gone, what’s left, Mr Prime Minister? These are some of the questions that the government of SVG must answer before it goes ahead with any more development projects.

Balliceaux can better serve the interests of the people of SVG if it is purchased by the government and converted into a heritage park for the enjoyment of all. We need not develop every square inch of land. And the sustainable development of both islands as national parks can bring enjoyment to the people and revenues to the public coffers. The government must find another way to reduce its deficit of over $1.2 billion EC Dollars. Selling Balliceaux and Battowia is not the solution to its financial woes, or the personal difficulties that the Prime Minister faces over multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault charges leveled against him by women at home and abroad.


May 5, 2008

By: Wellington C. Ramos

The island of Saint Vincent and all the other territories in the Caribbean, the Americas and the rest of the world existed long before the Europeans decided to venture into these regions and colonized them. The Europeans have always defended their colonization of these territories by saying these people were cannibals, pagans, backward and needed to be converted to Christianity. During the colonization, slavery and genocide that was committed by the Europeans against many of the native cultures of these regions causing their lives to be disrupted indefinitely. The Garifuna people who were labeled as “Black Caribs” by the British were living in that area since the early 1600’s and were first sighted by the French colonizers. Before the French came into that region, the Spanish attempted to conquer that region but they were defeated by their ancestors the native Kalinagu Indians.

The French were aware of the Spanish attempts to engage these people and were defeated so they came with a different strategy which was to try and convert them into becoming Christians and then colonize their territory. The Kalinagu Indians became suspicious of the French waged a war against them and forced them off the island. Yet, despite this defeat, the French claimed that this island and it’s people belong to them and ceded this island along with other territories in the Treaty of Paris signed with the British in 1763. Saint Vincent at the time was the largest agricultural producing nation in that region and the food that it produced was needed to feed the French invading forces. After the treaty was signed with the French, the British aggressively sought the colonization of this island. The native Kalinagus and the Garifunas decided to resist all attempts by the British to take over their native lands.

After many years of war the British defeated the Garifunas and the Kalinagus and interned them as Prisoners of War on the island of Balliceaux. The were subsequently deported to Roatan Honduras on April the 12th, 1797. Only a few thousand Garifuna people survived and they were handed over to the Spanish Crown. Most of the Garifuna people names were changed from French names and original Garifuna and Kalinagu names to Spanish. Today, a majority of the Garifuna people have Spanish names and they reside in the countries of; Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States. The Garifuna people have maintained their culture despite their ordeal with the Spanish, French and British colonial experience.

Today the Garifuna people’s music which is called “Punta Rock”, an upgraded version of one of their cultural dances called “Punta” have played a major role in internationalizing the Garifuna Culture. Famous Garifuna musicians and artists such as; Pen Cayetano the inventor, Andy Palacio, Chico Ramos, Muhubub Flores, Arielo Martinez, James Lovell, Poots Ti,Ti Man Flores, Paul Nabor Centino, Wrekless, Paula Castillo, Maimie Martinez, Rhodel Castillo, Aziatic, Guwie Augustine, Alvin Payne, Junior Aranda, Gabaga, Koro Velasquez, Brother Nate Francisco, Machete, Isawel Flores and many other Garifunas have all contributed to the continuing development of Punta Rock music. Even though Punta Rock and Jankunooh dances are highlighted the most, the Garifuna culture have more different type of dances and music that play a vital role in their culture. Garifuna music and dances that are utilized by Garifunas depending on the type of cultural activity they are engaged in at a given time and moment.

Since the Garifuna people were deported from their homeland, the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have failed to do something significant to have an on-going cultural exchange program with the countries in Central America where the majority of Garifunas currently reside and practice their culture. Saint Vincentians could be sent to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize to conduct cultrural researches and engage with their people in order to learn the language, religion, arts, crafts and all aspects of the Garifuna Culture. Embassies and Consulates should also be established in these countries now if there isn’t any.

Instead of trying to sell the island of Balliceaux, the Saint Vincent Government should establish a Garifuna Village and Museum on the island where the Garifuna people from Saint Vincent and the rest of the world can visit and witness all cultural activities taking place daily and the exhibits of the sites could be seen before they were deported. The revenue this will bring through tourism to the Government and people of Saint Vincent will far surpass the sale of the island. This would also accomplish the dual goals of preserving the culture and providing jobs and economic stimulus to the Saint Vincent economy. If the government was to make the mistake and sell this island, it will outrage the Garifuna community at large and a movement will emerge to stop that drastic move. I am now appealing to the people and government of Saint Vincent to think twice before they make this huge mistake.


blackgirl on mars said...

This reminds me so much about the issues of indigenous peoples the world over: My sojourn in Hawaii was replete with tourists crawling over the ancestral lands of the local Hawaiians, once lush land tamed (raped) by large pineapple farmers and the like, mangoes imported from California sold for twice the price in local grocery stores. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

This sale is steep in corruption with public officials in the government and is an injustice to the family members and the indigenous ancestory.