THERE is a community nestled at the base of Gros Piton called Fond Gens Libre. What a name! No need to guess where it came from, or the conditions which led to its adoption.
Most of us are aware of the history of Aux Lyons and its establishment by slaves who had fought their way to freedom, but somehow, Fond Gens Libre makes you feel differently. It’s more like a celebration of freedom than a call to the hills – Valley of the Free!
We are a proud people, and we have a history of which we can and should be proud. But we forget a lot.
Fond Gens Libre is where the Gros Piton Nature Trail starts, and the Soufriere Foundation website carries a brief history. But it was only on meeting someone from that “Valley of the Free” a few years ago that the name struck a chord.
It perhaps became more significant to me because it had lost all significance to that person – Fond Gens Libre was just another place that you came from, a tough, small community struggling to survive among a boulder strewn landscape at the base of a Piton.
It’s hard to remember your history when your belly’s empty, and harder still when it’s a history that’s kept hidden from you. At school we learn the geography of Canada and of the USA, the history of England and of France, and the names of all those pirates who plundered this region and were richly rewarded for doing so. But not a word on Fond Gens Libre.
We’ve been taught to be insignificant. Not only that, we’ve also been taught to be comfortable in our insignificance. But from time to time, “life” intrudes and we get shocked out of our ignorance, even if only for a little while. One such event occurred over Emancipation Day celebrations last year.
In St. Lucia and much of the rest of the Caribbean we celebrate Emancipation Day on 1st August. Although a holiday in all of the OECS states, only four explicitly recognize the day as Emancipation day, with an additional six of the 15-member Caricom community doing so. With few exceptions, little homage is paid to the events surrounding that date, and for most it’s just another day of revelry.
In Barbados however, tribute is paid to General Bussa, the leader of the slave revolt of 1816 who died during that revolt, and for whom a statue has been erected. In Trinidad & Tobago, maybe due to the ethnic tensions which exist in that country, Emancipation Day is a major celebration. Everybody wearing African garb, meetings, speeches and marches, the day is also an occasion for visits by Heads of African states and other dignitaries.
For the 2015 Emancipation Day celebrations, one such dignitary visiting Trinidad was retired vascular surgeon Dr. Julius Garvey, son of the late Marcus Garvey. That’s right, the Marcus Garvey. In an interview appearing in the Trinidad Guardian of August 05, 2015, Dr. Garvey, in responding to a question on whether or not things had changed since his father’s time, had this to say:
“If we look back over the last 100 years or so, we will see that things haven’t changed that much. We have gone from colonialism to globalisation … it’s just another plantation … where we as non-European people are marginalised.”
He is quoted further as saying that these conditions make “the ideals of my father still relevant because they are all about self-reliance.”
Not many of us may have known that Marcus Garvey had a son, or that his son had continued his involvement with Caribbean affairs. We are familiar with the phrase “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” thanks to Bob Marley, but not many would recognize it as an adaptation from a speech given by Garvey in 1937. We have been taught to ignore our own history, whitewash it, and now the new craze is to airbrush it.
But it is that history which makes the sale of our nationality so deeply offensive and the recent outpourings in the media even more upsetting. Having had this monstrosity shoved down our throats, we are now reduced to bickering among ourselves as to whether it is technically flawed or not, in effect trying to decide just how much lipstick we should plaster on that pig.
The recent publication in the press of the ranking of our passport takes us right back to a previous life as we were dragged off that ship in shackles and chains to the market square, there to be prodded and probed and eventually sold to the highest bidder. Ranked then, we are again being ranked now, only this time we have put on those shackles and chains ourselves.
Having lost all sense of self-respect in January with the start of this sale of our passports, we are then told at our independence celebrations in February of a new-found pride that we are to flaunt.
And to justify this reduction of ourselves to a commodity, we are advised that the developed countries sell instant citizenship as well, a falsity that any child with internet access can dispel in a minute. But that doesn’t seem to matter.
It was therefore again disturbing to see the comments generated by the front page story in the Saturday, April 23 issue of this newspaper which reported on the accusations of one of the firms engaged in this business of selling passports. The accusations may or may not have had relevance, but what should have been of greater importance was their source.
Those accusations came from the firm of Henley& Partners, the firm which, according to the Bloomberg article of March 11, 2015 was responsible for the turn around of St. Kitts & Nevis’ citizenship by investment programme in 2006. According to that article, before St. Kitts, “Henley & Partners was an obscure wealth management and immigration consultancy.” After St. Kitts, the firm became “the biggest firm in an industry turning citizenship into a commodity.”
According to the Henley & Partners website, “Today the firm is focused exclusively on residence and citizenship planning and is operating via more than 20 offices worldwide.” All of this from turning passports into a commodity. Henley & Partners is also the firm which published the ranking of Caribbean passports in March of this year.
This firm has created an industry that is demeaning of us, and if nothing else, our history should cause us to reject both firm and industry outright. In those of our islands where that history and pride are deeply rooted, no thought is given to this sale of instant nationality. Even with economic hardship in Jamaica, the concept is rejected.
And with Barbados facing serious difficulty with its economic recovery, the subject does not rear its head. In St. Vincent, with a Prime Minister keenly in touch with his country’s history and at the forefront of the movement for reparations, the answer is a decisive no. Why us?
Now we’re being told of a proposed high-end luxury resort development that is expected to benefit from CIP “investment”, and the amendment of our Tourism Stimulus and Investment Act to encourage such new developments. We’re also told that the tax incentives proposed in this amendment will seriously disadvantage our existing hotel plant, but there is no Government concern, and no discussion.
It will only get worse as we scramble to peddle our wares.
For those of us whose spirit lives in Fond Gens Libre, we will just have to keep “holding our nose” until we get that CIP Act revoked.