By Wellington C. Ramos
On the 11th, 12th and 13th of April 2014, Garifuna people from the countries of “Yurumein”, now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States, came in large numbers for the first Garifuna Nation Summit. The purposes of this summit was to receive a mandate from the Garifuna people to form a Garifuna Nation, to receive updates on the state of affairs in the communities where the Garifuna people live worldwide, to establish a framework for the Garinagu people to work in concert with each other on a daily basis and to have the structures and institutions in place to help solve their problems.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
Prior to this summit, invitations were sent to all the government representatives in the countries mentioned above and only two countries responded and they were Belize and Yurumein St Vincent and The Grenadines. Representing St Vincent and the Grenadines were two Garifuna representatives: Honourable Senator Jomo Thomas, a Garifuna as well, and Honourary Consul Cardin Gil, representative for St Vincent and the Grenadines for the City of Los Angeles, CA.
The first event was the “Welcome Reception”, which was held at “Casa Yurumein” in the Bronx and the host was Ms Mirtha Colon, a Garifuna activist and president of the Hondurenos Contra El Sida organization in New York City. The representatives of the Garifuna Nation began the ceremony by outlining their purpose, goals and objectives and then after that was concluded they welcomed their brother Senator Jomo Thomas to his family.
When Senator Jomo Thomas began speaking one could see the impressions of amazement in his face and the emotions coming from him to see his people. He spoke about the concern his government has for the Garifuna people in this Diaspora, the efforts they are making to seek justice for the genocide committed against our people and a renewed effort by his government to grant citizenship status to all his Garifuna people who reside in the Diaspora countries mentioned earlier. The representatives of the Garifuna Nation and our Garifuna people listened carefully to what the senator had to say.
After the senator concluded his remarks, I responded, being the current director of governmental affairs and associate president for the United States for the Garifuna Nation. I told the senator that a letter was written to his prime minister in March of last year on behalf of the United Garifuna Association Inc. stating our position on reparations and to date we have not received any response. He replied by saying that his government was in communication with an individual who they thought was representing all the Garifuna people from the United States but now with his presence in New York City, he has come to the conclusion that such is not the case and he will inform his prime minister.
The summit continued on Saturday and the following representatives arrived: Belize’s Ambassador to the United Nations Her Excellency Lois Young, Assemblyman Pichardo, Senator Rivera, City Councilwoman Carmen Arroyo and a representative from Councilman Andrew King’s office.
The Belizean Ambassador Her Excellency Lois Young spoke about the vital role that the Garifuna people play in the development of her country Belize. She also named some prominent Garifuna individuals who have served in the government of Belize and have contributed in other areas, such as Dr Theodore Aranda, a former leader of the United Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Party and a minister of health in the People’s United Party administration; Russell “Chiste” Garcia, a former minister of agriculture and fisheries; Sylvia Flores, minister of defence and human development in the People’s United Party administration; Michelle Arana, a current Supreme Court judge; Andy Palacio, a Belizean musicial icon now deceased; Pen Cayetano, a musician and artist, the founder of the Garifuna music now know as Punta Rock; Anthony “Garincha” Adderlly, a footballer; Nathaniel Cacho, a former financial executive with the World Bank at the United Nations; Sherman Zuniga, Commissioner of Police, and other individuals. All the other elected representatives were given the opportunity to say a few words to the audience.
On Sunday, the summit continued with the history of the Garifuna people’s trials and tribulations by a famous Garifuna anthropologist, Dr Joseph Palacio. His presentation was about how the Garifuna people came about, their struggles, the current situation they face today in the countries where they live and what are some of the possible solutions to some of their problems moving forward towards nationhood. While Dr Palacio was speaking, the Garifuna people were paying attention and taking notes. Some of the information he was relaying to his Garifuna people was new to them. They were all impressed with his in-depth knowledge of his people’s history.
He was followed by a Garifuna activist, Bernardo Guerrero, from Lemun, Honduras. Activist Guerrero spoke about the struggles his people are currently going through in the country of Honduras to maintain possession of their lands. He stressed that the Garifuna Nation is the best thing for the Garifuna people worldwide because in every country where they live their basic human rights are being violated, especially when it comes to land issues.
From the time the Garifuna Nation leaders, namely, myself, Jorge Castillo, Ruben Reyes, Joseph Guerrero, Quisa Gonzalez, Sandra Colon, Carla Garcia, Thrish St Hill and Hubert Bailey started to lobby support for this movement, they decided to reach out to all the Garifuna organizations worldwide.
So far they have been successful in recruiting the following organizations: the United Garifuna Association Inc. of New York, The All People’s Foundation Inc. Chicago, IL, YUGACURE of New York, Hondureno Contra El Sida New York, Garifuna Hope Foundation Los Angeles, CA, The Chatoyer Project Los Angeles, CA, Organizacion Negra Guatemala (ONEGUA) Livingston and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Garifuna Cultural Day Mass Committee (GCDMC), Garinagu Lun Awanseruni Chicago Illinois, Hamalali Wayunagu Dance Company, Coalicion Social Garifuna Hondurenos En Texas Inc., Grupo Folklor Garifuna Wafagua, Organizaciones Patronales USA (OPUSA), Sociedad Hondurena Activa De New York, Mujeres Hondurenas Organizadas En New York (MHONY Inc.), HONGUA Seattle WA, Gemelos De Honduras, Comite De Defenza De Tierra Del Triunfo and Garifuna Heritage Center For The Arts and Culture Inc.
There are more organizations that registered to this organization during the summit and the information can be obtained by contacting the organization.
After activist Guerrero spoke, the Garifuna Nation summit continued and several motions were put forward and approved. They were:
1. To give the Garifuna Nation the mandate to go ahead with the establishment of a nation;
2. That the Garifuna Nation must form a committee effective immediately to accept sample symbols of a nation, such as a coat of arms, flag, national anthem, pledge, an animal, plant and other related national symbols;
3. The Garifuna Nation current executive body act as their representatives in carrying out all the functions that are required to become a nation; and
4. That the goals and objectives of the Garifuna Nation be carried out on the Garifuna people’s behalf.
The summit was then adjourned until April 2015 in Roatan, Honduras.
When the summit was concluded, the Garifuna people started to greet each other to discover how they are related and which family they belonged to, which is a custom of the Garifuna people when they gather together. The members of the Garifuna Nation, other organizations and the people who attended were extremely happy and delighted with the outcome of their first summit because now they are more than convinced that their people have given them the mandate to go full speed ahead with the accomplishment of a Garifuna Nation.