Commentary: The reasons why the Garifuna Diaspora are eligible for St Vincent and the Grenadines citizenship

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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

By Wellington C. Ramos

On April 12, 1797, when the British forcefully removed and dumped off about 2,500 of our Garifuna people on the island of Roatan, Honduras they were citizens of a sovereign nation state by the name of “Yurumein”. They then made St Vincent and The Grenadines their occupied territory, while demolishing the nation state of the Garifuna people.

Roatan, Honduras, the Bay Islands, Belize and the Mosquito Coast in Nicaragua were British occupied territories that belonged to Spain as a result of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1493. Great Britain was not in a position to grant the Garifuna people or any of the other people living in these territories British citizenship because that would have been against the treaty they signed with Spain. Guatemala, the mainland of Honduras, the rest of Nicaragua and most of the Americas were all Spanish colonies that were governed by Spain.

Like the Garifuna people in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the native Mayas, Arawaks, Incas, Aztecs and all the other native indigenous people and forcefully destroyed their nation states. They all were citizens of their states prior to Spain, Britain, France and the other European countries coming in to destroy their nations. Unlike the Garifuna people, most of the natives of these regions remained in their territories.

The colonies of “Yurumein” now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States all had to fight against colonial rule, to seek self-government and later on independence to forge their identities as new nations. Just like how the Garifuna people fought to resist the Spanish colonial takeover, the indigenous people from this region, fought as well but they were conquered much earlier in the 1500s and 1600s. The Spanish imposed their citizenship on all these people except our Garifuna people, which meant that our citizenship status was in limbo and remained Yurumeinan.

The children of the Garifuna people who were born in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize, were entitled to Spanish citizenship because they were all born in Spanish occupied territories. Yet, Spain was reluctant to clarify their citizenship status. When the countries of Latin America declared war against Spain for their independence under the leadership of Simon Bolivar in the 1800s, they wanted to become independent nation states.

Spain was at war with Mexico for ten years when the Mexicans were fighting for their independence. This resulted in the Latin American countries breaking away from Spain and declaring themselves independent nations with little resistance. They called their new nation the Central American Republic on July 1, 1823, with their capital in Antigua, Guatemala, but it did not last for too long among them.

During the birth of this new nation state, despite the fact that the Garifuna people were living in the Bay Islands, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, their citizenships along with their offspring and descendants was still intact with their motherland St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Great Britain assumed control of St Vincent and the Grenadines in 1796 and Belize in 1638 as an occupied Spanish territory and granting it colony status in 1862. This was done after they signed treaties with Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras to establish new borders with their occupied colonies. This led to clearly defined borders with all the countries in Central America. They called the people who were born in their colonies British subjects and gave the opportunity to those who were not born in their territories to apply for the same status.

A colony cannot grant citizenship status until they become a sovereign nation state. St Vincent and the Grenadines became an independent nation on October 27, 1979. The Garifuna people, who were descendants of those who were not removed and remained there, were still Yurumeinan citizens up until that year. After the British won the war, they made it a colony of theirs and brought in slaves to do free labour for them. As we all know slaves are not considered as human beings and had no rights as citizens despite the fact that they were born in these territories.

Years after slavery was abolished their descendants were made British subjects until they achieved their independence. The prime minister of St Vincent, Milton Cato, had the power vested in him to grant citizenship status to all the descendants of the Garifuna people whose ancestors were citizens of his nation and were forcefully removed by the British from their motherland but he did not do so.

Subsequent prime ministers of St Vincent had the right to do so as well, including this current Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves but they all have failed the children of their soil. There is still time for justice to be granted to all of them.

Belize obtained its independence on September 21, 1981. Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala all obtained their independence on September 15, 1821. Today, most Garifuna people are citizens of the countries where they were born. Yet, because of their ancestors continued attachment to their motherland St Vincent and the Grenadines, there is a need to declare all of them citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

This does not mean that all of them will leave their countries and go and live in their motherland. It will only bring about relief and pride in them, for being a part of the most resilient people and nation to European rule in the Caribbean and the Americas.

When Israel became a nation state in 1948, they made it clear to the world that the descendants of their nation will all be entitled to Israeli citizenship no matter what part of this world they reside. Many of their people who live in the United States and elsewhere, are aware of this offer but many of them have refused to accept it. They rather make contributions to the security, economic, social and political sustenance of the nation which they have been doing.

Garifuna people pride themselves as citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines. I do not believe that Garifuna people will leave their countries to go and live in St Vincent. Many of them have been migrating to the United States and pretty soon that country will have the majority of them.

Their identification with SVG is a tradition they have kept since their ancestors arrived in Roatan, Honduras on April 12, 1797. Even though Garifuna people were born in these countries where they currently reside, they are still looked upon by the other ethnic groups as strangers. They face ongoing discrimination and human rights abuses in some of these countries. Especially in Honduras where most of them live.

There is nothing in life like to be given the opportunity to know the home of your ancestors or to experience living there to meet your family members.

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1 COMMENT

  1. While I have much sympathy for your perspective, especially the refusal of the present and previous governments of St. Vincent to give proper recognition to your people, I deny that the “Garifuna people on the island of Roatan, Honduras … were citizens of a sovereign nation state by the name of “Yurumein”” simply because they were a loosely knit tribal people, not a “sovereign nation state,” as this term is defined in both political science and law. Nor was the term “citizenship,” a legal notion that also applies to the nation state, applicable to their past tribal affiliation.

    For these reasons, much of your argument has no legal standing.

    Still, there is a legal and moral case to be made for the refusal of the sovereign nation state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to uphold the provisions of 1773 treaty following the “First Carib War” which the British invaders and planters refused to follow provoking a second “Carib” war followed by the exile of your people to Roatan.

    It is the failure of the government of SVG to uphold a treaty they inherited from the British following independence in 1979 that you should be fighting for in the courts. There is ample precedent and assurance of success, especially from the treaties signed with the indigenous people of Canada with earlier British Crown governments, for you to do so.

    I am certain that there are lots of legal firms around who would assist with this effort on either a pro bono or contingency basis.

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