Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mitchell in Honduras, 1997

Address Delivered By the Honorable James Mitchell
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines
La Ceiba Honduras, April 11, 1997

Contributed to by Godsman Ellis
April 20, 1997

Representatives of the government and the people of Honduras, and of the cities of Honduras, representatives of the Garifuna people and the black organization, Garifuna people, people of Honduras, I am very pleased to be here. It is the first time I have come to Honduras. I have visited other parts of Central America - Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua.

The most important job I have done in Central America was when I helped to supervise the elections in Nicaragua when Violetta Chamorro took power from the Sandinistas. I more recently worked in West Africa to help the transformation of a military government in the Gambia to a newly elected government in the Gambia.

As I travelled from St Vincent yesterday - and it took me only one day - on the plane, I reflected on the history of the Garifuna people, how difficult it must have been for you coming across the sea 200 years ago. It is very funny - as it were -- that we are the only country in the Caribbean that has a human link with a part of
Central America in the Garifuna people, between St Vincent and Central America.

I bring you greetings from the government o and the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. I want to let you know what caused you to be here. Your ancestors fought very hard in St Vincent, then called Yuremei, against the British, and you lost the battle because of the superior naval power of the British. You had friends
among the French but they abandoned you. You put up a heavy fight that the British decided they could not let the Garifuna people remain in St Vincent. When your chief, the Carib Chief Chatoyer died in battle, then the Garifuna people, in the struggle, were demoralized. But however, some of the Garifuna people hid in various parts of St. Vincent and they are still there today to create a link with you the people of Central America.

Now, I want to let you know that the remaining people whom we call the Caribs, were given, by the British, some very isolated and difficult lands on which to live. My political party was founded on the principle of land for the landless and when we took power in 1984 we did the same thing One of our largest plantations was for sale, and it was to be sold to a foreign company. I refused to let the foreign company purchase those lands, and working within the framework of the constitution we purchased those lands. Then we set about getting the lands to the people.

The secret is very simple. A government always has time, and a country is forever. A government has got to find a way to use time to give substance to the people. Therefore we raised bonds, and with our taxes we were able to purchase those lands.

Our government could not afford to give those lands away, but we could afford to give time away. So, we found a framework where all the lands were given to the people and a framework given of time for them to pay for them.

Following that, we were able to get a great deal of international support to develop those lands. I was very pleased that we were able to distribute one-third of the lands to women. Today, all of those communities where we have done our land-reform program are thriving communities, with people having their own homes, good
quality homes with electricity and telephones. When we took over those lands, also there were no roads, and that transformation began in 1984, and it is a success in a very short space of time.

I have one message to give you, the first is that it is necessary that secure economic and intellectual independence. That is the way to success. By that I do not mean going to school. You have got to work hard, and discipline yourself. If you are at the bottom, you will never get on the top without discipline. It is important that you understand that, when once you have education, you do not have to be rich. But, if you are rich in your mind, and you are productive, everybody in Latin America will respect you.

At our Independence celebrations this year, we will be establishing, for the first time our national honours. We did not do it before because we were contemplating working with creating a new country united among other islands in the Caribbean. We already have honours which we receive from our sovereign, the Queen, and our national honours will co-exist with the international honours which we receive in our country. In this process, and, to respect the historic origins of our country we will be recognizing the first Garifuna Chief, Chief Chatoyer.

You cannot, in this country, forever live in the past. Nor could we, in our country live in the past. But it is important that we use our history to guide us in the future. For, if you ignore history, it will repeat itself.

Now the future of our region is tied very much with the American Free Trade Area, organized already between Mexico, the United States and Canada. We attend the meeting in Miami, and we are part of the process of preparation for the free trade of the Americas to come into being in the year 2005

While we are working at organizing trade, I want you, the Garifuna people, to realize that we can create opportunities for you to have practical and profitable linkages with the Caribbean. And while it might be very far in the future, nevertheless we must understand what the future holds, and begin to prepare to secure some of that future.

I am very pleased with what I have seen of your organization. Your 200th anniversary has been a good focus of attention. I shall carry back a very important message to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and it is that we have brothers and sisters in another part of the world who in their memories and in their songs and in their culture, think very kindly of St Vincent. While we know that our people came here, we were not aware that there is such a strong sentimental link between Central America, the Garifuna people and our people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

I am very pleased that I was able to bring a delegation from St Vincent with me, and the Minister who represents the Garifuna people is here with me today. Honourable Monty Roberts, will you please stand. And also the other members of our delegation. so, you could at least see what Garifuna people look like in St. Vincent.

I now conclude by letting you know that you are welcome to st Vincent. We have our Independence celebrations in October this year, and I would like to invite your Garifuna Organization to select people to attend our Independence celebration. As long as you arrive in St Vincent, you will be our guests.

It is important that we establish permanent working relations between the Garifuna organization and the organization in St Vincent and the Grenadines. I wish finally to thank the mayor of La Ceiba, I want to thank you, Madam, for your hospitality in your city. I want to thank you to pass on our greetings to the
President and Vice Minister, and all of those who made our visit here so welcome.

And I wish to congratulate all those people who have used their leadership ability from the United States Garifuna and here in Honduras to put this show together.

Long live! Thank You