Sunday, November 08, 2009

25th Independence Day Speecg by PM

Speech by Prime Minister Dr. The Honorable Ralph E. Gonsalves on Oct. 27, 2004. I haven't found this year's speech. Any suggestions?

Today is a joyous day as we celebrate and commemorate our
nation’s twenty-fifth year of independence. Twenty five years ago,
the Founding Father of our Nation’s Independence and our first
Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Robert Milton Cato, raised our
national flag aloft amidst the singing of our movingly beautiful
national anthem. The author of the anthem’s lyrics, Phyllis Punnett,
died nearly two weeks ago and we revere her memory. That
historic occasion of independence on October 27, 1979,
engendered hope, optimism and confidence. To the extent that
there was any apprehension about the future, it resided only in the
breasts of those who sadly doubted our fitness to govern ourselves, a
doubt generated either by colonial indoctrination or by politically-
partisan opportunism. At Independence 1979, I was a young man
of thirty-three years and a member of both the Youlou United
Liberation Movement (YULIMO) and the United People’s Movement
(UPM) which organizations unapologetically campaigned for
“Independence Now”. Interestingly, the combined vote of Milton
Cato’s Labour Party and the pro-independence, but opposition,
UPM exceeded 70 per cent in the general elections held after
independence in December 1979.


The debilitating condition of colonialism and our people’s subjection
to the diktat of empire underdeveloped our national economy,
distorted our psyches, socialised us to embrace helplessness and
self-doubt at the first challenge of crisis or even difficulty, twisted our
value system with an abiding sense of inferiority, moulded in many
an authoritarian personality with unstable oscillations of
submissiveness and aggression, and denied absolutely any claim of
ours to being part of an independent, authentic, unique, and noble
Caribbean civilisation.

In its worst manifestations, colonialism was, as the Matiniquan-
Algerian revolutionary Franz Fanon taught us, not a thinking
machine nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties; it was
violence in its natural state. That colonial violence resulted in
widespread genocide against the Callinagoes and Garifuna, our
indigenous forebears, and in the cruel enslavement of African
peoples who were forcibly brought to the land we now know as St.
Vincent and the Grenadines. It is not that our former colonial
masters were homicidal maniacs, intrinsically evil or devoid of any
sense of morality or humanity whatsoever. It is that expansionist
mercantile capitalism and economic imperialism turned nominally
Christian people into an unrecognizable other. We, formerly subject
peoples, do not demand reparations but surely an apologetic
admission of past wrong-doing by former colonial rulers coupled
with an on-going commitment of genuine partnership, based on
fairness, equity, and a preferential treatment towards us, would be
of immense value in helping to cleanse the dark deeds of the past.

The necessary and desirable catharsis or cleansing is not the
obligation of the former colonisers alone. We as Vincentians are
required to take up our beds and walk. The incubus and legacy of
colonialism still reside among us and against which we must battle
daily with a clarity of thought and expression, and a solid
performance of deeds, at individual and national levels. Our vision,
our philosophy, our policies, our programmes, our actions singly and
jointly must propel us away from the past condition through our
contemporary challenges to a noble and uplifting future which, of
all time only, is ours to desecrate.

Colonialism, of course, was not all underdevelopment, evil, public
amorality, official violence, and subjugation. It was colonialism
which gave us the majesty of the English language; it bequeathed
to us a sound public service, a quality judicial system, a broadly
democratic system of government, and a bundle of fundamental
rights and freedoms which are protected in law. These are
inheritances which we must use, not misuse or abuse, to advance
our freedom, good governance, living and production, and our
civilisation itself. We must nurture these, consolidate them, build
upon them, and extend them in the interest of our own

Our nation is linked inextricably to diverse lands and places
from which our peoples have come: South America, the
original home of our aboriginal forebears; Northern and
Southern Europe, Africa, India, China, North America, and the
Middle East. Out of many, one people have been fashioned.
Our journey from our country’s first encounter with Europe in the
late fifteenth century has been a remarkable odyssey. We
survived and emerged finally triumphant on October 27th, 1979,
as a free and independent people despite the travails through
the fever of our history.

In five hundred years we have been through European
conquest and settlement, genocide and slavery, servile
indentureship and robust colonial overrule, economic
oppression and imperialism, technological backwardness and
illiteracy. Remarkably, through discipline, hard-work, a core of
humane values, an identification with, and commitment to, our
nation’s landscape and seascape, our sense of oneness as a
people, and above all, our belief in the supremacy of God and
the freedom and dignity of man, we have prevailed; and we
have arrived at this historical juncture where we possess a
sufficient and adequate base upon which, as a nation, we can
build to fulfill our dreams. Indeed, at Independence in 1979
such a condition existed but we have not as yet exploited our
true potential. Our achievements, through a painful and joyous
history, ought to have taught us never to succumb to a
corrosive negativism, an excessive caution, a debilitating
hopelessness, or a crippling learned helplessness. Others may
sleep to dream but we must dream, and act accordingly, to
change our condition for the better.


Two pathways are open for us to trod as a nation. One resides
in self-belief; in the fashioning of a committed social individual;
in the development of a consciousness of being a most
valuable Vincentian component of the Caribbean civilisation;
in the enlargement of our capacity for creativity; in an alive
historical reclamation; in the building of a cultural authenticity
which at once embraces the nobility that is particular in our
condition and which at the same time connects with universal
culture; in discipline, hardwork and good works; in an
independent intellectual thought lodged within both our
Caribbean and universal heritage; in sustainable collective
action in the social, material, and economic spheres to uplift
our people’s well-being; in economic modernisation,
diversification, and competitiveness; in political endeavours
which aim at self-mastery nationally and, more widely, in unison
in our Caribbean civilisation; in the building of linkages,
friendships, and solidarity with peace-loving nations
internationally; and in pursuing, overall, in practical terms,
policies and programmes which reflect our philosophy of social
democracy and our vision to make this small country a great
nation in the excellence of its governance, its exemplary
conduct and its uplifting day-to-day achievements in every
area of life and production. That is the path we must travel.
And that is the way forward which this government, which I
have the honour to lead, has been charting.

There are others who seem bent on pursuing another path:
one of negativism, and defeatism which focuses on trivia and
treats public policy discourse as if it were a branch of the
entertainment industry; a way of ill-discipline, divisiveness,
intellectual mimicky, and learned helplessness; a path of
backwardness which looks forward to the past and with no
purposeful gaze to the future; a journey of no hope in a
quagmire of lost beings which leads to the absence of a
national soul. The vast majority of Vincentians correctly reject
this option which they know will take them nowhere but to
national paralysis, fecklessness and doom.

Over the large sweep of our twenty-five year history as a nation,
there are solid achievements of which we can be justly proud.
These cover the entire gamut of human endeavour: governance,
education and training, social and material well-being, culture and
the arts, health and housing, sports and recreation, life and
production. Today, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a middle-level
developing country which scores reasonably well on the
internationally-constructed index on human development. Still,
there is much more work which remains to be done especially to
reduce poverty further, to create more quality jobs, and to curb
criminal activities. Indeed, in all areas of achievement we cannot
be smug or complacent. We must consolidate our gains, deepen
them and extend them.

Our nation’s accomplishments over the past twenty-five years have
been built upon the efforts of earlier generations. It must never be
thought that Independence Day 1979 met St. Vincent and the
Grenadines with little or nothing, with barrenness, so to speak. That
would be a falsehood and a slur on our forebears’ lives,
achievements and dignity. Indeed, in the twenty-eight years
between universal adult suffrage in 1951 and independence in 1979
there were giant steps in the forward march to progress, material
and otherwise, from relative backwardness to modernity.

At Independence 1979, the vision of our nation was beautifully
crafted in the Preamble to its Constitution which reads:

“Whereas the Peoples of the Islands of St. Vincent and the
Grenadines who are known as Vincentians:-
(a) have affirmed that the Nation is founded on the belief in
the supremacy of God and the freedom and dignity of
(b) desire that their society be so ordered as to express their
recognition of the principles of democracy, free
institutions, social justice and equality before the law;
(c) realise that the maintenance of human dignity
presupposes safe-guarding the rights of privacy, of
family-life, of property and the fostering of the pursuit of
just economic rewards for labour-----“

These precepts and ideals constitute a philosophical consensus for
governance in our nation. They have been years in-the-making.
These are the core ideas which propelled George Augustus Mc
Intosh and his supporters to ignite the early beginnings of the
democratic revolution in the uprising of October 21st, 1935. These
are the very beliefs which galvanised Ebenezer Theodore Joshua in
his life work. These are the fundamental principles and values which
guided our Founding Father, Robert Milton Cato, and inspired him to
fashion them into majestic language in our Constitution’s Preamble,
and to which we are all solemnly enjoined. Others who have since
led our nation — for longer or shorter periods — Sir James Mitchell
and Arnhim Eustace were bound by sacred pledge to obey and
follow them. I, as your serving Prime Minister, stand committed to
the ennobling precepts and ideals which our Founding Fathers have
bequeathed unto us.

Each generation of leaders in modern St. Vincent and the
Grenadines has had its own mission. George Mc Intosh’s mission
was to educate and organise the working people politically and to
secure universal adult suffrage — one person, one vote. Ebenezer
Joshua’s mission was centred around ending plantocratic and
colonial overrule and the building of a core of workers’ and
peasants’ rights. Milton Cato’s mission was to lay the basis for a
sophisticated, democratic, independent state and a modern
economy. James Mitchell’s mission was to build upon Joshua’s and
Cato’s efforts and to set the framework for economic take off.
History will judge the success or failure of each of these earlier


Our current mission, the mission of my generation of leaders, is to
complete the laudable tasks of earlier generations; to construct a
modern, diversified and prosperous economy in the age of
globalisation; to lead a frontal assault on poverty; to deepen
political democracy and strengthen good governance; to rekindle
and promote a solid value system; and to further ennoble our
Caribbean civilisation in all its dimensions, including the deepening
of Caribbean unity. In so doing people are our focus and
education is the vital vehicle. Talent, opportunities, cultural
awareness, prosperity, international solidarity, equality and justice
are our central touchstones. In this exercise, we need to heal our
fractured nation, promote oneness and love among our people,
and bind inextricably our nation which is at home to that in the


Over the past three and one-half years since I have been your Prime
Minister, our nation has faced immense challenges not of our own
making, but we have met them with focus, fortitude, determination,
and reasonable success. My government assumed office at a time
when the world economy was experiencing its worst condition for
thirty years; then on September 11th, 2001, terrorists struck the United
States of America, and its adverse economic and political
consequences are still being felt; shortly thereafter the SARS
epidemic shook tourism to its very foundations, internationally and in
the Caribbean; in September 2002, our nation suffered immensely
from Tropical Storm Lili which caused damage in excess of $50
million and the loss of four lives; in the first four months of 2003, we
experienced the longest and severest drought for forty years; the
war in Iraq has increased political volatility and economic
uncertainty world-wide which have impacted negatively on us here
in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean; from
December 2003 up to the present time, oil prices have skyrocketed
globally, slowed economic recovery worldwide, and have created
immense economic difficulties for our national economy and
central government’s revenues; and last month, Hurricane Ivan
caused substantial material damage and loss to St. Vincent and the
Grenadines in excess of $110 million.

These are challenges which we have had to face in addition to
those which have arisen from modern globalisation and trade
liberalisation, from poverty and underdevelopment, and from a
much-less-than-wholesome inheritance which the predecessor
regime delivered to us at the end of March 2001 when my
government assumed office.

Still, we did not cave in; we did not throw up our hands in despair;
we did not wallow in the despond of learned helplessness; we did
not abandon our principles of good governance; we did not
forsake our dignity as a people, as a nation. We buckled down to
hard work with a focused approach of disciplined, democratic
governance and with a plan for sustainable development. The
nation as a whole has rallied magnificently and, despite the
occasional dissonance as is expected in a competitive democracy,
our country has progressed in remarkable unity and consensus, fully
respecting but not succumbing to minority voices which oft-times
seek to derail or ignobly divert our national effort. Our people
commend our government’s steadfastness to representative
democracy; the nation is at one with us that the government must
govern and be responsive and responsible to the people; and the
population as a whole rightly accept that we emphasise the power
of righteousness rather than the rightness of power. That is the
manner in which this government has been governing.

The results of our governance are there for all to see: In the
extraordinarily difficult year of 2001, our country recorded zero
growth when the neighbouring OECS member-states all had
negative growth. In 2002, our economy grew by 1.7 per cent; in
2003, it grew by a further 4.06 per cent; and in 2004, despite the
ravages of Hurricane Ivan and escalating oil prices, the economy of
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is projected to grow in excess of 5.5
per cent. In each year since 2001, our central government finances
have showed surpluses on the current account. Regional and
international institutions have justly praised your government, my
government, for its sound management of the economy.

The soundness of the macro-economic fundamentals in St. Vincent
and the Grenadines constitutes the framework within which my
government has chalked up impressive achievements in job
creation, poverty reduction, educational advancement, health and
housing, sports and culture, infrastructural development, institutional
and public management reforms, the delivery of public goods and
services, foreign policy, and good governance generally.

As always, we can do better than we have done so far. And much,
much more remains to be done. A small, island developing nation
like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in an increasingly hostile global
political economy, cannot tarry. We cannot waste time.
Redoubling our efforts is desirable and we need more than ever to
push ourselves as individuals and as a nation to the limits of our
focused efforts.


Our agenda ahead as a nation is huge and ambitious. Among the
major items upon which we have specifically commenced work
and upon which a determined continuation, leading to completion,
is required, includes:
Constitutional reform;
local government reform;
being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime;
the reform of the Police Force;
public service reform and reclassification;
the education revolution, including universal access to
secondary education;
poverty reduction and the creation of quality jobs;
public health advance, including the fight against HIV/AIDS;
the many-sided modernization, diversification and enhanced
competitiveness of the economy;
airport development, including the international airport at
Argyle and the jet airport at Canouan;
the enhancement of the road network, including the
rehabilitation of the Windward Highway from Fancy to
Kingstown, and the construction of the cross- country road;
the National Stadium;
the development of the Arnos Vale Cricket Facility;
the Modern National Library and Lecture Theatre;
the Learning Resource Centres, nation-wide;
the Windward Water Project;
the Electricity Plant at Lowmans Leeward;
the Low-Income Housing Project;
the special development projects in the Grenadines;
our cultural rebirth; and
good governance, generally.

This development agenda promises to transform St. Vincent and the
Grenadines for the better, for the people’s overwhelming benefit.
Never has so much sustained progress been made in so short a time
as has been the case in St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the
past 3½ years. The working people, farmers, fisherfolk,
entrepreneurs, businessmen/women of all types in every sector of
the economy have been reaping just rewards for their efforts. The
able-bodied poor are escaping poverty more and more through
enhanced opportunities and appropriate social safety nets. The
disabled poor and the elderly poor are being protected, assisted
and cared for as never before. The future for all children and young
persons is brighter than ever as the education revolution ensures
that they soar as eagles, with wings unclipped, to the best of their
abilities. Women and mothers find ample support from especially
targeted public policies. Our nation is politically stable; good
governance prevails; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines is among
the safest, freest and most democratic countries in the world.

This excellent report card for our country is marred only by that very
small minority who remain wedded to criminality, violence
vagabondry, and laziness. As a nation we must give this anti-social
group no space to flourish and spare no efforts in ensuring that they
come to social redemption by leading useful lives. This is a
challenge for all of us in our homes, our churches, our schools, our
communities, our society-at-large, the judiciary, and the
government. I am sure that in this we will succeed. We will curb the
violent crimes. On this we are all resolved.


So, we have done reasonably well in twenty-five years of
independence, and we ought, accordingly, to be proud to be
Vincentians. Still, on every front much remains to be done; and the
challenges are getting no easier. From emancipation in 1838 to
independence in 1979, and in the years thereafter, we have
traveled far and well. For all this we thank Almighty God, our
forebears, our fellow-Vincentians, and our friends, overseas. Our
leaders, by and large, have made a difference for the better but
our progress over time, fundamentally, has been as a consequence
of the combined efforts of individuals from all walks of life.

As a nation, on the whole, we are on the right track. To be sure
there are difficulties but they are capable of solution; in the life of
any society there will be setbacks but we must turn them into
advances; our limitations must be transformed into possibilities; our
possibilities must be harnessed into permanent strengths. These
strengths we must continuously nurture for even more splendid
accomplishments. In this on-going effort, let us heed the timeless
wisdom of the Book of Ecclesistes:

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant. Whoever looks at
the cloud will not reap-------
“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your
hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

I sense with a near certainty that when St. Vincent and the
Grenadines celebrates fifty years of nationhood in the year 2029, it
will be a much better place because of what we are doing today,
what we will be doing tomorrow, and the day after. We would be in
a worse position only if we change our course of governance, alter
the navigation, become slack and unfocussed in our work habits,
and allow the criminals, especially the violent ones, space to flourish.

In our tomorrows, we are, however, absolutely sure one thing:
That the love of God will rise before the sun.
The song-writer provides the spirit of hope and optimism for the
future when he aptly and memorably writes:

“The right hand of God is planting in our land,
Planting seeds of freedom, hope and love;
In these many-peopled lands,
Let his children all join hands,
And be one with the right hand of God.”

Let us make this 25th year of independence, which runs from
October 27th, 2004 to October 26th, 2005, our best year ever.

Thank you and have a magnificent 25th anniversary of