Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SVG celebrates 31st anniversary

October 27, 2010 by Oscar Ramjeet

St Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates its 31st anniversary of independence from Britain on Wednesday, October 27, and messages of congratulations are pouring in to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.

One was sent by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on behalf of President Barack Obama and the people of the United States. It reads in part "I congratulate the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines as you celebrate 31 years of independence this October 27.Our two nations are united by a shared commitment to advancing democracy and human rights as we work to build a brighter future for all our people."

Clinton's message also stated that "we will continue to strengthen the ties and friendship between our countries as we expand our cooperation on these and many other important initiatives."

But the Gonsalves administration is not only close to the United States, it also has ties to socialist Cuba, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and his link to these leftist countries is posing a big problem with his countrymen.

Since independence in 1979, the multi island state has seen at least five governments. The first was under Milton Cato, who saw his St Vincent Labour Party (SVLP) to independence, winning the first post-independence election in 1979.

Expecting an easy victory for the SVLP in 1984, Cato called early elections. The results were surprising: with a record 89% turnout. James Mitchell's New Democratic Party (NDP) won nine seats in the House of Assembly and, bolstered by a resurgent economy in the mid 1980s, Mitchell led his party to an unprecedented sweep of all 15 House of Assembly seats in the 1989 elections.

The opposition emerged from the election weakened and fragmented, but was able to win three seats during the February 1994 elections under a "unity" coalition.

In 1998, Prime Minister Mitchell and the NDP were returned to power for an unprecedented fourth term, but only with a slim margin of 8 seats to 7 for the United Labour Party (ULP). The NDP was able to accomplish a return to power while receiving a lesser share of the popular vote, approximately 45% to the ULP's 55%.

However, in March 2001, the ULP led by Ralph Gonsalves assumed power after winning 12 of the 15 seats in Parliament.

In December 2005 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Gonsalves and the ULP retained their 12-3 majority over the NDP.

Elections are constitutionally due in March next year -- less than five months away -- and it is a surprising that the politicians have not yet hit the campaign trail because it is reported that the elections would be keen between the incumbent and the New Democratic Party (NDP), which is getting support from former prime minister Sir James Mitchell.

A lot has transpired during the 31 years of independence -- good, bad and indifferent -- but all in all the country has done reasonably well despite criticism. It boasts of an excellent judiciary -- a circuit of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

It is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and its currency, the Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollar, is stable. In fact, the EC dollar cannot be devalued or revalued without the concurrence of the governments of the entire sub-region.

Education is important for any developing country, and one cannot criticize St Vincent and the Grenadines in this department, since the Ralph Gonsalves administration is placing much emphasis in this area.

However, the government has come in for criticism for the high unemployment rate and the escalation of violent crime especially in mainland St Vincent and what makes it worse is that a large number of these crimes are unsolved.

Banana production employs most of the work force, but there is a decline in production, possibly because of the fluctuations in banana prices and reduced European Union trade preferences. This led to disgruntled farmers to turn to illicit agriculture and the rise in marijuana cultivation. The multi island state is now known as the largest marijuana producer in the Eastern Caribbean and it is reported that they even export the weed to other Caribbean islands and further afield.

As the country moves into its 32nd year, I hope that there would be less crime and more employment.

Congratulations, St Vincent and the Grenadines and best wishes in the years ahead.

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