St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves made it clear on Saturday that the citizenship of his country is not for sale.
“I’m very happy to be here with you on this ‘Meet and Greet,’” said Gonsalves at a town hall meeting, dubbed “Re-Engaging the Vincentian Diaspora in a Post-COVID, Post-Eruption Era,” at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn. “COVID and eruptions prevented us from meeting together.
“What binds us together is the highest office in the land – that of citizenship,” said the Vincentian leader after swaying to “I’m Alive”. We have rights, and we have obligations. Whatever our differences in this elemental joinder, this is our bond. And, therefore, I will never sell our citizenship.
“The citizenship of our country is not for sale,” stressed the prime minister, who, earlier on Saturday, addressed the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Debate. “Similarly, the passport is not for sale. And anybody who wants to sell passports for citizenship, they will sell anything.
“We believe in hard work,” he added. If you can put citizenship and passports on the market, you can put anything on the market. We sell millions of dollars for you to have a decent passport.
It was not clear what prompted Dr. Gonsalves’ remarks, but he seemed to be taking a jab at the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which, reportedly, is not entirely opposed to the “Citizen by Investment” program that some Caribbean countries, such as Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis, adopted.
In his 90-minute presentation, during the “Dialogue”, organized the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York, under the auspices of the Consulate General in New York, Prime Minister Gonsalves also spoke on a wide range of topics — from the increasing number of women in high offices overseas and at home, to the challenges a home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of last year’s volcanic eruptions, to the state of the economy, to the government’s current and future.
“Over the last two years, we had some real challenges and 22 eruptions last April; July 2, Hurricane Elsa; February this year, the hostilities opened between Russia and Ukraine,” he said. “In 2020, we did not close down (the country). In the Caribbean, except Guyana, the economies contracted.
“In the first part of 2021, we were doing ok,” he added. “We were doing a lot of things in the second half of 2021. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) estimates 5 percent growth next year; 6 percent in 2024; 4.8 percent in 2025; and 3.5 percent in 2026.
“Between the current period and the next three years, we have EC$3 ½ billion in capital projects (including construction of a modern port to the tune of $650 million), the prime minister continued.
Among other projects are: The Sandals and Peter’s Hope Resorts; Marriott Hotel; new hospital at the former ET Joshua Airport; new secondary school at Orange Hill; sea defense at Sandy Bay; and repair of about 1,200 houses.
“Now, we have a lot of challenges, but read the book, you’ll see the plan,” said Dr. Gonsalves, referring to his new book, “A Time of Respair: Beyond COVID, Volcanic Eruptions, Hurricane Elsa and Global Turmoil – From Hope for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Before departing, the Vincentian leader signed some books, but others were distributed among attendees.
“We’re not a people of lamentations,” he said, referring to the Book of Lamentations in the Bible. “It talks of the struggles of the Jewish people, but it addresses hope.”
During the program, new Minister of Foreign Affairs Keisal Peters made her maiden address to the Vincentian Disapora, identifying what she described as “two strategic priorities”: Continuation of “robust” public diplomacy program and deepening trade in Metropolitan cities.
“In one of our meetings, I did indicate that we have to reach out to the Diaspora more,” she said. “In the last week, we have been involved in meetings (in New York).
“We were advocating on issues such as climate change; we have been advocating for access for financing; we have been advocating for issues of food security,” Peters added. “The membership of the United Nations, almost all issues highlighted the issues St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been facing.
“As to the Regional Integration Unit, the government is very serious with partnership with the Diaspora,” she continued. “You have my pledge of the engagement with you here in New York and the rest of the Diaspora, because we want to engage with the Diaspora.
“I take the opportunity to say to you, members of the Diaspora, for mobilizing when St. Vincent and the Grenadines needs you most,” Peters said. “I want to thank you, on behalf of myself, on behalf of Cabinet, on behalf of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I know no matter our political differences, I want you to rally together. I want to thank you for the betterment of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Among diplomats at the town hall were Ambassador to the United States Lou-Ann Gilchrist, Ambassador to the United Nations I. Rhonda King and Consul General Rondy McIntosh.
Near meeting’s end, organizers presented “Token of Appreciation” to, among others, Peters; Gilchrist; King; and Eloise Gonsalves, the prime minister’s wife. The Gonsalves’ son, Storm, accepted on behalf of Mrs. Gonsalves.