The people of North Leeward continue to be disregarded and disrespected by the government of the day, led by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and businessman Rayneau Gajadhar out of St.Lucia. This disrespect comes in the form of a 58.8 acres land lease to Rayneau for 30 years of quarrying for stone. I refer to such a deal as a disrespect to the people of North Leeward because of the following reasons:
The lack of public consultation before and during the quarry operations which are ongoing even though it has been met with opposition by the people of North Leeward.
The cultural and heritage significance of the 58.8 acres of lands to the indigenous people (Garifuna) of North Leeward and the Garifuna brothers and sisters all over the world.
Firstly, for Rayneau to unknowingly move into Richmond with tractors, trucks and excavators to begin preparatory works on the quarry is disrespect of the highest level to the people of North Leeward. Such a movement of man and machines into the Richmond area like thieves in the night paints a picture of our colonial history. Rayneau and his machines moved swiftly and began destroying farmlands and produce with no regards to the people of North Leeward. Farmers showed up to toil the soil one day, only to be faced with the destruction of their lands and produce by Rayneau and his machinery. Such destructions are still being carried out up to this day, and the people of North Leeward are still not consulted by the government about the project.
Embarrassingly, the first session that was held knowingly to the public, in regards to the quarry came almost a week after tractors belonging to Rayneau began ploughing the land between Fitz Hughes and Richmond. At this time, the disrespect had already escalated given the extent of damages that were done to farmers and their lands. In the words of well know Jamaican singer Anthony B “the damage is already done”. The lack of respect for the people of North Leeward grew even more once the session at the Chateaubelair Primary School was held on Monday February 2nd 2022. At the session, Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Carlos James said that a public meeting wasn’t held with constituents because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This excuse is very absurd, because this same meeting at which he made such a statement was being held during our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. It was held with COVID-19 protocols being followed. This shows that the same could have been done if the government of SVG had any true intentions on consulting the people of North Leeward on the quarrying project. Contrary to Mr. James’s comment about COVID-19 is the comment made at this same meeting by Minster of Agriculture Saboto Caesar. In the words of Caesar “no meeting could have been held sooner because the technical work by public servants had not been completed”. Comments like these begs the question, “Which group of stakeholders should have been consulted first about the quarrying project?” Such actions and inactions by the government continue to show that the people of North Leeward were not at the forefront of the agreement with Rayneau. Also, I wonder, had Kenton Chance of IWitness News not broke the news to the public, would there have been any form of consideration for the people of North Leeward by the government and Rayneau.
Further embarrassment and disrespect to the people of North Leeward surfaced when MP Carlos James went to bed with other stakeholders about the quarry instead of his constituents. Carlos James, in agreement to the quarry and Rayneau’s modus operandi stated “I left St. Vincent, paid my own passage. Traveled to St. Lucia, to visit Rayneau’s quarrying site”. All of this was done in the interest of Rayneau and the government overlooking and disrespecting the people of North Leeward, Carlos’s constituents. What is even more embarrassing is that he did all of this and still did not and has not sit and consult his constituents even up to today. What followed after this meeting at the Chateaubelair Primary School was a visit from the Honorable Ralph E. Gonsalves to the quarrying sight. During this visit he came bearing gifts and promises as he is accustomed. He spoke glowingly about compensation to the farmers that were rudely disrespected. It is my belief that for the Prime Minister money fixes everything. What still baffles me about this visit is the fact that the prime minister, Carlos James and Julian Francis did not see it fit to utter one word of apology to the farmers who were disrespected by their actions. Instead, the Prime Minister, choose to insult the ignorance, intelligence and the indigence of the farmers and by extension the people of North Leeward with promises. In the words of Dr. Friday, Leader of the opposition party “the reason why they (government and Rayneau) did not consult with the people of North Leeward is because they either felt that they didn’t have to, or because they don’t care what the people think”.
Secondly, the 58.8 acres of land leased to Rayneau for quarrying holds significant cultural and heritage importance to the indigenous people (Garifuna) of North Leeward and the Garifuna brothers and sisters worldwide. Highlighted in Adrian Fraser’s book entitled “Chatoyer (Chatawae) National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is the historical account that states that “In the 1700 French Commissariat Robert testified that the Black Caribs lived on the Windward coast that was difficult to land ships and the Leeward coast (Richmond included) was occupied by the Indigenous Caribs.” It also states that “the topography of St.Vincent created problems. Sugar needed a large expanse of flat land, suitable for the cultivation of sugar.” Such suitable lands were actually in the Northern part of the country (Richmond included) and were occupied by the Caribs. The efforts by the British to acquire and gain access to these lands on the Leeward coast led to final confrontation between the British and the Caribs (Chatoyer Paramount Chief).
Historical accounts like these by Mr. Fraser and the HISTORIACL TREATY SIGNED ON THE 17TH FEBRUARY,1773 BETWEEN THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND THE BRITISH MONARCHY paints greater significance to the lands in the North of SVG and their significance to the Indigenous people. Chatoyer’s significance to SVG in my opinion was borne out of the treaty mentioned above. This is the treaty that legitimized the hold of the indigenous people to the lands. Article 4 of the 1773 treaty states “A portion of lands hereafter mentioned, shall be allotted for the residence of the Charaibes, viz from the river Byrea to Port Espagniol on the one side, and from the river Analibou to Point Espagniol on the other side according to lines to be drawn by his Majesty’s surveyors, from the sources of the rivers to the tops of the montains, the rest of the lands, formerly inhabited by Charaibes, for the future to belong entirely to his Majesty”. This article of the treaty signifies that Chatoyer and other Carib chiefs were significantly involved with the splitting of the lands. Until I am exposed to more information in regards to the significance of Chatoyer and his role/s in helping SVG to become an independent nation, I am of the opinion that the 1773 treaty is the one that acts as our title deed to the lands of our ancestors. This treaty solidifies our indigenous rights and will be of grave consequences to our rulers and modern-day colonizers if we are taught about it in school.
In conclusion, the 58.8 acres of lands that are leased to Rayneau for quarrying in the Northern part of the island are lands that our ancestors fought long and hard against the Europeans to protect for us. These are sacred lands, enriched with heritage and historical significance to us as an indigenous people. These are some of the most arable lands in the country, as is mentioned in Dr. Fraser’s book. These lands are taken away from farmers for destruction. I must ask this question, Mr. Prime Minister, how can you put forward the narrative for reparations, but allow rich, fertile lands to be taken from the indigenous people of this country? We as indigenous people need access and rights to our lands and not just money from reparations. We need our sacred lands for agriculture and heritage preservation. In these lands are the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors. They never surrendered these lands easily and are not happy that these lands are now taken away from us for destruction. Mr. Ralph Gonsalves, you are now our modern-day masa. Actions like these make you successful in making the past still being present. Mr. Prime Minister you are a colonial predator who continues to prey on the ignorance of the indigenous people of this country. Mr. Prime Minister I do not think that you have the moral authority to speak anymore about our independence. You do not have the moral authority to speak anymore for the indigenous people of St. Vincent and more so the fight for reparations. Because of your disrespect and disregard for the first natives of this island I beg that you cease from speaking on the issue of reparations and your love for poor people.
Proud Son of the Soil.