St Vincent PM says British policy against Garifuna people in 1790s "genocide"

Had the International Criminal Court existed in 1790s, Britain would have been hauled before the tribunal on genocide charges for the colonisers' massacre of the indigenous Garifuna people and leader Joseph Chatoyer, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on Wednesday [15 March].

"After the death of Chatoyer and the defeat of the Garifunas and the deportation of persons -- and let us not mince words, genocide by the British ... if you had the International Criminal Court then, those fellows would have been dragged before (it)," Gonsalves said Wednesday as he observed National Heroes Day here.

Gonsalves made the remarks at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Obelisk monument at Dorsetshire Hill, in the annual commemoration of National Hero Chatoyer, who is believed to have died there in 1795.

"(The British) killed men, women, and children indiscriminately. And there are many Garifuna and Kalinago, rather than being killed by the British, jumped off from cliffs and went to their watery grave. Even to the last, that was their resistance," he said as he recounted the history of the Garifuna people here.

The Garifuna had descended from Amerindian Kalinago and West Africans who ventured to St Vincent before European settlement. The British referred to them as Black Caribs.

In 1763, the Garifuna inhabited all of St. Vincent, except for a few French settlements on the island's western side. The British had colonised the eastern half of the island and by 1800, five years after Chatoyer -- paramount chief of the Garifuna -- was killed, his people were left with 239 acres of land.

"You understand why Garifuna people remain in that part of the country, historically among the poorest?" he said in reference to north-eastern St. Vincent, where the descendants of the Garifuna remain.

"Some of the same people who wanted to keep the British will blame others in respect of the poverty up there," he said, an apparent reference to his proposed constitutional amendments nearly three years ago, which, had included removing the British monarch as this country's head of state.

The opposition New Democratic Party led a campaign that successfully defeated the amendments in a referendum.

Gonsalves said that the British arrived in 1763, and, except for 1779 to 1783 when the French ruled the country, remained as the colonial power for 216 years until independence in 1979. They only built two secondary schools during that time, he said.

"Can you imagine you own the whole place and people come all the way from England say it belongs to them and don't expect a fight? ... And when I fight for it, you call me 'war-like' when my name, 'Kalinago', meant peaceful," he said.

"They took all the lands and you tell me I must not get reparations?" Gonsalves further stated.

He said Chatoyer's defeat opened the way for the importation of African slaves and the cultivation of sugar here.

In 1766, 35 tonnes of the commodity was produced here but that figure had increased to 1,770 tonnes by 1770. Throughout the following decade, the production hovered about 3,000 tonnes annually, and rose after the defeat of the Garifuna.

Gonsalves noted that the British met 1,300 French inhabitants and 2,700 African slaves already living here. By 1805, at the height of sugar cultivation, there were 16,500 slaves, rising to 18,794 by the time slavery was abolished. He further noted that when the slaves were freed, their owners were compensated.

After Chatoyer's defeat, the Garifuna were shipped to two offshore islands in the Grenadines before their deportation to Central America. Many live along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras and on the island of Roata'n.

Source: Caribbean Media Corporation news agency website, Bridgetown, in English 1845 gmt 15 Mar 12