Dr, The Hon Godwin L. Friday MP
Leader of the Opposition, President of the New Democratic Party
15 March 2022, Dorsetshire Hill
My fellow of Vincentians, good morning to you – wherever you are.
I trust you are well. By the Grace of God, those of you who are here in St Vincent and the Grenadines and those who are overseas in our diaspora, we are sharing, equally, the joy of belonging to this beautiful nation, Yurumein, St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We are also sharing in the hope of better things to come.
How beautiful it was this morning to hear, our national anthem sung in our first national language.
And I too, make the call to have this taught in our schools and become part of our heritage, but also of our day-to-day culture.
This year we celebrate under the theme “Appreciating our identity, preserving our heritage with pride“.
As we all know in the founding of any nation, there are those who make their mark and then become part of our history. They are the freedom fighters. They are builders of businesses and other institutions, the community-spirited men and women who seize every opportunity to serve their neighbors and friends – simply, to make life better for them. Leaders in other walks of life, who forge a path forward, for all of us.
We stand on their shoulders today, even as we too know that we must play our part. As a nation, we have decided to honour, as National Heroes, those who make the greatest contribution to our development.
Paramount Chief, Joseph Chatoyer, is of course, the first and thus far the only one so honored. No one else could have been first. As there is no better example of courage and sacrifice than his.
Remembering our History
Notwithstanding that we are a small nation, our history is rich and complex. It contains many acts of courage and sacrifice that hold our foundation together and inspires us to continue to build upon it. Among the many identities of our people are those who have made their indelible mark in the soil and on the soul of our people, on the character of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We stand today as a proud and independent nation. We know all too well from our history and indeed, from current international events that national sovereignty is not guaranteed.
It is a fragile ideal that is mostly won through struggle and must be defended at every turn. Chatoyer taught us that. In his time, the early struggles and wars fought for freedom were defined by alliances of like-minded people, who knew the value of freedom and cherished it above everything else. People who would never surrender or diminish for expedience or short term gain, a nation’s right to self determination. As we celebrate National Heroes Day today, and look toward the future, it is fitting to remember our history and to invoke the indomitable spirit of Chatoyer. For as the philosopher Santayana said and cautioned so many years ago, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“.
Working Together to Fulfil our Potential
Chatoyer himself called upon us to unite as citizens and as brothers and sisters to build up and protect this land. Today, as we continue the never-ending task of nation-building, we must invoke that same spirit. In short, we must work together to build a country, our country, and to do so in the words and example of Chatoyer as a united people.
Today, we express this, of course, with the common phrase “One people. One nation. One Vincy”.
There is perhaps no better time than Heroes Day to call upon our better angels and together pledge to lift our game for the common good. To transcend mediocrity and limited thinking and aim higher, to consider how we are now and might become, heroes in our own right.
Every day offers us opportunity. It is for us to recognise them, to embrace them and to make them count, to make the most of them.
I believe in the virtue of work and the power of opportunity and strength and noble character of our people. But we must all be passionate about fulfilling our potential and working for a better future. One in which we
are safe, prosperous, and free.
We work together so that everyone can succeed, no matter his or her background or beliefs. And where we never surrender our patrimony or birth right. For to surrender, it would mean that Chatoyer struggled and died in vain. And we know that is not so. That is why we are here today, commemorating his life and sacrifice, and honouring him.
A Time of War
Chatoyer’s proclamation was a call to arms in a time of war.
The sovereignty of the Garifuna people was threatened. It rejected colonialism and its merciless march of conquest and subjugation of free, resilient people.
His struggle has continued in different ways by all forebears, over the centuries since, through the attainment of our Independence in 1979, and in the years that followed. It was a struggle, we know, for freedom and sovereignty. A yearning of people from time immemorial, all over the world.
The lessons from Chatoyer’s time are crucially important today.
Our world is challenged once again with large-scale conflict, this time in Ukraine. The aggression and expansionism this time, is coming from Russia. The conflict is an invasion of a sovereign nation by a powerful aggressor, the largest war in Europe since World War II.
The tragedy unfolds daily inexorably. Many young soldiers on both sides are killed and innocent civilians: women, children, the elderly, and infirm, die in bombed Ukrainian cities or while trying to flee military operation.
But not only those, hospitals, schools, and residences have been shelled and bombed. Every day, the emerging video images show massive devastation and we are told that the worst is yet to come. Because we are more interconnected now than ever before in human history, the tremors of that war are already being felt here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Our nationals serve in the armed forces of NATO countries, the USA and the UK, and will no doubt be called up and positioned in Europe to reassure NATO allies who fear the spreading conflict. The economic fallout also affects us, with higher oil and other commodity prices. We must prepare for it, to help cushion the effects on our people who have already been through what we have heard from previous speakers, so much hardship over the past year.
A war of aggression is a grotesque absurdity, especially in this modern era.
With every moral fibre in our body, both individual and collective, we must denounce it and oppose it. In doing so, we will be upholding our proud legacy and the values we have defended throughout our own history. We will, with freedom-loving people the world over, proclaim and defend the inalienable rights of men and women to be free, wherever they are.
Let us pray for peace in Ukraine and in every part of this world where there is conflict.
As I noted, we have been confronted by many challenges. Over the past year, we have continued to endure the devastation and the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic. One hundred and six persons have died here in St Vincent and the Grenadines and other nationals have died abroad in the USA, in Canada and the UK. I believe all of us know someone who has died of Covid-19.
My sympathy goes out to the families of those who have died. From the outset, I urged that this scourge, unprecedented in our lifetime, will
require us to work together as a united front, against it.
If we are to limit the damage and recover as quickly as possible, that remains the approach we must pursue, all of us. We here commit ourselves to do so in the spirit of Chatoyer. For we are not out of it yet, so we must continue to protect ourselves and others around us. We cannot let it divide us and cause more pain for some, who are made to carry a heavier burden, than the rest of us.
I also cannot stress enough that vaccines are the most powerful tool still in our fight against the virus. They have saved Vincentian lives. But following our brotherhood of free nations and our values, we believe that that is an individual choice.
Living with Covid
As we learn to live with Covid, we must recover from its other devastating impact: the costly loss of livelihoods across our land.
We must build the pillars of our economy by supporting our tourism sector to recover, and by backing our fisherfolk and our farmers, among
As we move towards economic recovery, we must begin to invest in infrastructure that will support growth, long into the future. And we
must attract sustainable investments that are aligned with our goals of creating jobs and growing our economy, of bringing prosperity to our people.
How we recover will determine our trajectory for years come.
It will determine the job opportunities for our nation, especially for our young people, who we cannot afford to lose to other countries with greener pastures. Our brighter future here depends on keeping them here, contributing to development, giving them real opportunities to be heroes in their own way.
We are also recovering, as we have heard, from the eruption of La Soufrière. When the volcano erupted last April, overnight, our lives were turned upside down. Particularly those the communities up North where the traditional communities of the Garifuna people are. Thousands fled their homes seeking refuge in safer zones. As a people, we showed our true, kind, spirit and provided shelter, food and comfort to those who were severely affected.
Our brothers and sisters in the region and in our diaspora, especially in the USA, Canada and the UK, also gave generously. They supported and helped our people to cope with the physical and economic disruption caused in their lives. But the trial is not yet over. The rebuilding of lives, economy
and communities will continue for a long time to come.
But rebuild we must, and with a bigger vision to making those communities more resilient and strong and giving them the pride of place
in our present day as they have been in our history.
And the pace of rebuilding must accelerate so that the life for those persons who were directly affected or most affected can return to normal as soon as possible. That is a commitment we must give to the people of Sandy Bay, Owia, of Chateau, Fitzhughs, and all other communities that were
Our Other Heroes
The purpose of designating national heroes is not only to recognize the outstanding contribution of individuals who are so named. It is also done, I believe, so that we can hold those persons up as outstanding examples for others to follow. They must serve as inspiration for our citizens.
As we were tested by the two disasters recounted earlier, the Covid-19 Pandemic and the volcanic eruption – many people performed heroically. Throughout the pandemic, teachers, nurses, police officers, private sector workers continued to provide service and to do so safely and effectively. They deserve praise and our gratitude. The need for their quiet heroism continues, and we expect them to deliver as they have done.
The same goes for those who were called upon to respond and did respond in a mighty way, when the volcano erupted. They too are in our debt. But, not everyone who has made their mark on this nation gains due recognition for their efforts.
I want to celebrate them here today as well.
There are also many everyday heroes, persons who perform random acts of kindness, expecting nothing in return.
Those who reject cynicism and see value in community service and volunteerism. How much poorer our lives would be without them.
So we must encourage them, and even if only on this day, say thanks and urge them on. For those who value public service and give their lives to it, whatever the cost. They who do so because they know it is noble to serve their people and that service, is its own reward.
In that spirit, I must recall the service and the passing of our great nation-builder, Sir James F. Mitchell, who died during the year past.
He always believed that as a nation we could do great things. That we can punch, so to speak, above our weight. That we had untapped potential. He devoted his life to seeing that realised. May his example of service inspire us to give our best, during our time.
These are all people who are helping to forge our nation in the true Vincy spirit. Today, I salute you all.
We Must Never Sacrifice our Patrimony, our Birthrights
We must recall, however, that in our pursuits and as we push forward as a nation, we must never give up the invaluable birth right that God has given to us.
Decisions on development should always balance benefits with costs to our community and must always involve the people in a meaningful way, in that undertaking.
We are a small nation. Unlike vast nations like the United States and Canada. Every bit of our land is precious. Chatoyer taught us that too. Every bit of our land as precious as it is, as it must not just support us, or our children, but our children’s children and generations well into our future.
We must guard against so called developers and others, who would sellout the future generations of our country, by digging up our
birthright and shipping it overseas for pennies.
In that spirit, we must always guard our patrimony and ensure that it is never squandered for short-term gain. In this, too, our nation requires us to use our voice, our actions, to seek answers where they are needed and to be steadfast in doing so. That is our duty, as heirs of Chatoyer.
Let us Celebrate National Heroes Day Together
In conclusion, we must put in place our plans to recover from the twin disasters and sow the seeds of a better tomorrow.
If we neglect the field today, we will fail to reap the harvest.
As will our young people and generations to come.
It is simply not good enough to sit by and hope that things will improve. We must be the agents of that recovery, and only through a leadership that is truly focused on the development of our people will we see that plan executed and our potential realised.
I know that we are capable of great things. We have seen the promise of this over the past year, in how people responded to disaster.
So let us celebrate National Heroes Day and think about how we can make those great things, of which we are capable, come true.
Don’t leave it up to anyone else to do. And don’t measure what you will do, by watching what little others do. Instead, as the slogan
goes, you “just do it” and give it your all.
May God bless us all, and may He grant us peace.
Have a great and productive National Heroes Day.