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Prime Minister's Speech at the Handing Over of Pigeon Island to St. Lucia - August 1, 2000

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Speech at the change of ownership of the Pigeon Island National Landmark 1st August 2000 by Prime Minister, Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony

Today we celebrate both Emancipation Day and the Abolition of Slavery – it is the one hundredth and sixty-sixth anniversary of the day on which our forefathers gained their formal liberty after one hundred and thirty (130) years of slavery. Although it was not recognized at the time, for master as well as for slave, that day brought emancipation for all because it marked the beginning of the period when Caribbean men and women could proceed with the building of a society of free persons, equal before the law and masters of their own destiny.

Emancipation Day was for us what the end of Apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela was for South Africa in their historical moment. All South Africans, black as well as white, all conscious and progressive people of the world understood well the transcendental possibilities of that moment. The end of Apartheid was not simply freedom for the Black person – it opened the possibility of liberating white minds from an oppressive ideology. It was not simply dignity for the Black but equal respect for all races and a rainbow of opportunity for all.

Yes, sisters and brothers – the end of oppression for any people opens up new avenues of freedom for all people. The restoration of dignity to the slave brought humanity back to the master; the end of subjugation of one people is the beginning of freedom for all. That is why we the children of the plantation must always mark this Emancipation Day.

Look how far we West Indians and St. Lucians have come in these one hundred and sixty six years! From slave and plantation society to free and independent nation. From the governance of the whip to the universal suffrage of all. From fragmented and brutal economies we have created peaceful and democratic nations. From racial subordination we have fashioned tolerance. From diversity we have forged unity. And so, sisters and brothers it is fitting that as we recognize and celebrate these achievements we undertake the important ceremony of restoring the ownership of Pigeon Island National Landmark to the national patrimony.

There is a tremendous historical significance in this act because the return of ownership represents the consolidation of sovereignty. This has been a lonely struggle. There were many who disbelieved. There were those who sought to misrepresent the reality that this vital historical site, this necessary social location did not – inspite of all appearances belong to St. Lucians. And there were those, who inspite of knowing better were initially reluctant to speak up on the side of truth.

Difference between a Lease and a Deed

There is a vast difference between a lease and a deed. There is a world of social difference between a landlord and a tenant. Only those suffering from a particular type of historical amnesia could argue that it does not matter if you are a tenant in a house that should have been your own. However large or however small the rent paid, a rental sum represents the recognition of right of ownership by another.

Yes, Pigeon Island National Landmark was preserved as a national historical site. Yes, it was preserved for succeeding generations but it was leased to the National Trust, not by government, but by CLICO and CDC. And the terms of that lease obligated the National Trust to do nothing without the consent and approval of its owners.

You will recall that in 1982, the Mighty Gabby of Barbados penned the famous Calypso "Jack" against the alleged plans of the Bajan administration at the time to allow significant control of Bajan beaches by foreign interests.

Jack doan want me to bathe on my beach

Jack tell dem to keep me outa reach

That cyan happen here in dis country

Tell Jack Gabby say dat de beach belong to we

The Might Gabby in these verses expressed a sentiment universal to all the peoples of our Caribbean. Gabby was asserting that the beaches are for the enjoyment of all, local as well as outsider; national as well as tourist.

From tenant to landlord

Today on this anniversary of Emancipation, we move from tenants to landlords. Today we tear the lease and sign the deed. Today Pigeon Island comprising forty-four (44) acres in extent and the ten (10) acres of accompanying beachfront changes status from private property set aside for public use to public property reserved in perpetuity.

A consistent approach to ownership

This approach of making St. Lucians owners in their own country is an important principle that this government seeks to make a reality. We are doing so today in the transfer of ownership of Pigeon Island; we are doing so at the level of individual landless St. Lucians through the PROUD Program and the thrust in housing that seeks to eliminate squatter communities and create owners. It is not enough to have one person one vote – the ultimate expression of democracy is ownership. Every St. Lucian must ultimately own a piece of his or her country. Economic citizenship extends the commitment of constitutional citizenship and the degree of participation is very different when one is an owner and not a tenant.

St. Lucians today can say like the Caribbean poet Nicholas Guillen that we, only yesterday with nothing and today with everything have the pleasure of walking this country, the owner of much that there is in it. We have that in having the land we have the sea from beach to beach and wave on wave, gigantic, open and democratic.

Special Recognition

I need to place on record the profound appreciation of the government and people of St. Lucia to CLICO and CDC for their cooperation, their generosity and their far-sightedness is readily agreeing to hand-over title of this land to the people of St. Lucia. These companies have acted with the highest degree of social responsibility and corporate goodwill in agreeing to this transfer of ownership. I would also want to place on record the appreciation of the people of St. Lucia to the St. Lucia National Trust and to persons such as Maria Grech, Robert Devaux, Julian Hunte, the late Gabriel Coco Charles, Pat Charles and members of the Archeological and Historical Society whose commitment and visionary patriotism initiated the approaches to a former administration to ensure that Pigeon Island was leased to the National Trust rather than turned into an upscale residential community as was the original intention of its foreign owners. Successive generations of St. Lucians will remember their resourcefulness in guaranteeing the preservation of this historical and social landmark. As the great Guyanese poet Martin Carter asserted in one of his poems "What the leaves hear is not what the roots ask". When one day in the future a St. Lucian child will ask "who was responsible for making sure that this great patrimony remained truly ours?", the answer ought to be engraved on a plaque listing the names of these historical visionaries: Maria Grech, Robert Devaux, Julian Hunte, Gabriel Charles, Pat Charles and members of the Archeological and Historical Society. It was their encyclopedic knowledge of the past that laid the basis for today’s preservation for the future. It is our hope too that others will stand with their courage in the future to do for later generations what they have done for us and our children.

Ours to Care

Mamai Sent Lisi, Pigeon Island National Landmark and the buffer of 10 acres of prime beachfront is from today ours to enjoy, ours to maintain for our children and their children’s children. And as we take possession of it, let us always remember the words of the Chief and Warrior Joseph of the Nez Percé Indians who said:

"But I do know that you ask us to sell the land

but the land is not ours to sell

we are the land’s; the land is not ours

And I know that the Earth is our Mother

And we cannot sell our Mother"

This beautiful tropical land of ours is a gift of God placed in our care for future generations. This history of pain that we have emerged from was the fire from which our resilience as a people was forged. Let us care for and preserve this patrimony, as both the art of memory which is history and the respect of the Earth which is environment are the keys to our sustainable future.


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