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POSITION ON THE WORLD GARIFUNA
Pablo Lambey GarifunaCultural Centre
2nd December, 1999
The Board of Directors of the National Garifuna Council, the Belizean Garifuna Organization, is aware of recent efforts to establish an entity to be called the World Garifuna Organization. The focus of the organizers appears to be to secure reparation for the Garifuna Nation as a result of the travails of the Garifuna People arising from their being deprived of their lands in St. Vincent and their subsequent exile to Central America. Consequent to some statements that have been made, and in order to set the record straight, it has become necessary that I, as President of the National Garifuna Council, put on record the position of the our Organization. This position is based not on emotion but on knowledge that arises from a long involvement in Garifuna issues and Garifunadua?
The NGC is not Opposed to the Establishment of a Multi-Country Garifuna Organization.
The NGC is not opposed to the establishment of a Garifuna organization that looks after the interests of Garifuna people everywhere. How can we be when we have been in the forefront of the effort to reawaken the awareness of our people of themselves as a Nation of people who happen to be scattered over several nation states? In fact, representatives of the NGC were among the proponents of the idea at the Garifuna Summit held at Loyola Mary Mount in California in the summer of 1992. The participants at that Summit concluded from the country presentations that the issues and challenges confronting the Garifuna people in all our countries were the same and that we needed to have the capacity to confront these issues together and to defend the interests of Garifuna people when we see them threatened anywhere.
The consensus at the 1992 Garifuna Summit was that the establishment of a Garifuna Organization in each country was a prerequisite for the establishment of this higher level organization. It was recognized that Belize was prepared since it already had the NGC which at that time was the only Garifuna Organization that was national in scope and recognized as having the capacity to speak for the Garifuna People of the country in which it operated. The delegates from the other countries were therefore tasked to return to their countries and begin the work of forming similar country level organizations. It was also agreed that this would culminate with the establishment of an organization for the Garifuna Nation at another Summit meeting to be held in New York City the following summerhosted by the Garifuna Council of New York whose formation was to be spearheaded by Felix Igemeri Miranda.
Unfortunately, the Summit that was mandated to take place in New York in the summer of 1993 did not materialize because the follow up that was required was poor. The host organization did not do its part and, as far as we are aware, the task of establishing a country level Garifuna organization in each of the other countries has still not been accomplished. While we in Belize continue to wait, the NGC has, in the meantime, forged ahead in the struggle by collaborating with Garifuna people in other countries especially in the preservation and promotion of the Garifuna language. We even hosted the regional meeting that (because of the involvement of other Black people from other countries) resulted in the establishment of the Central American Black Organization (CABO).
The NGC and the Idea of Reparation
Several of the current leaders of the NGC were actively involved in the initiative to get the idea of the Cheuleuhaduwa Garinagu Monument accepted as a symbol memorializing the arrival, survival and prosperity of the Garifuna People everywhere. In fact the current President was a member of the Monument Committee appearing in meetings with teachers and radio programmes for the purpose of explaining Garifuna history and the need for the monument as a symbol for the Garifuna Nation. He was also the guest speaker at the inauguration of the Monument. It was after the inauguration of the Monument, as a result of the review of our true history from our point of view, that the idea of reparation for the wrongs perpetuated against the Garifuna People was first put forward.
The NGC continues to share the view (expressed by the members of the Monument Committee when the idea was first mooted) that reparation ought to be pursued but that it would require a great deal of serious historical and legal work as well as the involvement of Garinagu from all the countries in which Garifuna communities are located. It should not, however, be a task to be undertaken by a few loosely organized persons purporting to act on our behalf. Reparation is a very important issue. Still, it is not the only issue, nor is it the most important issue confronting the Garifuna Nation. Issues such as land rights, marginalization, lack of meaningful involvement in the economic life of our countries, low self esteem and linguistic, and,cultural erosion exacerbated by aneducation that is largely irrelevant are pressing issues that cry out for immediate attention and cannot wait until we secure the wherewithal from reparation from the British.
The NGC Position on the Current Move
The NGC support for a MultiCountry Garifuna organization remains, however; we still hold the position that such an organization must be representative in nature. In other words, it must be democratic in nature, with a structure that requires transparency, ensuring that the will of the people in each country is manifested in the selection of persons who would speak for them in the Organization. This means that there is still a need for a Garifuna organization in each of our countries and that these organizations must be the constituent members of this MultiCountry or World Organization.
The structure of the NGC is instructive. We have branches in each of our communities in Belize and these branches return delegates to the national Board of Directors. These delegates form the core of the Board of Directors and are empowered by our Articles of Association to co-opt other members according to the need for certain areas of specialization. This means that the Board of Directors is representative of our people. In addition, there is an Annual Convention, the highest authority of the NGC, in which members from the various branches come together to receive reports, discuss issues of common interest, and make resolutions that the Board and the Branches are obliged to comply with.
Because of the need for accountability and transparency, the World Garifuna Organization must be structured in a similar fashion. We are not saying that its structure must be identical to the NGC. What we insist upon, however, is that its manifestation in each of our countries must be structured such that the principles of democracy, transparency and accountability are evident in its operation. Furthermore, its manifestation at the level of the Garifuna Nation must be subject to the same principles.
Finally, it must be categorically stated that theNGC cannot be expected to support an attempt to establish another organization in Belize to represent the interests of the Garifuna people of Belize simply because those spearheading this attempt at establishing the WGO are not happy with the present leadership of the NGC. That would obviously be divisive and counterproductive. It is our view that if and when an organization is established at the level of the Garifuna Nation, as seems to be the intent of the WGO, the NGC would have to be the constituent member representing the Belizean portion of the Nation. Any other arrangement would definitely be unacceptable and an insult not only to the leadership of the NGC but also to all Garinagu of Belize.
National Garifuna Council
Pablo Lambey Garifuna Cultural Centre
Joseph R. Flores