I want to believe that the islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean control their ultimate destinies. Alas, the deeper into history and politics I studied, the more I understood how simplistic this belief was and how much our destinies continue and will continue to be controlled by outside forces.
Our vulnerabilities have been carefully manufactured and are over centuries engrained. They were a part of the construct that propped up the transatlantic trade in Africans and the use of these islands to supply food and valuables to our respective colonial masters. The desire for self-determination and the narrative constructed around it made the people of these islands capable of recreating ourselves once we were given ownership of our resources and the decisions about our futures.
I still believe in our ability to recreate ourselves as people but I flounder in my belief that we will ever be able to unhinge ourselves from our positioning as small, open and vulnerable post-colonial societies and this is just one of the reasons I do not feel any kind of excitement that St Vincent and the Grenadines have secured a seat on the UN Security Council.
I saw one commentator explain his excitement about the victory, especially since it came against the backdrop of the four CARICOM leaders that had seemingly ‘broken ranks’ to meet with Donald Trump. As far as I know and as far as we were told publicly, there was no collective CARICOM effort with respect to the Vincentian Security Council seat. Thus, these actions of the Vincentian Prime Minister are actually not a departure from the break of ranks in the CARICOM shield – it is a continuation.
His choice to secure this seat on the UN Security Council stands to have reverberations and repercussions for all of these islands. That is because although we choose to believe that the world sees us as separate, the former British Colonies associated with the Caribbean Sea represent one homogenous bloc for the rest of the world.
I even feel conflicted about describing the seat on the Security Council as a Vincentian seat. Is it a Vincentian seat or is it Ralph Gonsalves’ seat? One of the dangerous things about an office being associated with a particular singular person for a prolonged period is that the lines of division get blurred. The Office of the Prime Minister, in a first past the post system, is an entity by itself. That entity is merged with a human face and personality once an election is won.
The purpose of the Office of the Prime Minister of any country is to ensure that the affairs of the people of that country are well managed and planned. The purpose of the office holder of prime ministership is broader than just the management of the affairs of the country. It includes preservation of what is a powerful and lucrative office, political plays to ensure the longevity of the political machinery facilitating the ability to run for prime ministership and the personal concerns of the office holder.
Sometimes these efforts can coexist seamlessly but at other times, the needs of the country can get thwarted or overlooked in the quest of the office holder to treat to the political and personal goals. One of the ways to determine whether people think the interest of the country or office holder is being served with a particular decision is, of course, to listen to public sentiment.
The feedback coming out of St. Vincent has been very mixed in relation to the Security Council seat. Many commentators express concern about St Vincent’s economic ability to perform the role on the Council. Still, other Vincentians have concerns about possible fall out for them should St Vincent take unpopular positions on the Council. Many advocates in the women’s space in St Vincent feel a sense of frustration and confusion at the willingness of the UN to seemingly sanction Gonsalves in this manner.
His election comes on the heels of the Yugge Farrell affair. There are arms of the UN system, including UN Women and UNICEF, that provide money to advocates and others seeking to change the way that women and girls are viewed and treated in these islands.
It seems almost an antithesis to have the same UN that provides the funding for such work to also reward Ralph Gonsalves with a seat on the UN Security Council. However, I suppose they felt comfortable enough to do it because of the factors that I opened this article by contemplating. The UN knows that the women in the Caribbean will not come together and cease to accept money because it is a mockery of our work to continue pretending that we do not hear what we hear.
They know that St Vincent has no real military power to rally behind a seat on the Council. On the matter of Venezuela, for example, the optics of having a small Caribbean country fully ventilate its position is pleasing. They know that past the optics, the final decision on what happens to Venezuela may lay very far from what optics portray.
I still hold out hope that we can find the courage and tenacity to define ourselves as a people. However, that definition will have to have collective input. It will not have room for mavericks – whether those mavericks want to see the inside of the White House or hold notions of grandeur well beyond reputation.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.