The Grenada Referendum 2016 in Retrospect

by Keith Williams

Now that the referendum has come and gone, the time for some serious reflection on exactly what might have gone right or wrong just cannot be treated with too much urgency. Depending on where one stands on the political spectrum, the merits of the 7 bills would be weighed to suit. But whether we like the results or not, the overwhelming vote for the no side must be regarded as having provided much food for thought.

This writer makes no pretence as to having any exact explanation for why the 32,000 persons who went to the polls chose to vote the way they did. The writer is even less inclined to hazard a guess as to why the other more than two-thirds of the registered voters refused to participate in what Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell touted as one of the most significant historical events in the lives of Grenadians for centuries past and to come.

Be that as it may, what seems to matter most at this point in time is that the referendum result clearly reflects the will of the Grenadian people. While many commentators and talk show hosts have been reticent in the view that the result demonstrates a certain level of political naivety on the part of the Grenadian people, a sober and less partisan analysis of the numbers seems to tell the story of an electorate having a certain degree of political astuteness which should be the envy of the world.

For starters, the low turnout could and should be regarded as a clear message to the local politicians, that the Grenadian people are far more cognizant of their priorities than might otherwise be believed. Even if all of the 7 bills had got the consent of the populace, it is hard to see how they might have helped to put bread and butter on the table of the average Grenadian. And so with the unemployment rate in the country been in the upper 30s, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that the poor turn out on referendum day was more of a protest against the government’s lopsided priorities than an indication of the waning of the revolutionary spirit of Grenadians.

There is a certain segment of our society that seems to relish in propagating the notion that the Grenadian people have lost a golden opportunity at constitutional reform, and that such an opportunity might never present itself again for many generations. But as the saying goes, “it is better to be safe than sorry,” and although the same might be said of any of the 7 bills tabled in the referendum, the issue of the change of the Name of the State warrants particular attention.

A lot has been said about why the names of the sister islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique should be added to the name of the state and be prominently displayed on the passport. The argument goes that our immediate neighbours to the north and south should enlighten us on the logic of such a move. What is often ignored in the case of our neighbours to the south, however, is the fact that Tobago had existed as a separate colony, and was joined to Trinidad in 1889 only when the British found it economically expedient to do so.

As far back as the formation of the West Indies Federation in 1958, the archipelago lying between St Vincent to the north and Grenada to the south was apportioned between the two mainland islands. Thus, the island of Petit St Vincent and all of the islands lying to the north were to be administered by St Vincent, while all of the islands, including but not limited to Carriacou and Petite Martinique, lying south of Petit St Vincent were accorded the status of dependencies of Grenada.

Exactly what the term dependency means in the case of the relationship between the island of Grenada and the many other islands constituting the State of Grenada, might be one of those nebulous concepts which might be determined only when certain smarty pants attorneys in one of the islands finds it expedient to attempt to test the parameters of the concept, in one of the forums of the United Nations having jurisdiction over secessionist matters.

What cannot be disputed at this particular juncture, however, is that a kind of symbiotic relationship has been existing between the mainland of Grenada and Carriacou and Petite Martinique for as long as anyone can remember.

Case in point. During the 42 years since gaining its independence, the State of Grenada has had 6 prime ministers. 4 of those gentlemen were born on the mainland, while 2 of them were born in the sister island of Carriacou.

The fact that Carriacou and Petite Martinique, which constitute less than one-tenth of the area of the state, with less than one-twentieth of the total population, have produced one-third of the men filling the second highest office in the state must, therefore, be regarded as clear evidence that the kind of parochialism which had hounded President Barack Obama in the form of the ‘birther’ issue, does not stand a chance of gaining any currency in the polity of the tiny state.

Given such kinds of historical reality, the only conclusion that could be drawn from the current hullabaloo over the change in the name of the state from Grenada to the tri-island state of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, is that there exists a minority segment of the Grenadian community that is unable to come to terms with the fact that the term Grenada could be used both as the name of one of the islands comprising the state, and the name of all of the islands constituting the state.

One has only to pause and reflect on the kind of bifurcation; nay; trifurcation, that could result from the practice of identifying the Grenadian people solely on the basis of the island on which they live or happened to have been be born. Engaging in such kinds of narrow-mindedness could only lead to the kind of despair expressed by Mr Andre Donald of Radio Real FM, who quipped on the morning following the referendum, that the only way of interpreting the refusal of the voters to consent to the bill with respect to the name change, was that the Grenadian people did not want to identify with the people of Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

The nuances inherent in the trend, to create a kind of artificially pluralistic distinction in the identity of the Grenadian people, becomes even more troubling when they find expression in the words of the Prime Minister himself. In the press conference held the week following the referendum, Dr Mitchell alluded to a probable distinction between Grenadians, Carriacounians and Petite Martiniquans, in an off-the-cuff insinuation that the people of the sister isles were the big losers, since they were not given the name change which they so badly wanted.

As the numbers clearly show, however, many residents in Carriacou and Petite Martinique voted against the bill to change the name of the state, and many resident in the mainland supported the bill. And this must be regarded a testament to the fact that Grenadians on the mainland and on the sister isles are fervent in their view that the state of Grenada should remain as one contiguous state, stretching from the northernmost tip of Petite Martinique to the southernmost tip of the islands off the south of the mainland; including all of the portions of the Caribbean Sea lying in between and in full compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea.

Grenadians may one day be given another opportunity to decide whether or not they would prefer to continue being identified as belonging to a single state comprising of several islands, or whether they would prefer to jump on the “monkey see, monkey do” bandwagon and be tagged by the name of the particular islet on which they happened to have been born or currently reside.

In this day and age of modern technology, everyone seems to derive a strange kind of satisfaction from changing things just for the sake of being in the latest fashion. But while change might be a good thing, changing things merely for the sake of doing so, often amounts to nothing, and in the final analysis it becomes necessary to admit that the more things change, the more they remain the same.  A word to the wise is enough and so with respect to the matter of changing the name of the state, the word is simply that “if the roof isn’t leaking, don’t fix it”.

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