STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
AT VIRTUAL CEREMONY FOR TERRITORY DAY
MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2020
FIGHT FOR OUR RIGHTS
Good day and God’s blessings to the people of the Virgin Islands. The year 2020 has been a year of many firsts. COVID-19 has forced us to do things in a very creative way; I welcome you to our first Virtual Celebration of Territory Day.
2020 has also been a year of radical change. The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in the United States of America sparked a global movement against racism, where we all declared that Black Lives Matter.
We recently held a march here in solidarity with the millions of persons around the world saying no racism. While we stand in solidarity with others, it is interesting to examine our situation right here in the Virgin Islands, and Territory Day is the perfect time to reflect on our journey from enslavement, colonial neglect and subjugation to our present aspirations for greater autonomy and self-determination.
Territory day has traditionally been a celebration of the Virgin Islands journey from a member of the Federation of the Leeward Islands to a stand-alone colony of the United Kingdom. I submit to you that we should expand our vision to celebrate every victory we have achieved in our journey towards greater autonomy and Self Determination.
Self Determination is the God given right of every people on the planet and enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Allow me to read an excerpt from the UN’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960:
Mindful of the determination proclaimed by the peoples of the world in the Charter of the United Nations to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Conscious of the need for the creation of conditions of stability and well-being and peaceful and friendly relations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of all peoples, and of universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
Recognizing the passionate yearning for freedom in all dependent peoples and the decisive role of such peoples in the attainment of their independence…”
The resolution continues along these lines and then declares a number of things including,
“1. The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.
2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
3. Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.”
Bob Marley has a line in his mega hit “Zimbabwe” that always resonates with me: “Every man has the right to decide his own destiny, and in this judgement there is no partiality.” Bob Marley goes on to sing, “What are your rights, your rights, your rights, your rights, YOUR SOUL RIGHTS. We got to fight, we got to fight, we got to fight, Fight for our rights.”
Virgin Islands, I declare to you on this Territory day that we have rights. On this day, Virgin Islands I submit to you that we must continue the fight to achieve our greatest potential as a people.
Seventy years ago, our legislative council was restored, which was the result of the application of political pressure by Theodolf Faulkner, Glanny Fonseca, and Carlton Decastro, who led the Great March of 1949. This was us asserting our rights. This was a huge part of our fight for our right to determine our own destiny.
This restoration gave us leaders who advanced our interests as a Territory in a way that a foreign entity never could. You see to lead people, you have to be a part of the people. You must understand their problems, aspirations and desires; you must eat and drink with them; you must attend their social gatherings, laugh and cry with them; in summary to lead the people, you must be of the people.
With our own leaders having a measure of control, we made great progress. We formulated policies, passed laws, initiated programmes, built institutions, developed our infrastructure, created and improved systems, and prospered our people.
This task was nothing short of amazing. We were forcibly taken from our home in Africa, where a slave economy was imposed on us. When that brutal institution and economy collapsed, we were left here to figure out our own survival. We, by and large, fishers and farmers, from a small Territory in the world, with little support from our administrating power, had to figure this out mainly on our own. I think we did a marvelous job! We were not perfect. We made mistakes along the way. But given the circumstances we have been faced with, we should always be praised for the strides we made on our journey.
This year we celebrate our Chief Ministers and Premiers because the biggest fear that persons have when it comes gained more autonomy is leadership. We want our leaders to be competent, to represent our best interests, to be responsive, to be intelligent, to be articulate, to be honest, responsible, and to be visionaries.
Our advancements as a Territory cannot be divorced from the quality of our leadership, and if we are to advance as a Territory, we must recognize that we have the capacity to lead ourselves. There are individuals within our society who have the capacity to take us to greater heights than any foreign entity could. We must unite and agree that we are better off with our own leaders than any which have been imposed on us. This is regardless of whether that leader is vip, ndp, ccm, ppa, pvim, pep or any other group.
Yes we have our disagreeements as a people; yes we criticisms; yes we have made mistakes, but like any other people on the planet, we have elections; we have a democratic process to help us to perfect our imperfections. And yes we must recognize that every people on the planet, from the largest nation to the smallest dependency has challenges, problems, persons in the population who are not pleased. We are no different. We are equal to all other in humanity with the same capacity for right and wrong.
People of the Virgin Islands, now is the time to press forward for constitutional advancement. Now is not the time for doubt and stagnation. We have been on a long journey since our enslavement on these shores. We have been on a long 70 year legislative journey. Now is not the time to give ground, to concede progress, to relax our ambitions. Now is the time to assert our rights. As Bob Marley sang, “We got to fight; we got to fight; we got to fight. Fight for our rights.” Happy Territory day!