4 Jan 2014

Saint Vincent storm: why the Commonwealth should care

Not many of us any longer know or care much about the Commonwealth, until a conference or scandal hits the news. But the latest devastating storm in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent poses a question – what is this ‘family’ of former British colonies doing to help?

From my trip there yesterday to inspect the damage, I’d say little or nothing. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines had heard little or nothing from his Commonwealth brothers and sisters. Even though Canada, for example,  sports the largest population of St Vincent nationals who now live beyond the island of their birth. 



St Vincent needs immediate cash and technical personnel to get them through the period before the international agencies like the Commonwealth Development Bank kick in with long term reconstruction funding.

Truth to tell, this disaster in the Eastern Caribbean, which has also affected St Lucia, has exposed Britain’s neglect of  an area of former UK colonies, and current Commonwealth countries, that are among the poorest in the world.

But go further north to Jamaica, and there’s a big policy shift – Britain has a huge presence in Jamaica. So what are our taxes being spent on there? A hugely expensive project to build a vast prison to house Jamaican prisoners – some of whom are in UK jails. However, most of these cannot be extradited because they hold UK citizenship. The project is seen by many in this region as a cynical and expensive white elephant.

Taiwan, China step in where Britain has pulled back

The tragedy is that whilst we have turned our backs on these islands with whom we enjoy historic relations and many of whose sons and daughters live and work among us in Britain, governments here have had to turn to others. Whose is the largest embassy in St Vincent? Taiwan. Why? because of its need to hoover up third-world votes to protect itself from China at the United Nations.

Indeed the Caribbean is roughly split between Chinese and Taiwanese influence. Taiwan has indeed invested here – it is helping to build an international airport. But it is strange that so English a place as St Vincent should be left by the British to trade its votes in order to survive.

The island has had to turn to Iran, Argentina, and Venezuela to make good the cold shoulder from both the Commonwealth and the UK government.

The Christmas storm disaster that killed 13 here and robbed the country of 10 per cent of its fertile land, provides a great opportunity for Britain and the Commonwealth to demonstrate that they still care, and that indeed we would like to renew and sustain our friendship.

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19 reader comments

  1. David Wainwright says:

    Strange how this catastrophic storm has barely made a headline in the UK, a friend of mines mother is there at the moment and the first I heard of it was this morning from him .

  2. eric shaw says:

    Many thanks, Jon, for pointing out the plight of a struggling country whose delightful people have suffered greatly. The U.S.A. also has many Vincentians and would be better served by helping St. Vincent and the Grenadienes recover rather than ignoring the country because it is friendly with Cuba.

  3. Buki says:

    Excellent work! Keep on writing until the UK government pulls it’s finger out. They have a responsibility to it’s former colonies; St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica these three islands were affected by the Christmas flooding. Perhaps covering this on your 7pm news in the week and inviting a member if parliament to comment on AID may help. There is team of Vincentian volunteers here ready to go home to work but need help with flights too. Perhaps the airlines that make thousands of £s annually from Vincentians and Vincy tourists alike would donate flights. It is the responsibility of the haves to help the have nots, though that almost never seems to be case in ‘Great’ Britain

    1. Deirdre says:

      Hi . I read your comment about the vincentian going back home to volunteer if you have anymore info about how to sign up for the volunteer work please please keep me posted as i would love to offer my help. Many thanks Deidre

  4. Anne says:

    I was very surprised that ST VIncent had very little coverage from the British press. I am a VIncentian myself and I was very moved by by news of this storm. I managed to get an insight into what had happened, because I had joined a group on face book. My sister has a husband and son there and she was very concerned. I even tried to find information on people volunteering to go and help, but sad, there was nothing on line. My son who is unemployed was very wiling to go and help, but in this day and age there was no information on line. How sad. If anyone can provide me with info we would be great foul. Anne

    1. Joan says:

      Anne, Here is some info which you might find helpful:

      Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.

      Christmas Storm Appeal – update
      January 2014 – e-bulletin

      Dear Nationals and Friends of St Vincent and the Grenadines,

      You may be aware that a storm has caused severe damage to St Vincent and the Grenadines. Lives have been lost and there is considerable damage to land, property, roads and other infrastructure.

      In the circumstances, we desperately need your help. We need help for the families who have been affected by the storm. Therefore we are asking all Nationals and Friends to make a donation of funds to assist those in need. It does not matter how small your donation may be because every little will help. Your donation can be paid into the following HSBC account.
      National Committee of SVG Associations
      Account Number: 32458187
      Sort Code: 40 18 17
      or the following High Commission’s Barclays Account.
      Name of Account: High Commission for St Vincent and the Grenadines
      Account No: 50131326
      Bank Code: 20 47 34
      IBAN: GB53 BARC204734 50131326

      Alternatively, cheques can be sent to the High Commission made payable to ‘High Commission for St Vincent and the Grenadines.’ Please write on the reverese of the cheque, ‘Disaster’.

      Please be assured that the Mission will ensure that your donations will be sent to National Emergency Management Organization in St Vincent and the Grenadines (NEMO).

      Your help would be greatly appreciated by those who are in need. Please give generously.

      With regard to sending donations of clothing, non perishable foods and other items we are pleased to inform nationals and friends that Winfresh (UK) has arranged for the Geest Line to receive donations for free freight to SVG.

      Boxes/barrels must be addressed to NEMO, National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), Office of the Prime Minister, Old Montrose, KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Please note consignments to named individual or companies will not be taken freight free. The consignment must be addressed to NEMO.

      As far as practicable, please indicate details of the contents on a sheet of paper and attach it to the box/barrels etc. There is no need to detail individual items. If for example, the items in a box is tins of food, simply place on the sheet ‘tins of food’ We have prepared Shipment labels please contact us if you require any.

      Further we are very pleased to advise that Mr Harvey Job has kindly agreed to assist in taking items addressed to NEMO free of charge to the Geest Line in Portsmouth from his base in High Wycombe. A shipment will depart next week and items which are delivered to Harvey by 15:30 Sunday 5th January at HJ Shipping at 76 Lincoln Road, Cressex Business Park, High Wycombe, HP12 3RH will be included in that shipment. We hope to organize a further freight free shipment for items sent to NEMO. Harvey has advised that he will provide the free transport to Portsmouth again. Please ensure you send good quality items, and that the box is secure and addressed as stated above. Harvey is also offering to send items to individuals at a discounted rate. However, if the sender is to benefit from the discounted rate he/she must donate a consignment addressed to NEMO. Call Harvey for further information on 0149 444 6620 or 07792 224590.

      You can also take your consignments directly to Geest the details are as follows:
      The opening hours for receiving of goods at Portsmouth from individuals is 08:00-16:00 hrs, Mon-Fri. There is no reception on Saturday or Sunday.

      Delivery Address:-
      C/O MMD Shipping Services Ltd
      Main Gate, Prospect Road
      PO2 7SP

      If you have any queries on this please contact Mrs Carolin de Freitas-Sawh on 020 7460 2588 at the High Commission.

      Thank you all

      Cenio E. Lewis
      High Commissioner.


      Maintenance Department
      rechargeable flash lights
      rechargeable flash lights
      batteries AAA
      batteries AA
      batteries C
      batteries D
      Dust mask
      heavy duty gloves
      domestic gloves
      wheel barrow
      water hose
      metal storage shelves
      water storage containers
      Water boots
      rain coats

      Recommended Daily Food Supplies for 1,000 persons
      Milk – (1 Ltr) Boxes
      Corned Beef –Cans
      Vienna Sausage –Cans
      Tuna –Cans
      Sardines –Cans
      Box Juices – (250ml)
      Vegetables canned –cans
      Peas canned –cans
      Rice – lbs
      Macroni – (12 oz
      Dried Peas
      Biscuits (Crix) – pks
      Sweet Biscuits
      Cocoa Powder – cans
      Tea Bags
      Cooking Oil
      Bottle Seasoning
      Corn Flakes other ready to eat cereals

      Miscellaneous Items
      Garbage bags
      Disposable Plates
      Disposable Spoons
      Disposable Forks
      Paper Towels
      Paper Napkins
      Soaps (bathing)
      Liquid soap
      Hand Sanitizers
      Sanitary Napkins
      Disposable Baby Diapers (Assorted Sizes)
      Adult Diapers (Assorted Sizes)
      Cleaning Agent

      You are receiving this email becasue your details have been sourced from The High Commission’s database.

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      Our mailing address is:

      High Commission for St Vincent and the Grenadines

      10 Kensington Court

  5. Amanda says:

    Hi Jon, the views expressed in this article mirror that of the sentiments held by the Vincentian population. I note from your previous article dated 3rd January 2014 that you estimate the equivalent death toll in St Vincent would be approximately 6000 people in Britain’s population.

    I would draw comparison to the recent typhoon in the Philippines where the death toll has reached 6166. I have noticed multiple new articles and disaster relief adverts on TV and even on the underground tubes advocating for assistance for those affected by the typhoon in the Philippines, however the devastation that occurred in St Vincent and neighbouring St Lucia and Dominica are barely acknowledged in the international community.

    I would like to see the other mainstream British media outlets shed some light on the devastation that occurred in these Caribbean islands on Christmas eve.

    It is also worth noting that they are expecting another trough system to hit these Caribbean islands on late Monday night to early Tuesday morning.


  6. doll says:

    Thank you for your coverage. I was wondering the same thing. If BRITIAN care so much about it’s commonwealth, why turn there backs in the of need. Maybe because of the lawsuit. It was covered here in NYC on local news. If every commonwealth country donates, it will go along way. There is an organization in NYC based in Brooklyn call Friends of crown heights, it’s made up of Vincentians. They are getting the word out and has already made shipments to SVG. There are different drop off points. However, a lot more needs to be done.

  7. Jacqueline Wilson says:

    To date (Sunday Jan. 5), water was delivered from Grenada & Barbados. Trinidad has offered to help. But none of the other CARICOM members has offered aid in any form. In Brooklyn NY, supplies were shipped freely… thanks to AMERIJET.

  8. Joy Emmons says:

    Why is the Queen silent? It would be a good gesture for her to urge this government to lend their support and not turn their backs on these poor caribbean Islands whose man labour amongst other things in the past have helped this country. Are some commonwealth countries more important than others?


    1. monica says:

      Remember that Gonsalves is leading a lawsuit against the UK for reparations….this would deter support from today’s leaders (and financially challenged UK taxpayers) who have not committed any wrong doings.

      However, the Queen could well afford a major contribution. She is always communicating her pride of being Head of The Commonwealth countries. Actions speak louder than words…?

  9. audrena paponette gabriel says:

    Hi all,
    By reading all of the comments, I do agree and I am really hoping that one of these countries do help the beautiful island of Saint Vincent. I have my entire mother’s side of the family there. Let’s keep praying and hope that things will come together.

  10. mark says:

    jon, your heart is in the right place but this isn’t 1950 and the islands affected (st lucia included) took independence many years ago. Most people born in St Lucia were born after 1979 and have only ever known independence. Your cry for ‘something must be done’ is manipulated by some on the ground as that of the ‘colonial massa’. The money will be taken, but not gratefully received. It was right that the Government offered 500,000 ECD for assistance but as an independent nation, they also have to take the consequences for disaster recovery and governance.

    You should also read some of mr gonsalves comments regarding the law suit he is instigating against the UK and other former colonial powers.

    1. Joy Emmons says:

      I think it’s the height of naivety in this modern aged for people to think that Britain do not owe these Caribbean Islands anything because they have become Independent. Modern Britain today has benefited tremendously from the transatlantic slave trade.

      Let me give you some historical facts taken from the National Archive:

      Between 1662 and 1807 Britain shipped 3.1 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Africans were forcibly brought to British owned colonies in the Caribbean and sold as slaves to work on plantations. Those engaged in the trade were driven by the huge financial gain to be made, both in the Caribbean and at home in Britain.
      Enslaved people constantly rebelled against slavery right up until emancipation in 1834. Most spectacular were the slave revolts during the 18th and 19th centuries, including: Tacky’s rebellion in 1760s Jamaica, the Haitian Revolution (1789), Fedon’s 1790s revolution in Grenada, the 1816 Barbados slave revolt led by Bussa, and the major 1831 slave revolt in Jamaica led by Sam Sharpe. Also voices of dissent began emerging in Britain, highlighting the poor conditions of enslaved people. Whilst the Abolition movement was growing, so was the opposition by those with financial interests in the Caribbean.
      The British slave trade officially ended in 1807, making the buying and selling of slaves from Africa illegal; however, slavery itself had not ended. It was not until 1 August 1834 that slavery ended in the British Caribbean following legislation passed the previous year. This was followed by a period of apprenticeship with freedom coming in 1838.
      Even after the end of slavery and apprenticeship the Caribbean was not totally free. Former enslaved people received no compensation and had limited representation in the legislatures. Indentured labour from India and China was introduced after slavery. This system resulted in much abuse and was not abolished until the early part of the 20th century. After indenture, Indians and Africans struggled to own land and create their own communities.

      Wake up Britain, show the world how much this Christian country really cares. Help those who have been made helpless by the greed of others.


  11. Cameron says:

    thanks Jon i share your views greatly, I really don’t understand why we are being neglected, by as I grew up hearing everyone say “OUR MOTHER COUNTRY”. Is it that we (SVG) are only seen as a a child where England can benefit only? for example when the war on Iraq was frightening and the British citizens were afraid to join the British Army they turned to our small Islands, we were seen as a child then,to go and risk our lives for “OUR MOTHER COUNTRY” Just one of the many examples. Now that we are in a state of disaster and need help greatly, we are being pushed aside. Come on my Mother Country, England, we need your help , Help restore SVG and let us be proud of our Mother Country.

  12. Thom says:

    Whatever the politics of the leaders are these are fellow human beings that require our help now. Just because this is a little known corner of the commonwealth and not “in fashion” does not mean we shouldn’t give assistance. I can think of many more undeserving countries receiving aid.

    If my skills were useful (and I could get there) I would be packing my bags now.

  13. monica says:

    There is however a charity in the UK affiliated to the Institute of Civil Engineers called The Register of Engineers for Disaster Relief (RedR). There are many UK engineers working at home and overseas from the industry who are registered with the charity, and if a disaster strikes, they would get a call-up if they had the appropriate expertise to help out (e.g. water/sewerage engineers, road engineers, builders for houses/schools, etc.). It might be worth contacting them for offers of help.

  14. monica says:

    UK taxpayers have to support expenditures like this…see link below.

    If you are a British Overseas Territory, and have not chosen Independence:


  15. LucyWebb says:

    I also had not heard about this incident before reading the post. I think its terrible that the UK is not supporting one of its Commonwealth partners. I think this event should have made the National News,and that we should have been sending aid. Even though places like the Philippines obviously needed more help, I don’t think it’s right to ignore their struggles just because it was on a smaller scale.

Comments are closed.