My fellow Jamaicans:
I greet you in the spirit of the freedom that we now celebrate annually on Emancipation Day.
This celebration is a timely reminder of the struggles waged by our forebears against plantation slavery for over two centuries.
Freedom is a fundamental right of human existence and is also the essential first step in the march of any people to nationhood.
Two of the greatest leaders in the struggles of our people to free themselves from the shackles of plantation slavery were Nanny of the Maroons and Sam Sharpe.
It was in recognition of their roles as both architects and symbols “of our transformation from slavery to freedom” that both were made National Heroes.
Jamaica’s long march to nationhood began with Emancipation which laid the basis for our national identity and taught us to appreciate our rich cultural heritage.
It is on the foundation of Emancipation that Jamaicans built the national movement and claimed their right to the freedoms we enjoy today to live in dignity, work in harmony, and to secure a better economic future for ourselves and our families.
The celebration of Emancipation Day shouldbe recognized as the bedrock on which ordinary Jamaicans with extra-ordinary bravery and vision forced the refashioning of our nation’s cultural, social, economic and political arrangements.
Today, the examples of our freedom fighters must inspire us to assert our rights to live in a Jamaica that provides social justice and equality of opportunity, to Housing, security, good healthcare, quality education, training, and a chance for personal progress and fulfillment.
It is unfortunate that 183 years after so-called “full Free” some 700,000 Jamaicans have no legal ownership of the land on which they and their families have lived and worked for successive generations.
It is for this reason that I recently established a Land Commission to prepare a policy framework that will establish a legal pathway to a Land title for those Jamaicans who are still squatters in the land of their birth. This is the commitment of the Opposition when next we form the government.
Unfortunately, while we have achieved legal freedom, there still persists a slavery of the mind.
It was this condition that led National Hero Marcus Garvey to recognize the need for “emancipation from mental slavery”. As Bob Marley said “none but ourselves can free our minds”.
We must never forget the sacrifices and the efforts of those who gave their all in order to build a Jamaica that offers opportunity for all the people, and where families and communities live in harmony with each other free from crime, corruption and oppression.
As we celebrate Emancipation Day let us recommit ourselves tothe vision of our ancestors, who wanted to build a country, nurture our children, care for the elderly and infirm, and give every Jamaican the opportunity to develop materially and spiritually.
As we pursue this mission, let me wish for you all a restful, happy and safe Emancipation Day. May God continue to bless you and bless our country – Jamaica, land we love.