ST. VINCENT:- Dominican lawyer Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan has defended himself against criticisms that he is dabbling in the internal affairs of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) as the nation prepares to vote on Dec. 13.
Astaphan, who has provided legal services for Gonsalves and his government, has been in SVG for the past few week appearing on radio making the case for the Unity Labour Party (ULP) to be returned to office for a third consecutive term.
Leader of the Opposition and NDP president Arnhim Eustace said last Saturday that Astaphan’s comments were “really out of his place”.
“Mr Astaphan is not a Vincentian. And while we have good relations with our OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) countries, Mr Astaphan has no right to be dabbling in our internal affairs in the manner in which he is doing,” Eustace said.
“If I were to go to Dominica and make those kinds of statements, the Dominican government would not be happy with them. They will arrange to have me deported,” he added.
But Astaphan tasted the ire of the Vincentian public when he appeared as a guest of Chris “Too Cool” Jones on Hot 97’s “AM Mayhem” on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
Some callers objected to Astaphan’s public endorsement of the Gonsalves administration and his trying to persuade Vincentians to vote for the ULP.
Astaphan said that it was common practice for political parties in the region to have non-nationals advocate on their behalf.
“This caller doesn’t seem to understand that the NDP has had politicians from overseas, including lawyers from overseas, speak on their platform and I don’t understand the hostility. Maybe I am saying something wrong; maybe I am saying something right
“…I do not see this as interfering in the internal affairs of St. Vincent and the Grenadines because I cannot tell you how to vote. I cannot go into the voting box with you and put your cross next to the key or next to the star. All I am doing is articulating issues on behalf of my friend and I have the right to do so, subject to the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Astaphan said.
The key and the star are the symbols of the NDP and the ULP respectively.
“You [are] not gonna come on air in public and say anything bad about your friend, especially at a time like this. You will never say anything bad about the prime minister,” one caller said.
“He is not a Vincentian and we can’t go in their country at a time like this and say what we want to say. So it has to be something with [him] and Ralph Gonsalves and the party. He is biased too because he is for the ULP. So, he will say a lot of things about the NDP. We accept that …” another caller said.
One caller took Astaphan to task about his comments in light of his close connection to Gonsalves.
The man also raised issues about some of the policies of the ULP administration.
“…since he is your friend — he is the prime minister of this country — you won’t say anything bad about Mr Gonsalves. You would not criticize him in public if he did anything wrong. As a friend, you would criticize him privately — I mean you would complain privately.
“So, for you to make a lot of statements, you didn’t say anything positive about the opposition or anything,” the caller said.
He further said that poor Vincentians cannot afford what the ULP administration has touted as “low income houses”.
“I would like you to explain poor … because the poor people out here cannot afford those low income houses. Those are for middle class people who have good jobs. Poor people are people who are not earning a decent living. They’re struggling …” the caller said.
The caller further spoke to allegations of election fraud levelled by the NDP against ULP East Kingstown candidate, Luke Browne.
“…tell me where if you have charges against the government and you bring it to the government how you’re gonna beat the government,” the caller said, adding that he did not know if the accusations against Browne could be substantiated.
“…because right now government running things. You have to be careful what you say, you have to be careful what you do. Otherwise, you could be victimized and you could suffer certain consequences. That’s how it is in St. Vincent right now. You need to come on the street. You need to come down here and see what’s going on the street. And with VAT (Value Added Tax); VAT is too high, man,” the caller said.
“This rum and the red bull thing working, everybody vex,” Astaphan said, employing a reference that was being used light-heartedly during the programme.
“But look, my friend, the housing is low-income and no-income that’s the basic policy of the housing revolution,” he said.
“…the government has no control over the high court and the judiciary,” Astaphan said in relation to the accusations against Browne.
He further said that layers for the NDP have been “extraordinarily fearless in bringing forward matters to the High Court when it was time or right or expedient or proper or reasonable to do it”.
“I don’t know why is it all of a sudden that there is this great fear — because if there are in fact charges to be laid against Mr Luke Browne, the charges will have to be brought by the NDP Member of Parliament, which is Arnhim Eustace.
“You cannot tell me for a moment that Mr Arnhim Eustace will be afraid to bring charges because of the fear of victimization, if he had any evidence at all against Mr Luke Browne,” Astaphan said.
He also responded to questions about who pays him for work done in SVG.
“…for the record, I am paid for my professional services by the government but I believe that as a citizen of the OECS and as a friend of Ralph, and a friend of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I have the right to speak on issues and I don’t know why everybody is being so angry.
“If you think that I am saying something [that] is wrong, tell me it [is] wrong. Tell me ‘You [are] talking nonsense’. Tell me something like that but don’t tell me I don’t know what is happening I should not say this and I [am] interfering in any internal affairs.
“So when the man from Bequia writes the letter and says he not supporting the government, he [is] supporting the NDP and he going to fund the NDP because of the airport, that’s not interfering in the internal affairs of St. Vincent and the Grenadines?” Astaphan said.
He said he was not doing anything contrary to the “established practice in these islands where persons go and travel through the OECS and support respective politicians and political parties”.
“I am doing nothing different from what has transpired either in the past here or either in the wider OECS,” he added.
“My friend, I am sorry I cost so much anger. That is the only thing I am apologizing for. I don’t like a man or a woman to stay vex and the anger in these voices tells another story, too; but that’s another story. We are now moving on to another segment of the show. The rum and the Red Bull. I believe that is the end of my section?” Astaphan said just before a commercial break.
He later said that while callers were bashing him on air he was getting text messages on his mobile device.
“’You are right. If the man from Bequia can talk, you can talk too.’ And, the other one I got, the last one, summarizing it, ‘If you can’t talk, so what is SCL doing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?’” Astaphan said, citing the text messages.
Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) is a firm from the United Kingdom that is managing the NDP’s campaign.
“They are not talking but they’re telling you what to say. So, rather than I tell you what to say, I come say it myself,” Astaphan said in reference to SCL.
“I hope what has transpired it doesn’t cloud your view of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Jones told Astaphan at the end of the segment.
“No, it does not. … I mean, let’s understand. I know what I am doing and the reaction that I am getting is expected. The anger that I am hearing is expected because – and it’s a good thing, it means that my message is sinking in. Something I am saying is right because you never see a man throw a stone on an empty mango tree…” Astaphan said.
He further said that callers were saying that he had no right to say what he was saying, but added “but everybody else has the right to say it”.
“But, that’s cool. … I enjoyed the calls. I wish I could have taken another hour of them calls. Eventually, some sympathizer would have [called in], but thank you so much…” Astaphan said.