KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The U.S. Embassy in Barbados in 2008 described Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves as “a master of contradictions, who continues to court whatever foreign government he can in order to secure financial and other benefits for his country,” according to WikiLeaks’ latest release of secret cables from the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown to Washington.
Gonsalves is also quoted as blaming then St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) ambassador to the U.N., Margaret Hughes-Ferrari, for the country’s inconsistent voting on human rights issues.
Gonsalves described Hughes-Ferrari, who has since been replaced by Gonsalves’ son, Camillo Gonsalves, as “cynical in her view that so-called Western nations used the human rights issue selectively”.
According to the cable, Gonsalves “was quick to deny any military and intelligence agenda or component to ALBA, and appeared to generally want to disassociate himself from [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez’s ideologies”.
The Prime Minister is also quoted as saying that St. Lucia Minister of Tourism, Alan Chastenet, “talks a lot of rubbish when it comes to regional air transport”.
His comments came as he discussed claims in the Eastern Caribbean that LIAT was inefficient and guilty of price gouging.
Gonsalves noted the lack of air transport regulation in the region, and, regarding governmental efforts to increase competition, said, “we’ve been down that road before”.
He cited the failures of Carib Express, BWIA, and, among others, Caribbean Star and said he was “not against competition” but wanted “fair competition”.
Gonsalves further described Chastenet as being among “a species of brown people in the Caribbean with money [who are] not loyal to anybody”.
He said these “Castries mulattos”, believe they are “oracles” and represent a “break in the social advancement in the Eastern Caribbean”.
But while Gonsalves was lashing out against his St. Lucian colleague, he downplayed the U.S. diplomat’s concern about crime in SVG and denied that crime was a deciding factor in the closure of the Kingstown Medical College.
“Instead, he noted that the College had demanded ‘exclusivity’ — a guarantee that it would be the only medical school with access to SVG’s hospitals — while negotiating the renewal of its contract with the government,” the classified document said.
Gonsalves told the U.S. ambassador that since the closure of the college, school officials had offered to open a four-year medical institution.
He said his Unity Labour Party administration had decided — but had not yet announced — that it would go with an offer from a different institution to found a four-year medical school in St. Vincent.
He recognised the potential of “educational tourism” but said that SVG was seeking additional medical schools that would be interested in attaching themselves to the medical centre under construction in Georgetown.
Gonsalves further said that the National Investment Promotion, Inc. needed modernizing and expressed interest in partnering with the United States to pursue an Investment Promotion Authority.
He noted that Vincentian farmers had “taken a beating” as a result of the loss of European trade preferences and said his government was using profits from sale of sugar to the private sector to subsidize agricultural inputs.
Gonsalves told the U.S. official that while SVG was receiving good marks from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the organization is not generally constructed to understand the “peculiarities” of small island economies.
Saying “you cannot use general economic theories” with countries such as SVG, Gonsalves cited his use of “counter-cycle fiscal policy”, which the IMF originally opposed and then later praised.
He, however, added that the counter-cycle fiscal policy should be discontinued.
Gonsalves lamented the influence of “U.S. prison culture” on SVG in the modes of dress adopted by young people. The Ambassador expressed her desire to provide cultural preservation funding to the SVG government to refurbish wood panels housed at Fort Charlotte that depict the indigenous Carib population.
The Ourisman-Gonsalves talks were held over breakfast ahead of the first official meeting between Gonsalves and then Barbadian Prime Minister, David Thompson, whose Democratic Labour Party had just come to office.
Gonsalves said that the two major political parties in Barbados are so similar that “differences will have to be manufactured to keep the party faithful happy”.
The meeting was initially meant to discuss the trial involving a Peace Corps Volunteer who was stabbed in St. Vincent in 2007.
“While the friendly nature of the meeting reflected the Embassy’s generally good relations with St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Gonsalves, [a lawyer], was at his legalistic best, downplaying both SVG’s involvement in ALBA and the crime situation (which by most accounts has severely escalated of late). Still, he was extremely responsive to the Ambassador’s concerns regarding the incident involving the Peace Corps volunteer, and was quick to offer extremely frank views on a variety of subjects,” the leaked document said.