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From left: SVG’s PM Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, Cuba's President Raul Castro and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. Gonsalves told U.S. politicians Morales is a leader for whom normal tactical considerations play little role. (Internet photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves was not very flattering in his description of Bolivian President Evo Morales during a private meeting with U.S. politicians in 2009.

He further said the Caribbean was doing the United States a favour by interdicting drugs passing through the region on the way to that country.

Gonsalves also disclosed that he had encouraged Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to give the Barack Obama administration in Washington a chance to open new ground with Cuba.

Gonsalves and then Foreign Affairs Minister, Sir Louis Straker, met in Kingstown on April 19-20, 2009 with a U.S. congressional delegation (CODEL) headed by Straker’s college classmate Congressman Eliot Engel

According to a WikiLeaks cable released this week, Gonsalves said during the meeting that Morales personified the whole history of repression of the indigenous people and that his ability to control the pent-up historical frustrations was limited.

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In 2005 Morales, an Aymara Indian, became the first Bolivian president to come from the country’s indigenous majority. As a leader of a coca-growers union, he was also the first president to emerge from the social movements whose protests forced Bolivia’s two previous presidents from office

“He described Morales as a leader for whom normal tactical considerations play little role, and who acts on emotions rather than political reason,” the leaked document said of Gonsalves.

Drug interdiction ‘favour’

Regarding regional security, the Cable said Gonsalves’ assessment of challenges facing the region” betrayed a lack of understanding of some current arrangements”.

Gonsalves said that the United States, in its preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan, had shifted most of its funds and assets out of the Caribbean.

He commented that before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington supported two C-26 aircraft in the region for drug interdiction and other security purposes, but that the funding had been taken away and the aircraft were just sitting and needed to be mothballed.

Gonsalves also described the Regional Security System as very costly, and said he believed Caribbean nations are doing the United States a favour by stemming the flow of drugs through the region. The decision to cut the C-26 aircraft funding, he said, just didn’t make sense.

However, the cable said that Gonsalves depiction of the situation was “largely inaccurate”.

It explained that the aircrafts, donated by the United States to the Regional Security System, were still flying with funding coming primarily from Barbados with some new U.S.  support.

The cable cited the RSS Coordinator as saying that the primary limitation on the C-26’s operational abilities is the failure of St. Vincent, Dominica and Antigua to pay their share of the operating costs.

Concerns about Iran

sir louis straker
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kingstown, Sir Louis Straker.

The congressional delegation also registered its concerns with both Gonsalves and Straker about St. Vincent’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Iran and the PM’s visit to Iran to seek support for the Argyle International Airport.

Engel noted Iran’s continued defiance of UN resolutions and unwillingness to work with the international community constructively.

The congressman was concerned about the motives behind Iran’s expanding interest in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Straker acknowledged the risks involved, but said that St. Vincent needed international support if it was to be able to complete its signature airport project, which the government believes is vital to the nation’s development.

Straker further said that the unity Labour Party government would welcome U.S. involvement as well.

Cuba-USA mediator

Gonsalves told the U.S. delegation that he was satisfied with the dialogue at and outcome of the Summit of the Americas, which has just ended in Trinidad.

He noted that a solid foundation had been laid at the bilateral meetings between CARICOM leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama to improve relations and expand cooperation in several areas.

Gonsalves, a close ally of Venezuela’s firebrand president Hugo Chavez, further said that while in Caracas just prior to the Summit, he had told Chavez that although U.S. policy toward Cuba had been a failure to date, he sensed a new mood.

He advised Chavez to give Obama a chance to explore new ground with the Cuban government.

Gonsalves further said that the depiction of Nicaragua as the “Soviet and Cuban beachhead in the 1980s” was still fresh in the mind of the country’s president, Daniel Ortega.

The Vincentian leader was concerned that the U.S. did not fully grasp the impact of this historical baggage on its relationship with Nicaragua.

“It requires time for men to get things out of their system,” Gonsalves explained.  “It is a catharsis,” Gonsalves was quoted as saying.

Tax haven ‘bad rap’

During the meeting, Gonsalves said that the Caribbean had received a “bad rap” when it comes to the topic of tax havens.

He, however, admitted that Millennium Bank in St. Vincent, which was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and generated negative headlines about St. Vincent, might have been a front for a ponzi scheme.

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Gonsalves, who is a lawyers and Minister of Legal Affairs, maintained that the St. Vincent bank’s role was substantially less than the U.S. banks with which it was affiliated.

He said the bank-collected funds from customers in the United States and then immediately forwarded the funds back to the U.S. for deposit in a U.S. bank.  Very little of the money  (US$4 million) actually stayed in St. Vincent, Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves pointed out that, while tax havens may be  an issue of concern and fairness in the United States, most of them  are closely connected with or run out of the United States, and that  tarring the entire Caribbean offshore financial sector for  the illegal acts of a few American criminals or tax evaders  was unfair.

Recognizing Kosovo & UN issues

Engel also urged the Gonsalves and Straker to move ahead with diplomatic recognition of Kosovo, noting the progress Kosovo had made in meeting goals established by the UN.

Both Gonsalves and Straker took on board the case for recognition and promised to review the issue.

Engel also appealed to Straker to re-examine the country’s voting pattern on some key UNGA issues.  He urged St. Vincent to move from “yes” to abstaining, or at least absenting form the votes, on The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Abuses, and the Division on Palestinian Affairs in the Office of the Secretary General.

Straker agreed to look into these issues and to consider a new approach to voting.

Argyle airport – the ‘Caribbean Three Gorges Dam’

The congressional delegation also toured the Argyle International Airport construction site, which “revealed a project long on ambition but, so far short on results.

“A massive engineering exercise will be needed to literally move mountains and fill in valleys just to prepare the ground for development – this on top of the over $100 million already spent to purchase homes and land to relocate families living in the path of this Caribbean Three Gorges Dam equivalent.  If the project comes together, we will be in a good position to assist SVG in meeting international standards on airport management and security,” the cable said.

The cable said that Gonsalves was “in good spirits” following a successful Summit of the Americas, and was “clearly looking for ways to engage the U.S. in positive fashion”.

“That said, he is still looking for the U.S. to do most of the work, whether in funding improvements to security, strengthening regulation of banks, or in regard to Cuba,” the document said.