KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Former minister of trade in the Sir James Mitchell New Democratic Party (NDP) administration, Jonathan Peters asked the U.S. Embassy in Barbados for money as he tried unsuccessfully to take leadership of the NDP in 2009.
A diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks this week said that Peters visited the Embassy three times in one year as he tried to wrestle NDP leadership from Arnhim Eustace. At the time of Peters’ challenge, Eustace had already led the NDP to two electoral defeats and the party was subsequently defeated for a third time, also under Eustace’s leadership.
The leaked document said that Peters, who was also the Kingstown’s ambassador to the United Nations, visited the U.S. Embassy “to ask for financial assistance and assail the politics of the current government of Ralph Gonsalves”.
Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party administration came to office in 2001 and won general elections in 2005 and 2010.
Peters’ trips to Bridgetown left a negative impression on the U.S. officials there. They told their superiors in Washington that the visits “continued to highlight the difficulty of running against the establishment, especially when it is backed by Venezuelan, Iranian, and/or Chinese sponsors”.
Peters, according to the document, “repeated the refrain” that the Gonsalves administration was an instrument of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’s plot to take over the Western Hemisphere or an Iranian plot to take over the world.
The officials, however, told their superiors that notwithstanding these comments, Peters’ visits were “more as a means to encourage our financial backing than any cogent political analysis.”
“This refrain, though, obscures the more banal reality that most leaders in small island states simply aren’t very discriminating about accepting financial assistance. Any leader that replaces Gonsalves would likely do the same thing, or risk being blamed for leaving money on the table and not doing enough to help his people — to say nothing of ensuring a continuation of his party in government,” U.S. officials said on their commentary on Peters’ visit.
The document said Peters’ visit to the Embassy requesting money was “an indication of the continuing woeful state of a fractured and penniless opposition in St. Vincent”.
Peters claimed that Eustace, who has been representing East Kingstown since 1998, has been ineffective as leader of the NDP and that the party needed change in order to challenge Gonsalves.
He told U.S. officials in Bridgetown that he had the support of Sir James Mitchell and that there was also a possibility of a “Compton Scenario”. He was speaking of the situation in St. Lucia where elder statesman and former prime minister John Compton — now deceased — came out of retirement after ten years to lead the United Workers Party to victory.
According to the cable, Peters said that Gonsalves was following the advice of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and intended to be a prime minister for life.
The cable said that the ordering of Electronic Voting Machines from a company associated with Chavez was causing worry that the vote could be rigged in the 2010 elections. Gonsalves also won that election but had his majority chopped from 12-3 to just 8-7 in the 15-member Parliament.
Plans for changing political borders to weaken the opposition were moving forward, Peters said, and the voters list was not as accurate as one would hoped.
Peters sought U.S. financial aid, noting, “it is expensive to run a political campaign in the Caribbean”. He decried the funding gap between the opposition and the government, which he said continues to take money from Taiwan, Venezuela and Iran.
The cable said that Peters claimed that the nature of local politics forced a level of corruption due to the low wages paid to public servants, and the way that the populace expects direct hand-outs and assistance from candidates themselves.
The government is often unable to build structural assistance programs at an institutional level, as the size of the islands tends to allow for personal contact between constituents and politicians to drive decisions, Peters is said to have told the U.S. officials.