KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – While Glenn Jackson, murdered press secretary to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, was the main contact here for U.S. officials in Barbados, according to WikiLeaks, several other Vincentian media professionals were also contacts for American diplomats in Bridgetown.
A classified U.S. diplomatic cable dubbed “St. Vincent: A Democracy Under Stress” lists two journalists among “an increasing number of Vincentians” who in 2006 warned that “the PM’s fondness for the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela is indicative of his autocratic nature”.
“Legislation recently proposed by the Government would increase Gonsalves’s power to silence his critics, warn several Vincentians including the [Human Rights Association’s president] Nicole Sylvester and journalist Kenton Chance,” the 2006 cable said.
Chance, who now operates the “I Witness News” blog, was at the time of the cable employed at The Vincentian newspaper in Kingstown and was a correspondent for the Bridgetown-based Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
A note in the cable said that Chance described himself as “having been a supporter of the PM until the last election” and was “attempting to start a media workers association in order to protect freedom of the press in St. Vincent”
The cable said that Chance and Sylvester “pointed to plans to introduce legislation that would allow the Government to regulate NGOs, set standards for the media, and monitor telephone calls”.
The cable also relate a conversation that Shelly Clarke, editor of The News newspaper allegedly had with U.S. diplomats.The document cited Clarke as saying that the United States should have funded the opposition New Democratic Party in the December 2005 elections
The December vote, according to the cable, “was the NDP’s chance to
stop Gonsalves, as evidenced by the closeness of the race” — which the Unity Labour Party won 12 seats to the NDP’s three, a repeat of the 2001 results.
According to the cable, Clarke explained to the U.S. officials “his transformation from enthusiastic supporter of Gonsalves when he first came to office in 2001, to disappointed supporter when the PM failed to come through with campaign promises, to being so worried about the direction Gonsalves is taking the country that Clarke now believes the [United States government] should secretly be involved in the nation’s internal affairs.
“The editor, who used to speak regularly with the PM, shared the substance of his last phone conversation with Gonsalves, describing the PM’s attempt to convince Clarke that his newspaper should endorse the ruling party in the 2005 election. When the editor declined to do so, Gonsalves made what Clarke took to be a threat before hanging up the phone,” the cable said.
During that visit to St. Vincent American officials also spoke to “leaders of the country’s small civil society”, the cable said.
The document said that the Prime Minister’s detractors argue “the PM’s harsh retaliation against those he perceives to be his opponents has cast a chill over public debate in their small country”.
“The critics believe the PM’s repressive streak has been on the rise since the ruling party’s December 2005 re-election and worry about the impact of five more years of Gonsalves,” the cable said.
The leaked document said that these “critics” “ominously to proposals for wiretap legislation, the regulation of NGOs, and legal standards for the media”. “While it does not appear that the establishment of an authoritarian government is imminent in St. Vincent, Gonsalves’s methods suggest that he seeks power for power’s sake and, if the conditions were right, could happily be a dictator on his little island,” a summary of the cable said.
However, the American officials in 2006 concluded “St. Vincent is not on the verge of an autocratic takeover by Ralph Gonsalves, despite the warnings of his critics.
“Nor is the PM moving the country toward socialism, which would scare off the investors who are building the tourist facilities upon which the country is basing its economic future.
“Instead, the megalomaniacal Gonsalves appears to be restricting public debate in order to limit criticism of what he believes is the right formula for ruling St. Vincent. This does not mean, however, that vigilance should not be paid to this leader whose past behaviour and proposed legislation has a real air of delusions of grandeur. Despite his democratic credentials, Comrade Ralph truly seems to admire the authentic Long Term Papa in Cuba who is enjoying 47 years of dictatorial rule,” the cable said.
In another cable, Kirby Jackson, a journalist formerly employed as Searchlight newspaper was also cited as a contact for U.S. diplomats. Among other contacts named in the leaks are Gonsalves’ cousin, businessman Ken Boyea and Director of Public Prosecutions Colin Williams.