KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel “should have soften” his remarks about the origins of the nation’s African, East Indian and Portugese population but “there is no racism in this statement”, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said yesterday.
Daniel, speaking at a Unity Labour Party (ULP) rally in Sandy Bay on Sept. 25, emphasised that he is “born of Carib descendants” as he responded to an alleged taunt by a farmer.
“I born right here, … no boat ain’t bring me here in chains and I did not come here in indenturedship,” he said.
The farmer allegedly commented about Daniel’s race at a protest in Kingstown two days earlier, where farmers called for the minister to resign for his ministry’s inaction on the black sigatoka disease, which has ravaged banana here.
Some sections of the Vincentian public have described Daniel’s statement as racist and have called on him to apologise even as others say that he should resign because of his ministry’s lethargic response to the crisis.
Daniel has not retracted or apologised for the statement. He has, however, said on radio that he hopes “that the public will understand” that he “did not intend to disrespect or disregard Vincentians” and that he hopes “that we do not try to divide St. Vincent”.
He has received support from some ULP supporters, including Afro-Vincentian Dr. Jerrol Thompson, a former minister of telecommunication, who said on radio last week, that he would not have respected Daniel if he had taken the protester’s “slur” sitting down without saying anything.
Gonsalves’ response to the development came as he spoke to the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture in an address broadcast live on radio yesterday.
“It is true that some of us born here and some, like ‘Gomery’s father, came here on a ship from Africa,” the Prime Minister, who is of Portuguese descent, said to laughter.
“And some, like my fore parents, came here in 1845 on a vessel from Madeira. But we are all one,” he continued.
“As I say to my partner ‘Gomery, … ‘Well, the way things are, half of you staying here because your mother is a pure Carib but the other half of you is back to Africa,” Gonsalves said to more laughter.
“You know, that is why we are such a good people. We can laugh – the point is this, some people have been making a lot out of these statements,” Gonsalves further said.
“… you might say the comrade, having made the point he made, should have soften it a little by saying, ‘Listen, I don’t mean to insult anybody.’ But you know that there is no racism in this statement,” Gonsalves said but noted he was “not defending what [Daniel] is saying”.
Gonsalves said he had discussed the issue with Daniel, who also attended and addressed the meeting yesterday.
He further said that the nation’s Garifunas and Caribs “have been the most marginalised and despised people historically and up to the present time”.
“You know that; I know that. We know that the persons of African descent were enslaved. But when you talk about marginalisation, even in the modern world people use to look down … on what you call them ‘Cariv’; not Carib, ‘Cariv’.
“So he made a statement. After he spoke he could have put a caveat to it; he could have polished it off another way. He didn’t have any polish,” Gonsalves said.
He further said Daniel “is a good and descent man who love the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, love the farmers, love the people in his constituency”.
“And they know that. That’s why they return him three times [in general election]. So, there is nothing malignant about him. There is nothing ‘involving race’,” Gonsalves further said, noting that Daniel’s wife is of African descent.
“His comrade leader’s fore parent came from Madeira. Without me, he ain’t a minister. … I can’t go back Madeira. I am a Vincentian; me navel string born here and so on and so forth.
“I make all of this to say sometimes we analyse on pars about some thing is as though we want to go off on something when what I want us to do is to keep our eyes on the main issues at play. How are we going to increase production? How are we going to make the farmers increase their income?” Gonsalves said.