KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The public debate regarding two more Vincentians being made national heroes took a news twist on Sunday.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said that making former prime minister Robert Milton Cato and former premier Ebenezer Theodore Joshua national heroes will help to bridge the political divide here.
Gonsalves announced during his Independence Address in October, that his government would next year “commence the process to elevate one or more persons to pantheon of National Heroes”.
He has in public speeches since then told supporters of his Unity Labour Party (ULP) that they must ready themselves to make the case for Cato’s ascension to the nation’s highest office.
Cato is a past leader of the St. Vincent Labour Party, which merged with Gonsalves’ Movement for National Unity to form the ULP 18 years ago.
Many supporter of Joshua’ People Political Party began supporting the New Democratic Party when it was founded by former prime minister Sir James Mitchell in 1975.
And Gonsalves told ULP member and supporters at the party’s convention on Sunday that the party must acknowledge the contribution of Cato, who led the nation to Independence in 1979, “when others said we were not ready”.
When this country became a sovereign state on Oct. 27 that year, 20 per cent of the population, uprooted by the eruption of La Soufriere the previous April, where still living in emergency shelters.
Cato opted to move the country to independence in spite of this reality Gonsalves said.
“Now that is confidence in a people’s capacity to develop themselves and that has been born out by what has happened over the last 32 years,” Gonsalves said.
“For that alone, and there are other things, Milton Cato should be considered for the status of a national hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said of the former leader, who some commentator say does not deserve to be made a national hero
Some observer say that Gonsalves’ move to make Cato a national hero is to appease the “old Labour” segments of the ULP and further consolidate the party, which has been in office since 2001 but was returned to office last year by a one-seat majority.
But Gonsalves said on Sunday that a “clear reading” of the legislation passed in 2002 will show that Cato, Joshua and trade unionist George McIntosh are all “fit to be considered” for national hero status.
“There are some who … because of our divisive politics … say no to Joshua; some say no to Cato. I am asking that next year when we have to consider this matter as a people through the legitimate channels laid down in the law, that we address it dispassionately,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that Cato is the founder of the Labour movement here and Joshua’s base went to NDP.
“[O]n either side, there might be some misgivings,” Gonsalves noted.
“I urge us to be mature, to be reflective and consider that an elevation of both Ebenezer Theodore Joshua and Robert Milton Cato to the status of national hero would help us to bind the divisiveness which is in the country.
“That if NDP people can recognise the virtues and values and heroic status of Milton Cato and the Labour family can do the same thing with Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, I think we will go somewhere in binding up the wound.
“It will be a way of signalling an era for greater unity among our people. The unity, which is necessary and desirable,” Gonsalves said.