KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – During his trip to Bethlehem in December, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves got a feeling that local politicians should “lessen the vitriol, the harshness of language”.
But it was an “impulse” in Parliament on Jan. 11 that spurred Gonsalves to announce the withdrawal of two slander judgements against Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace and his colleague Daniel Cummings.
And Gonsalves explained that impulse during a press briefing yesterday, saying, “Very often, we make decisions through a sense, an impulse but the impulse comes from within you because of something that is within you”.
Gonsalves told Parliament on Jan. 11, that “as part of the process of reconciliation” he would instruct his lawyers to inform the High Court that he would not proceed in any action in relation to the judgements Eustace and Cummings.
Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel had earlier comments about Cummings’ back injury after Cummings asked Daniel to give way so that he could make him contribution to the Budget Debate then go home and rest.
At the beginning of his budget presentation, Daniel then noted that the last general election was held in 2010 and the next one is constitutionally due by 2015.
“And so, Mr. Speaker, if I, as an individual, is being affected terrible by back pains and there are four years to come to run for another election; I am not growing younger, I am growing older and so, my conditions would deteriorate … in the next four years. Mr. Speaker is it that I want to make history to be the next wheelchair candidate for the next general elections coming?” Daniel said.
“… I thought a lot on these matters when I went to Bethlehem and … I got a feeling that I should ensure as far as is possible, within the cut and thrust of competitive politics, for us to just lessen the vitriol, the harshness of language,” Gonsalves further stated.
But Gonsalves told reporters yesterday that not every decision that one makes “we think it out in a completely rational sense”.
“Public policy, we do that, but with personal decisions, you will make a decision on an impulse but that impulse is not just something rash,” he further stated.
Gonsalves said that his “brother” Daniel “is an individual without malice” and that the comment about Cummings’ injury was “unfortunate”.
“From the moment I heard it, I felt that it is something which ought not to have been articulated in the way in which it was articulated,” Gonsalves said, noting his rebuke of two opposition lawmakers who had poked fun at him when he was walking with a cane.
“So immediately, I felt something because, as an impulse, I felt it was wrong and it was unfortunate when the comment was made in relation to Daniel Cummings’ injury.
“And immediately, as it happened, a voice spoke in me and to me that I must do something as individual and as leader. And confirmation of that voice, which came in me and too me, [came] when [Deputy Prime Minister] Girlyn Miguel leaned over and said ‘comrade’; because she felt immediately the same way.”
Gonsalves said that when Daniel made the statement, Minister of Culture Frederick Stephenson, an Anglican lay preacher, touched him (Gonsalves) on his shoulder.
“I knew what they were talking about,” Gonsalves said, adding that he “only fully appreciated where the voice came from” a day or two after Eustace last Tuesday rejected the reconciliation gesture.
Gonsalves said that Pastor Silvanus King of the Glen Evangelical Church and an evangelist from America came to visit him at his office.
During that conversation inside the Cabinet Room, the American evangelist told Gonsalves that among his favourite sentences in the Bible is the one in which the prophet Eli told Samuel to say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” when the young Samuel heard a voice calling to him while he slept.
“It was at that point that I know that a special voice spoke to me at that moment when I was in Parliament. Everything came together, though they were events separated by weeks. Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” Gonsalves said.
Recounting that day in Parliament, Gonsalves said that when Daniel was finished speaking, he (Gonsalves) asked for a suspension of the House. During the suspension, Gonsalves informed his colleague of his plan to enunciate the reconciliation gesture.
“Because I felt it for Daniel Cummings. He had an injury and an unfortunate statement was made though, as I say, Montgomery Daniel is a good man,” Gonsalves said.
“The statement just came out the wrong way — even [with] the cut and thrust of politics — and I apologised for it unequivocally, unreservedly and then I made the reconciliation gesture.
“Once it had been made to Mr. Cummings, the voice just simply spoke to me that it should be made to Mr. Eustace. They were there in front of me in the house. It was a genuine gesture of reconciliation, “Gonsalves said.
But neither Cummings nor Eustace was in the House at the time of Gonsalves’ announcement as Cummings had gone home, as initially planned, and the other opposition parliamentarians had left in protest of Daniel’s statement.
“I tell you how the impulse came to me,” Gonsalves said, adding that after the meeting with the religious leader he read 1 Samuel 3.
“And I read it carefully more than once and reflected on it and became sure in my mind that I was spoken to at that moment in the House. Your servant is listening, speak Lord,” Gonsalves said.