KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – This country’s support for Argentina in the impasse with Britain over the Falkland Islands is equivalent to making deals the devil, opposition Member of Parliament St. Clair Leacock said yesterday.
Leacock said that the position could compromise European Union contributions to the capital budget and put Vincentians in the British armed forces in the crosshairs of Argentina or ALBA soldiers should Argentina’s conflict with Britain over the Falklands escalate.
This country was among the eight members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) that approved an agreement barring any Falkland Island-flagged boats from docking in their ports
The Falklands – Islas Malvinas in Spanish – is a self-governing British Overseas Territory that Argentina claims as its own even after it lost a war over the islands in 1982, part of a 180-year conflict.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said this week that the ALBA declaration is “symbolic”, since ships from the Falklands do not sail to this country.
British and Falkland Islands ships fly different flags. But asked by a journalist how Kingstown would respond if a Falklands-flagged vessel arrives in this country, Gonsalves said, “We have British ships which come here and the British ships they will be able to come here.”
Opposition Senator Anesia Baptiste along with chairman of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Dr. Linton Lewis, both said yesterday that Gonsalves’ statement contradicts the ALBA resolution.
But while Lewis said that the government’s position was based on “political expediency”, Leacock, an NDP vice president was more explicit.
“In local language, we will call that making deals with the devil because the Prime Minister is playing games with Vincentians at this time,” Leacock said.
He said that the government snubbed a delegation from the Falklands, including the Deputy British High Commissioner that visited this country on Wednesday.
“I am sure that they (the government) was given advanced notice that they (the delegation) were coming to a visit,” said Leacock, parliamentary representative for Central Kingstown.
“They (the delegation) made it clear yesterday that they were unable to meet with the Prime Minister, they were unable to meet with the Foreign Minister. Now these people have come thousands of miles to see us,” Leacock said.
He said that if it were a case where government officials would have been unable to meet with the delegation because of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesdays, the government would have said so in advance.
“And this is simple that they are trying to avoid the people,” he said, adding that only a government senator and one minister attended a social event as part of the delegation’s visit.
“And it is clearly a case of avoidance.”
He said that the government operates like the owner of a problematic vehicle that goes to the dealer of another brand to buy parts to fix it.
“And that is relevant to our economy,” Leacock said, noting that the European Union, the largest contributor to this nation’s capital budget, also supports Britain on the Falklands issue.
“Without the European Union, we have no capital programme in our budget. They add by far the most certain and largest amounts to the capital programmes. They are in support of the Falklands. We want to take up a position to play games to support the ALBA initiative?” he said.
Leacock said that when the Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party administration misspends the nation’s money and gets into fiscal difficulties, it “has to get the money wherever it can and therefore has to compromise the quality of the nation’s foreign relations decisions”.
“What happens if Argentina lines up against Great Britain or ALBA lines up against Great Britain and we have 800 Vincentians [in the British armed forces]? Are we taking the side of Argentina and Chavez and Venezuela and ALBA to shoot Vincentians who are sending home EC$80 million a year [in remittances],” Leacock said.
“It is a significant amount of money that comes here annually from our soldier in the armed forces of Great Britain, persons we want to sell our bananas to, we want to sell our agricultural produce to.
“What the hell we’re going to sell to Argentina? … Why are we compromising the country so badly in the name of foreign policy and expediency I don’t know and understand it,” he said.
“We are getting more and more caught up in an ideological war which we should have nothing to do with. So we have to make deals with the devil to dig ourselves out of the financial quagmire that the country is in,” Leacock said.
Meanwhile, in response to opposition pressure, the Baldwin Spencer government in Antigua yesterday issued a statement disassociating the twin-island nation from the ALBA resolution, saying its stance on the dispute between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands is consistent with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
This country along with Antigua and Barbuda were among the ALBA nations that supported the resolution, according to report in the Argentine and international media.