KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – It was not because of a busy schedule why Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves did not meet last week with two legislators from the Falkland Islands who visited this country as part of a regional sensitization campaign about their quest for self-determination.
The legislators, Roger Edwards and Sharon Halford, were accompanied by Deputy British High Commissioner for this country, Karl Burrows. The Falklands, a group of islands near Argentina, is a British territory at the heart of a territorial dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina.
Gonsalves told reporters this week that a senior official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had come to him to try to schedule a meting with the legislators, having received a request. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sen. Douglas Slater and his permanent secretary were in Caracas at the time.
“So, the first thing I asked the senior official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘On what juridical basis two legislators from a colonial assembly want to see the prime minister of an independent country?’ … Because if you come to see me, before we could discuss a matter that is occupying the international community, or at least a section of it … I asked the question,” Gonsalves said.
To illustrate his point, Gonsalves said the British government has to permit the chief minister of Montserrat, a British territory, to meet with the prime minister of Canada and write to Canada saying it has granted such permission.
“So I inquired what communication had come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I was told that a normal diplomatic note had come from the High Commission in Barbados,” Gonsalves said.
“Well, in those circumstances, with great respect, a normal diplomatic note will not suffice,” Gonsalves added.
The Falkland Island legislators last week met with the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), whose vice-president, legislator St. Clair Leacock, said that the government had refused to meet with the delegation, which had travelled so far to come here.
“And when I see somebody say that they have come here, that somebody apparently take up the ‘cudgel’ …” Gonsalves said.
“I didn’t tell them to come from far to come and see me. I did not make any arrangement to tell them when they are over there to come. They decided that they are going to come to the Caribbean. That’s fine. And we welcome them here,” Gonsalves further stated.
“It is true that there was a scheduling problem, because they were coming here when the Foreign Minister was away and there was Cabinet and then I was chairing OECS meetings. But please, don’t have me hide behind schedule because I am not hiding behind schedule.”
The Prime Minister said he would be willing to speak with the British Foreign Secretary or the British High Commissioner about the Falkland issue.
“I don’t think the British Commissioner came with them. Some other official in the totem pole, somewhere down below could walk into the prime minister office with two members of a colonial legislator? This is not arrogance you know. As you know, I see the humblest person in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. … But I am the prime minister of an independent country and there are certain protocols, which must be satisfied when you are dealing with relations between countries,” he added.
Gonsalves was among CARICOM leaders to approve at the recent meeting of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) a resolution supporting a decision by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay to ban Falkland Islands-flagged ships from sailing to their points.
Gonsalves said last week that the agreement was “symbolic” noting that Falkland Islands ships do not come here.
Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, commenting on Monday on the visit of the Falkland Islands legislators, say he found it strange that they were unable to meet with the government.
“… I think the government is embarrassed by the decision they took with ALBA …” Eustace said noting that it was the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs that contacted the opposition about the visit of the Falkland legislators.