KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has defended himself against accusations that he made racist statements about Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace seven years ago and said he welcomes a conversation on race that is not “opportunistic and self-serving”.
His statements on radio last week came as the discussion about race continues here on the heels of a recent letter in newspapers two weeks ago by Eustace’s daughter, Maia Eustace.
Eustace, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), during the lead up to the 2005 elections, asked what the United States would say about certain policies adopted by Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party.
Gonsalves, in response, said that if he and Eustace were walking in the middle of the night and chanced upon then U.S. President George Bush would greet him and ask who is walking along with him.
Gonsalves is of Portuguese descent while Eustace is of African descent and some persons have said that Gonsalves’ statement was racist.
Maia Eustace referred to it and other issues in her letter, which called for a discussion about race here.
“I want them to play the tape. … they will not find that any such tape exist in the way in which they are presenting it,” Gonsalves said of his statement in 2005.
“I remember in 2005, Eustace was … talking about what would America say … when we take certain initiatives. I say but why you’re not inquiring what the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines would say. And I say the thing about it is this: George Bush doesn’t know the man. I say George Bush know me and if George Bush, in the middle ah the day, the middle ah the night, anytime, George Bush would not recognise Arnhim Eustace because he doesn’t know him,” Gonsalves said.
“How that, anything close to that, becomes a statement involving race?” he further stated.
Gonsalves said that while he is of Portuguese descent, he is “deeply entrenched in the core of this country.”
“When I defended the poor and the working class, where was Eustace? Where were the people inside of the NDP? When I on the lines, the front lines, here in St. Vincent, Barbados, Jamaica, all over the world defending the rights of African people, where were they?”
Gonsalves noted that he was invited to deliver the feature address at the first Africa-Caribbean gathering on the diaspora in Jamaica and is the only Caribbean leader to address the African Union.
“I want a conversation on race but I don’t want a conversation which is opportunistic and self-serving. … And I will tell you this: from a political standpoint, they are real dunces when they raise that issue. Because people know the comrade and all that they are doing, people see they are trying to scrape the bottom of the barrel.”
Gonsalves said that it is not the first time that race was being used against him politically. He said that in the lead up to the 2001 elections, his party “intercepted” a letter in which NDP campaign advisors encouraged the party to use race as an issue.
“They must not come with a self-serving discussion. People did not vote for Ralph in three successive elections as prime minister because he is of Portuguese heritage. No! They vote for him because he identifies with the people, he’s part of this nation and he articulates a vision for this country and the region.
“And to say they didn’t vote for Arnhim Eustace because he has African stock in him, now, where anybody can advance a thesis like that?
“Let’s have a discussion on race because we are not 200 years yet removed from the abolition of slavery and there are issues of ethnicity, cultural questions which we have to address,” he said.
“I want a conversation, you know. But let it not be self-serving because I come to the table with a history of struggle on precisely this question.”