KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The actions of the cop who arrested U.N. Ambassador Camillo Gonsalves in the lobby of his office building in New York on March 28 is indefensible, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said Tuesday.
“How could anybody defend what the police officer did? And it is not sufficient to say that the police officer merely acted disproportionally. That is a kind of mealy-mouthed synonym for an egregious wrong,” he said at a press conference.
Gonsalves’ statements came hours after Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said at a separate press conference that the incident could have been avoided had the ambassador and the cop both acted differently.
Eustace said that the diplomat should have shown his ID when asked to do so by the cop and that the lawman acted “disproportionally” and “inappropriately” when he grabbed the envoy — the oldest son of the Prime Minister — by the neck and shoulder.
But the Prime Minister said that it is “interesting that perfectly legal conduct by Ambassador Gonsalves and his dignity … are being criticised when we see a lot of illegal behaviour, particularly when protests take place here in St. Vincent, which are applauded”.
He said that countries from all over the world were expressing solidarity with St. Vincent and the Grenadines “because they know that there are large principles at stake and especially so for a small country. …
“It is therefore a matter of great sadness to me that there are some persons, both at home and abroad –Vincentians — who, because of partisan politics, would wish not to have a united position on this,” the Prime Minister said.
He said that while some persons believe the word of the New York Police Department, the law enforcement agency’s story is very “contradictory”.
“If you look at the reports in public, on the one hand, they are saying there was an arrest; somebody else is saying there was not an arrest. But nobody among them is saying what constitutes disorderly conduct. Because they can’t say that Ambassador Gonsalves was in anyway disorderly,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that while some persons who “lack patriotism” would like to divide the national community, “the national community, at home and abroad, has shown already that it is overwhelmingly in defence of our dignity, our territorial integrity, and the inviolability of the personages of our ambassadors.”
The Prime Minister further responded to “falsehoods” about the incident.
He said that the metal barrier, through which Ambassador Gonsalves stepped before his arrest, are “designed to keep people out who are creating difficulties. They are demonstrating or what have you.
“There is a space in the barrier, he has walked that four and a half years with absolutely no problem. If there were heightened security considerations, well, the New York Police Department, or the relevant authorities should have put somebody at precisely that opening in the space of the barrier to say show me your identification there.”
Gonsalves said that a police officer is stationed in a booth some distance away.
“He shouts at you in an angry manner, in a rude manner, too. You maintain your dignity. You don’t answer. You continue because you have been doing that for the last four and a half years and it is your right so to do. You are going into your building.
“When you arrive in the building now, where the very premises on which you are standing would be part [of] which you are entitled to protection, he doesn’t ask anything, he comes with the same aggression, grabs him by the back of his neck and his shoulder and turns him around and inquires if he didn’t hear him when he shouted.
“So those who are talking this nonsense that he should have showed his ID card outside, he has never on one occasion have to show his ID card outside and none was ever asked of him to show his ID card outside,” Gonsalves said, adding that the ambassador was asked to show his ID after the cop “assaulted” him.
“And it is amazing that we get these kinds of responses. It is as if you leave your window open at your house to get some breeze and a thief comes in and you are blamed because you left your window open to get some breeze that you are at fault because the thief came in.
“I don’t understand the blame the victim, in this particular case. Is there is something in our colonial makeup that permits some people to so speak? Do we so not understand ourselves and our rights, or patrimony? Do we not understand these things?” Gonsalves said, adding that anyone who has read Ambassador’s Gonsalves statement or listened to what the New York Police Department had to say in any of its statements “can accuse Ambassador Gonsalves of not acting with dignity and restrain.”
The Prime Minister noted that Eustace described as “self-serving” the telephone call in which Gonsalves informed Eustace of the diplomat’s arrest
“Well, the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not me. So I don’t see how it is self-serving. Because he (Ambassador Gonsalves) is my son? I thought that Ambassador Gonsalves was ambassador for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And since we are dealing with a state, I pointed out that I didn’t have any obligation legally to inform the Leader of the Opposition.”
The Prime Minister further said that he had anticipated that some persons would have wanted to make politics out of the incident but he felt that it should be dealt with as a nation.
“But he (Eustace) has chosen to put a political spin on it. He has finally said something on Tuesday. I informed him on Wednesday night. … We sent the Camillo statement on Friday. In the meantime, lower level NDP (New Democratic Party) people are making all kinds of statements. It is either you are leading or you are not leading. You are either leading or you are following?” Gonsalves said.
He further said that some Vincentians are “rabidly political” and questioned whether they are interested in “the thirst, the hunger for power” and not in the country.