The government is standing by its decision to appoint as its deputy Consul General in New York, Sehon Marshall, who last month apologised for speaking disparagingly about the occupations of some Vincentians in North America.
“Anybody who wants to damn me for sticking with Sehon Marshall on this thing, damn me. I am not running him under the bus. … I have heard nothing to change my mind on the subject…” Gonsalves said told a press conference on Tuesday.
Speaking on Cross Country Radio in late August, Marshall said that before the Unity Labour Party (ULP) came to office (in March 2001), civil servants used to quit their jobs and migrate to the United States and become nannies and dog walkers.
“I want you to tell me since the ULP has taken over in 2001, which teacher, which nurse, or which policeman has resigned his or her job and gone America to babysit people children or walk people dog?” said Marshall, who taught school from 1991 to 1999.
Some Vincentians at home and abroad say they were hurt by the comments, for which Marshall later apologised on “Voice” a programme on WE FM, hosted by ULP senator, lawyer Jomo Thomas.
“Sehon Marshall is qualified. Sehon Marshall misspoke and I express regret of his misspeaking. I don’t want to go over those words because I don’t want to prolong any answer to your question. He himself went on radio and apologised for his words and very much regret…” Gonsalves said Tuesday, noting that some persons at home and in the diaspora feel that Marshall should no longer be appointment
“But I think the vast majority of people say yes he should go. This is a question, too, of judgement…” he said, adding that Marshall’s faux pas, “is not a capital offence.
“He misspoke; should not have spoken [in the manner] in which he spoke,” Gonsalves also said, as he repeated an earlier point that diplomats should be in the news because of their work rather than for inappropriate comments or conduct.
“And he obviously found it difficult to move from the status of talk show host to diplomat,” Gonsalves said of Marshall, a former host of the morning programme on the Unity Labour Party’s radio station, Star FM.
Gonsalves contrasted the Marshall incident with one earlier this year, when Eustace told town hall meetings in Toronto and New York that he had been told in advance that one of his constituents would have been murdered.
Eustace did not communicate the information to the police about the young man who was later shot and killed.
Amidst public criticism, the Opposition Leader and East Kingstown representative later said that upon further reflection, he should have gone to the police.
“But he hemmed it in with the caveat that he didn’t think that that would have made any difference,” Gonsalves said of Eustace.
“The point I am making, what Arnhim Eustace said is far graver than what Sehon Marshall said, but the same people who are demanding that Sehon should not go, gave Eustace a passing grade. I didn’t hear them asking for Eustace to resign as Leader of the Opposition, which is a job of a much higher order than simply a deputy consul general in New York City,” the Prime Minister told reporters.
He confessed to having “a certain sympathy” for Marshall, a former teacher who has a master’s degree in international affairs, in addition o training in information technology.
“I am telling you straight and plain, he come from the poor and the working people, he is a country man, he comes from Chateaubelair, the bosom of the rural community. It is not easy for people like those to rise — working people, people from the rural area,” Gonsalves said.
“Must I, first of all, every young person who makes an error I don’t give them a chance that I want to cut them down in some sort of a peremptory manner? What am I saying to young people in general?” Gonsalves said.
“I’m applying my brain and I’m applying my heart to wisdom, and I give you all the basis,” he said.
The Prime Minister further announced his intention to use the incident during the campaign for the next general elections, constitutionally due in December 2015.
“And when I go to Chateaubelair in the general elections, I am going to tell them that [MP for North Leeward, opposition lawmaker] Patel Matthews and Arnhim Eustace wanted me to deny a son of the soil in Chateaubelair, a man who come from the working people, the bosom of the working people, by dint of his hard work and enterprise reach where he has reached, made a error, said he is sorry, learnt his lesson in my judgement, that I must run him under the bus for that.
“Are we not putting, as Pope Francis said in another context, an intolerable burden on a young man or a young person from which he or she cannot escape, and more particularly somebody from the deep rural? What happen, must we reserve the positions in the diplomatic world for the children of only a particular set of people?” Gonsalves said.
He said he is hoping that Marshall’s appointment will take place “soonest”.
“I certainly would like to see the appointment processed before the end of this month,” Gonsalves said.