Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sen. Camillo Gonsalves, son of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, on Saturday accepted the nomination of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) to be one of its candidates in the next general elections, promising all Vincentians the same opportunities that his privileged upbringing afforded him.
Camillo, the only ULP contender at the ULP’s East St. George (ESG) constituency conference, was selected to represent his party in that constituency, to run against the main Opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP), Linton Lewis.
Camillo described himself as a fruit of the tree nurtured and brought forth by the ULP.
The U.S.-born politician who, this year, renounced his American citizenship, reminded the audience that his mother, Dr. Sonia Gonsalves, taught at St. Martin’s Secondary School in Kingstown before becoming a university professor overseas.
He described his father as a former lecturer, world-class and world-renowned lawyer, who become the most dynamic Leader of the Opposition and the greatest Prime Minister ever in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
“Comrades, I am aware that I continue to be abundantly blessed to have the parents that I have, because they were able to provide me with opportunities that were beyond the reach of many Vincentians,” Camillo told the persons who attended the candidate selection conference in Calliaqua on Saturday.
He said that when he was leaving Kingstown Preparatory School and going on to St. Vincent Grammar School in the mid 1980s, he was aware that two-thirds of Vincentian people his age could not go to Grammar School, one of the nation’s leading secondary schools.
“And when I thought about going to university, I knew at the time in St. Vincent and the Grenadines opportunities were limited and the government didn’t spend a lot of money to send people to university, and to get a scholarship you had to know somebody or back a certain party or to do certain things to get an opportunity to go overseas and study,” said Gonsalves, who went on to pursue degrees in journalism, law, international affairs, and is now reading for a doctorate.
“And I am grateful that I had parents that didn’t make me have to stoop so low to get those opportunities. And they infused in me a commitment to service, serving country and family and people, and they infused in me the words from the book of Luke — to whom much is given, much is expected and to whom much is entrusted, much will be asked,” he said.
“And I know that my purpose is to ensure that the opportunities that I received from my parents and my good fortune are opportunities that must be felt and enjoyed by every Vincentian in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Camillo, who was also Senior Crown Counsel and Kingstown’s ambassador to the United Nation during the ULP tenure in office.
“I am overwhelmed by the number of you who came out for this event today,” Gonsalves said.
“And I want to, with profound gratitude and humility and respect and love, say that I accept your nomination to be the next representative of the Unity Labour Party in East St. George,” he said to cheers.
Gonsalves thanked his wife, saying that whatever his father and outgoing Member of Parliament for ESG, Clayton Burgin, who won the seat in 2001, 2005, and 2010, might have said, he (Camillo) would not be a candidate if his wife had objected.
“So I want to thank her for her love and support in letting me stand here today.”
Camillo also gave “a very special thank-you and acknowledged a debt of gratitude to comrade, Clayton Burgin”, whom he described as “incumbent, and undefeated and undefeatable”.
“Clayton Burgin has been at the centre of all the progress that you ought to congratulate the ULP for. He is a man of honour and a man of integrity and a man of character and I know that when all of you went to the polls to elect him on three successive occasions, that was in the back of your minds. And he has been, and continues to be, a wonderful mentor and guide to me in my own political growth here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and East St. George,” Camillo said of Burgin, who is Minister of Education, and has headed several other ministries since being sworn in on April 1, 2001.
Camillo told the audience that while he appreciates their nomination, there were just 500 persons in the room where the nomination took place, and Burgin remains the representative of the constituency until the elections, which must be held by March 28, 2016, but is widely expected by December 2015.
Season for change & continuity
Camillo told the gathering that it was the season for change and continuity in the ULP.
“The promise of the Unity Labour Party is that if you work hard and if you are committed and if you are dedicated and if you do your part, the sky is the limit; that opportunities are yours for the taking and you have a government that will help you to achieve those opportunities; that your background or who you know or your present circumstances are not an impediment for you to achieve your dreams,” he said.
“That your government is an active partner, an active participant in your dreams and your aspirations and your successes, and together, as the Prime Minister always says, we can soar like eagles, with wings unclipped and face a bright future tomorrow. That is the promise of the Unity Labour Party to every Vincentian,” he said.
Camillo told constituents that they were meeting at a crossroad, and were standing “in the valley of decision”.
“We are a short distance away from a very important choice and a very important decision in East St. George and St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said in reference to the next general elections, in which the ULP, which held on to power by a one-seat majority in 2010, will seek a fourth consecutive term in office.
“We have to choose between continued progress or a return to backwardness; between the vision that brought you new homes, new schools and learning centres, new clinics, and the vision that closed factories, squandered resources and enriched only a few persons; between the compassion that even in a financial crisis around the world hires new workers and builds new homes for victims of natural disasters with fridge and stove and mattress, or, on the other hand, the cuts, victimisation and telling you figure out a way to do it by yourselves,” he said.
He told constituents that they had a choice between the international airport under construction at Argyle, and “I have it in my back pocket but I can’t show you” — a reference to a comment more than 15 years ago by former prime minister under the NDP, retired politician Sir James Mitchell on international airport development.
“The choice between [Leader of the Opposition] Arnhim Eustace and Dr. The Honourable Ralph Gonsalves. That is the choice that confronts you in a very short time. And across the country, you will be asked between moving forward to a brighter tomorrow or turning back to a wretched past. And you must stand firm and proud in your support of our party, the only party in St. Vincent and the Grenadines with a vision and a plan for development,” Camillo said.
Growth vs. cuts
He accused the NDP of boldly asking citizens to vote for the party but not being as bold in communicating their plans for the country.
“Because their plans, if they have any at all, are the same tired, disgusting, rejected plans that put them out of office in the 80s and 90s,” he said of the party that was in office from 1984 to March 2001, adding that members of the NDP often communicate different messages on the same policy.
“If they have a plan, it is a plan to cut your jobs, cut your salaries and cut your access to opportunities. They have said as much on their radio station and in public,” Gonsalves said, an accusation that the leadership of the NDP has repeatedly denied.
He said the NDP has praised job cuts in Barbados and supported the move by St. Lucia to cut public servants salaries by 5 per cent.
“What you think they are going to do if anybody makes the mistake and put them in office in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Cut, cut, cut. This government builds and grows and builds and that is the choice–”Camillo said, the rest of his words were drowned out by applause and DJ music.
“You have one man who is thinking about the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and you have one man who is thinking about commess (goddip) and scurrility. That is the choice that you will have in the upcoming election.”
Camillo said he would not waste too much time on his opponent, Sen. Linton Lewis, an accountant who also holds a doctorate in law.
Lewis, who is chair of the NDP, has failed to win a seat in the St. Georges constituencies three times, and was appointed a senator in 2012, after Eustace fired Anesia Baptiste.
“And you know, better than me, why you have not voted him in the past and you cannot and will not vote him in the future.”
Nine years of service
He further told the gathering that many of them already know his résumé, including where he went to school and his work at the United Nations.
Camillo said that for the last nine years, both at the United Nations and as a senator and minister of government, “I have lived and breathed and treated the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a fulltime job.
“And I have taken the case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the world to ensure that we get the developmental assistance and the international respect that we deserve. And I am proud already of the work we have done, the work I have done to get funds to build many projects in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the work I have done to distribute laptops to many of your students and children, the work that I have done on the international airport at Argyle, both helping to fund it and my early work as a lawyer on the airport. I am proud of my commitment and service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and I look forward to do more,” he said.
Access to the PM
Camillo highlighted his relationship with and access to his father, saying that for as long as he can remember, he has had “the best political teacher in the world — Ralph Gonsalves”.
He teasingly said that at his first political meeting with his father, there was an audience of eight.
“And at my first meeting, I have 500,” Camillo said to applause.
Camillo further said that while Burgin is his mentor, he (Camillo) is waiting in the wings.
“But when you elect me, you won’t be transitioning just from Clayton to Camillo. You will have two for one. And when you elect me, you will have three for one, because I have access to this man (The Prime Minister) that maybe only Eloise (the PM’s wife) has,” he said to even louder cheers and applause.
“Whereas another MP will have to tell you, ‘Well, ah hear your issue you know. Ah go see if ah could catch Comrade tomorrow at his office’, I will push open his bedroom door…” Camillo said.
“You have in the next election, three for one. My name is on the ballot, but the general standing behind me will be Clayton Burgin and Ralph Gonsalves. Bet your bottom dollar that you will have the best representation ever in this constituency come the next elections, because you have three for one.”
Camillo said ESG is particularly critical in the next general elections, noting that it is the biggest constituency in terms of number of voters.
“So if this constituency starts to move to the Unity Labour Party in massive numbers, it will have a knock-on effect around the country. If East St. George is united, undivided and overwhelmingly in support of the ULP and Camillo Gonsalves, the whole of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will feel the tremors and the aftershocks,” he said.
He also told the gathering that, for a political reason, if they love the ULP, the next election is critical, adding that it will come either a little bit before or after the Argyle International Airport, which the government has said will be substantially complete by the end of this year and operational by the middle of 2015.
‘a great deal of inequality’
But Camillo also said that ESG is a complex constituency with a great deal of inequality, with very rich and very poor people living there.
“We have to work, and I have the vision… commitment to work to equalise these inequalities. I believe that we have work to do throughout the constituency,” he said.
Among this work, he mentioned improving the fish market in Calliaqua, improving agriculture, the employment situation, the roads and infrastructure.
Camillo said the hundreds of athletes in the constituency are crying out for playing fields, and he will work on access to athletic opportunities.
He told constituents that by next election they will not recognise the Calliaqua Playing Field because of the improvements that will be made there.
Camillo, acknowledged the crime situation in the constituency, where several persons have been gunned down in Glen this year.
“The Prime Minister knows I have been on his case already, comrade Clayton and I want to get more policemen on the ground,” he said, adding that, in the next few days, a new temporary police station will be stationed in Glen.
Camillo further told constituents that more opportunities have to be created for the young people.
“But the first thing we have to do is put a stop to the killing, and we are going to put more boots on the ground,” he said to applause.
“Comrades, this party has been battle tested,” he said, adding that when the ULP came to office in 2001, it cleaned up the “mess” left by the NDP.
He said that as the ULP seeks a fourth term in office, it is adding youth and energy to experience
“They (NDP) want to build a bridge to the past: we (ULP) want to build a bridge to a bright and prosperous tomorrow in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Let us build that bridge to the future together. Set aside the little gripes and complaints. We all have them. But too much is at stake this election for little gripes and complaints,” Camillo said.