An opposition MP has accused Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of being forked-tongue on the cultivation of bananas and marijuana.
Roland “Patel” Matthews, MP for North Leeward, an agricultural district where large quantities of marijuana is also grown illegally, suggested that Gonsalves was making politically-expedient statements on the cultivation of the two crops.
“You know they say that snake tongue has two sprang. Well, that seems to be the tongue of the present prime minister,” Matthews told supporters of his New Democratic Party at a rally in Layou at the weekend.
He said that during the campaign for the Dec. 9 general elections, the NDP outlined its plan to revive agriculture, beginning with the rehabilitation of 1,000 acres of bananas in its first year.
“They find that sound too good, so they say they are going to double that within two years,” Matthews said of Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party.
“As January break in, our illegal Prime Minister went to Barbados and telling the people, university students, that it is better to produce marijuana than bananas…
“But, just before that, he told the Vincentian public that marijuana farmers contribute absolutely nothing to the economy of this country. And, furthermore, he said of our young people — those who can’t get work and those who are going to the hills — that he will pursue them until they exist no more,” Matthews said.
Gonsalves had some years ago dismissed the argument that marijuana contributes to the Vincentian economy.
“There are some who say to me, ganja contributes significantly to the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. To that, I say rubbish,” Gonsalves said.
“When they (dealers in marijuana) chop up and shoot up one another, where do they take them? To the hospital, where we have to employ skilled surgeons and nurses and provide the facilities in the operating theatre, and the medication, and the hospital care. That costs money, to which they contribute nothing,” Gonsalves had further said.
Matthews, who secured a second term as MP for North Leeward in the Dec. 9 poll, further commented on the Prime Minister’s different statements on marijuana, saying:
“Vincentians, Vincentian, we have see Ralph Gonsalves for who he is. You know who he is? Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of this country, is a liar. He is a liar.”
Matthews’ comments were in response to a statement Gonsalves made in a Jan. 25 address to mark the 40th anniversary of the Faculty of Social Sciences at University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill, Barbados.
In the lecture, Gonsalves said he was disappointed that no UWI campus has done any, or any useful, research on the contemporary banana industry or the marijuana enterprise.
“I am satisfied that the banana industry, despite its important historical contribution to several Caribbean economies particularly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, has been the most environmentally degrading commercial agricultural crop since conquest and settlement,” he said, reading from the prepared script.
In an ad-lib comment, he said: “Look at it objectively and see what happens to the environment as a consequence of bananas. People talk about ganja. Ganja is no way as destructive as bananas. And I’ll explain why.”
Returning to his script, Gonsalves said, “On St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Dominica, for example, in the hey-day of market preferences in the United Kingdom, farmers cultivated bananas in substantial quantities above the 1,000 foot contour and in the adjacent undulating valleys. The upshot of all this has been deforestation and erosion of the hills and valleys. “
He further said extemporaneously: “Of course, ganja’s with that problem too, but it as been going on or nearly 50 years with bananas.
“So that when the rains come and you have flooding, the land gets washed away into the river, trees themselves get dug up and it block up the river, they mash up the bridges, they destroy homes, and they kill people,” Gonsalves said.
Several media outlets reported the Prime Minister’s comment as a suggestion that some countries are better off growing marijuana than bananas.
Marijuana, although illegal, is believed to be a major contributor to the Vincentian economy.
Gonsalves has called for a regional conversation on the decriminalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes.