Hours before the 17th anniversary of his election to government, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves Tuesday night presented himself as the subject of a two-decade campaign by Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), parent company of Cambridge Analytica, which has been accused of mining data to influence election outcomes around the world.
Gonsalves, speaking on his Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) Star FM, spoke about his party’s “journey” and the way in which “backward political forces” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and “elements overseas” want to undermine progress in the country for their own selfish purposes.
“… and in this regard, I speak about an organisation like Strategic Communication Laboratories, which has been here since 1998 seeking to undermine the ULP and from 2001 and onwards, they have been very nasty towards the ULP on behalf of the NDP and they have been particularly so to the leadership of the ULP, including comrade Ralph,” said Gonsalves, whose ULP is into its fourth consecutive term in office.
He said other entities associated with the SCL, such as “bandits” who want to sell SVG citizenship and passports have paid the SCL to work on behalf of the NDP.
Gonsalves has repeatedly referred to citizenship by investment as selling of passports and SVG remains the only independent Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States nation without such a programme.
The NDP says that citizenship by investment can help to improve the economic fortunes of SVG, while not imposing any further tax burden on citizens.
The prime minister noted that former prime minister and founder of the NDP, Sir James Mitchell, was once on the advisory board of SCL.
“He might try to distance himself from them now that there is a lot of nastiness surrounding SCL and its offshore, Cambridge Analytica, which did a lot of nasty work — you notice I am repeating this word nasty, nasty work for Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton in the election [in the 2016 US presidential election]…”
He said special prosecutor in the United States, Robert Mueller, the US senate and Congress, and the British parliament are investigating Cambridge Analytica.
“The evidence has emerged of SCL doing the nasty work to undermine democracy in several Caribbean countries,” he said.
Gonsalves said this was done in Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, and SVG.
“And I will be talking about their nefarious role,” Gonsalves said, adding that from the time they were formed in 1993, SCL proudly stated on their website and promoted themselves as “mind benders — bending minds of unsuspecting people, they trafficked in lies, distortions. They said that they can use behavioural analysis to twist people for them to vote particular ways if they didn’t want to vote that way”.
The prime minster further said that SCL once boasted on their website that they have learnt from and apply tactics used by Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda.
“That is the organisation which the New Democratic Party had working against the ULP from 1998.”
He said that in 2001, there was an offshore bank in SVG called Grenadines Bank, whose owner, Douglas Lees, also owned an offshore bank in Barbados and an offshore financial institution in Bermuda.
Gonsalves said that when he arrived in office, Lees’ company from Bermuda was being used by the NDP to do due diligence on persons interested in investing in SVG.
“Making a lot of money and doing very little work because can you imagine getting a company that is associated with an offshore bank doing due diligence for investors?” Gonsalves said.
He said that in 2001, Lees had hired SCL as his multi-million contributions to the NDP that year’s election campaign — in which the NDP was voted out of office, after 17 years.
Gonsalves said that in 2001, a young lady who was a supporter of the ULP and front desk worker at Mariners Hotel, had copied and given to Michael Hamlett — the ULP’s candidate for East Kingstown — a fax that SCL had given her to send on their behalf.
The ULP used the fax as part of its campaign against the NDP.
In 2001, the SCL attempted to use race against him in the election campaign, said Gonsalves, who is of Portuguese descent.
By the 2005 election campaign, the SCL came only as advisors because then leader of the NDP, Arnhim Eustace, wanted to distance himself from Sir James, Gonsalves further said.
He said that in the constitution referendum campaign of 2009, an entity associated with selling passports in other countries hired the SCL to work for the NDP.
“And they used every species of nastiness in that referendum,” he said.
The NDP was able to convince the electorate to reject proposed changes to the nation’s constitution, in a vote that would have seen the NDP elected to office 13 seats to 2, had the vote been a general election.
However, the ULP retained office one year later, winning the December 2010 general elections by taking eight of the 15 parliamentary seats — having lost to the NDP four of the seats it held in the previous parliament.
Gonsalves said that the SCL was also in SVG in the 2015 election, which saw the ULP returned to office by the same 8-7 margin as in 2010.
“So when you see the NDP, I want the people of St. Vincent to see these nasty people from England, SCL — Strategic Communication Laboratories, who are bent on undermining democracy, bending people’s minds, having contempt for black people, having contempt for the people of the Caribbean, the leaders of the Caribbean, but they want money for themselves and their clients want to sell our passports and our citizenship,” Gonsalves said.