Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Sunday, defended his newly minted Minister of Foreign Affairs, Senator Keisal Peters, amidst an allegation that she bleaches her skin.
Gonsalves said that Jomo Thomas — one of his former senators and a former speaker of the House of Assembly under the prime minister’s Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration — descended into “gutter politics” when he made the claim.
On Thursday, Thomas, in his “Plain Talk” commentary, on Boom FM, commended Peter’s appointment, noting that she will become the nation’s first female foreign affairs minister.
“I think it is really good. Keisal is 36 years old — I saw some place in the media. She is now Minister of Foreign Affairs, she is the first female minister of foreign affairs we have…” Thomas said.
However, Thomas, a former chair of the Reparation Committee that Gonsalves had set up, alleged that Peters is bleaching and asked how she would address the issue of reparation at the United Nations or other international fora.
“How is she going to do that, especially today, the anniversary of the birth of Marcus Mosiah Garvey,” Thomas said.
He defended his comments, saying, “If you have a certain level of self hatred”, but did not complete the thought after one of the hosts interjected and accused him of delivering a low blow, an allegation he denied.
“The point I am making is how is she going to make an argument for reparations? How? It is not a personal attack. It is a question of consciousness. I am not here making a personal attack. I have nothing against her. You’ve got to emancipate yourself from mental slavery,” Thomas said.
Peters, a lawyer, was unknown in the world of politics in St. Vincent and the Grenadines before Gonsalves appointed her a senator and minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 2020.
Gonsalves announced last week that she is to be promoted to a full minister, replacing him as the nation’s foreign secretary.
The prime Minister, speaking on WE FM, on Sunday, said that Peters will formally take up the post later this week.
He said that the senator’s father was a port worker and her mother migrated to the United States and works with the elderly in the health sector.
“She comes on the bowel the working class. She’s a child of the education revolution. She is a strong, bright, beautiful black woman who emphatically does not bleach her skin. I want to repeat: she is a strong, bright, beautiful, committed, patriotic black woman who emphatically does not bleach her skin,” the prime minister said.
He said that Thomas does not know anything about Peters’ dermatology.
“… he doesn’t know anything about her skin, so he must just shut up and not degenerate in this kind of a nasty puerile manner, simply because she belongs to the Unity Labour Party, which he left because he couldn’t sustain himself in a party with the aims and objectives of our party, the obligations of a party member and his ambition run ahead of him, his ego ran ahead of him, his personal ambition ran ahead of him,” Gonsalves said.
In 2015, Thomas represented the ULP in South Leeward in the general elections, but lost to Nigel “Nature” Stephenson of the opposition New Democratic Party.
Thomas, a lawyer, journalist and social commentator, was then appointed Speaker of the House of Assembly, but quit the ULP in October 2019 and resigned as speaker in February 2020.
In 2017, Gonsalves agreed ‘one hundred per cent’
As house speaker, in August 2017, Thomas raised the issue of skin bleaching in SVG, telling Parliament there was “a looming health crisis as it relates to the issue of bleaching”.
“I don’t know if honourable members are paying sufficient attention to it but four decades after the emergence of the Black Power movement and the Black is Beautiful movement, and 38 years after Independence, four years since CARICOM and certainly St. Vincent and the Grenadines has taken the banner, led by Prime Minister Gonsalves, on the issue or reparations, it troubles me that so many of our young people, men and women, are engaging in this practice.”
Thomas told lawmakers he knows that people of African descent are not the only persons who bleach, adding that it is said that Japanese and Indians and other people bleach their skin also.
“But, as someone who lives in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I am really, really concerned about this.”
Commenting on the issue then, Gonsalves told Parliament that he agreed with the Speaker, “one hundred per cent…
“There are views that it be banned, but let’s talk about it as to see if the bleaching should be banned or not,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister, however, said that a point to be noted was that “it goes beyond that.
“I mean, if you start to ban those for bleaching, are you going to ban these hair pieces?” he said to laughter.
Thomas went ‘to the gutter’ — PM
However, on Sunday, Gonsalves said that Thomas, in his comments about Peters, had gone “to the gutter.
“I’m using very strong language because as everybody knows, it’s easier for you to make a criticism of Ralph and get away with it than to make one of … any of the young ones who are under my care and responsibility, politically.
“In relation to them, I am political leader, political protector, patriarch and I am not going to allow anybody unfairly to malign or go to the gutter with any of these brilliant young people, committed young people, next generation of leaders of our country,” said Gonsalves, 76, who has said that the would lead the ULP into the next general elections, constitutionally due in February 2026.
“What could get into the head of somebody to say something like this in a self-righteous holier-than-thou way?” Gonsalves said.
He said Thomas came “from the bowels of the working people, but he has gotten so petite bourgeois that he’s abandoned all kinds of principles for which you’d have stood for in an earlier period and getting on with all of these things. I just wanted to put my piece on this and tell him to stop this nonsense.
“And Bing must not allow his radio station to be used for this kind of garbage. We have so many serious issues to deal with in this country… and look at where he gone — about something he doesn’t know and just wash his mouth, in this nasty way, in the gutter against this beautiful, talented, patriotic black woman of the highest quality”.