Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has outlined some of the way in which St. Vincent and the Grenadines will benefit from becoming the first CARICOM nation to hold the pro tempore presidency of the hemispheric group, CELAC.
“And to the extent that those who want to think of these activities as transactional, which they are not, St. Vincent Grenadines will benefit enormously from being the president pro tempore of CELAC,” he said after the country’s election at the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ seventh summit in Argentina on Jan. 23.
Gonsalves said that SVG’s Commissioner of Police, Colin John should be pleased to know that the declaration issued after the summit includes a special resolution on small arms, sponsored by Mexico
“And small arms are not just the short arms, but also assault weapons,” said Gonsalves, who is also minister of national security in Kingstown.
“The ease with which they get out of the United States and for us to set up the mechanism to help to track them and so on. That’s an important issue for us. Well, for the whole of Latin America.”
He said the top seven countries in the world in relation to rates of homicide per 100,000 persons are in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Of course, the top seven countries with the lowest rates of suicide, are also in Latin America and the Caribbean, including St. Vincent and Grenadines. So, that’s a very important issue for us — the arms issue for us to be dealing with,” he said.
Gonsalves said he wants SVG to advance the issue of air and sea transportation.
“Because if we have to link our civilisations, the Latin American and Caribbean civilizations, we have to be able to transport goods, we have to be able to transport people.”
He said that CELAC has established a disaster fund and SVG, Mexico and Argentina have already made their contributions
“I want to encourage all the countries to put contributions to this fund,’ Gonsalves said, noting that Kingstown is the chair of the fund.
He contrasted it to the one set up under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “There’s talk about a fund. But they haven’t set up the fund or they say a fund exists, but no money is in it.
“Well, a fund is not a fund nonetheless, it has money,” Gonsalves said. “The noun ‘fund’ relates to money inside of it. So, it’s that simple. You can’t abuse language and say you have a fund because you declare you have a fund. But we set up a fund. Sometimes, people don’t like when we talk this way, you know, but you can’t — if you do violence to language, you do violence, to common sense.”
He said that when CELAC meets with the European Union later this year or with the United States or China, “… we say, ‘Well, here nuh, we have a fund. Where is your money? Where is your fund?’
“We setting up one. The good Lord helps those who help themselves and we have to help ourselves with this. And this could be something very powerful.”
Gonsalves said that he had raised with the foreign minister of Mexico during a bilateral meeting and also made the point on the floor of the CELAC Summit of providing airlift to Caribbean countries in the immediate aftermath of natural hazards.
“When Barbuda was blown away [by Hurricane Irma in 2017], there were so many people who wanted to get out of Barbuda because the place had been decimated. They couldn’t get out of Barbuda very easily. You needed a helicopter, a military helicopter, to move people. And for the first 48 hours there was a problem,” Gonsalves said.
He said that St. John’s eventually got a military helicopter from Venezuela.
“But Mexico has those facilities; Brazil has those facilities. They’re also nearby,” Gonsalves said, adding that SVG can benefit from such an arrangement if the north of the country is cut off and the seas are raging.
“So, we have to prepare for eventualities for things like these. You see what I’m talking about? dealing with practical problems,” Gonsalves said.
He also said there are matters touching and concerning university education, as discussed with Argentina, and technical assistance in football from Brazil.
“I said, ‘You know, we may not be able to make the World Cup finals in 2026 … but we can improve what we’re doing.’”
The prime minister noted that four CELAC nations — Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras — have large population of Garifuna people, whose ancestral home is SVG.
He said the declaration issued after last month’s summit included a paragraph addressing the question of reparatory justice for the enslavement of African bodies.
“So that is part — you strengthen this campaign. And we in St. Vincent have to be doing more in that regard and we in CARICOM,” Gonsalves said, adding that this will be discussed at the CARICOM meeting in Bahamas this month.
“I know persons are saying but how small St. Vincent and Grenadines going to do this thing,” Gonsalves said, adding that this very question was posed at a press briefing in Buenos Aires after SVG’s election as the president of CELAC.
“And it’s a provocative question and it’s a question on the minds of those who are doubting Thomases. And I said … size is not the issue — organization, ideas and leadership.
“And I said, we have demonstrated all of those things, St. Vincent and Grenadines, time and again,” he said, noting SVG’s 2019 presidency of United Nations Economic and Social Council and the country’s two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
“… I said, ‘look at our record, and you will see that we performed with distinction’,” Gonsalves said, adding that SVG will work with all the countries in CELAC to fulfil the mandate of its presidency.
“… as I said on the floor of the CELAC meeting, that we are going to do this in a collegiate manner. We are leading but it’s going to be collegiate not only for CARICOM, but also in CELAC.
“You may well see one or two CARICOM countries sending persons and paying for them to come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but we are going to have persons whom we will communicate with in the other countries who are part of our Secretariat and we connect with them through the way in which you connect with people through modern communications…”
Gonsalves said that some CELAC nations have also offered to host some elements of the SVG’s CELAC secretariat in their capitals.
“What benefit this is going to bring to St. Vincent and Grenadines? If all what I have said you don’t think it will bring any benefit to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, well, you’re blind; either by visitation of God or by malice. You’re blind. You know, that’s the only way I could say that …
“There are a lot of people in this world who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. I want that to resonate in your head …
“And when they tell you the price, they’re engaged in learned helplessness, they’re engage in negativism. But when you look at the value of something, you look at that which is positive and uplifting, things to lift St. Vincent and Grenadines higher.”
Gonsalves said the EC$1.2 billion budget Parliament approved for 2023 contained a nominal sum for SVG’s CELAC presidency because his government did not know whether the bid would have been successful.
“Now, we are we will address that in the normal way within the Finance Administration Act. And I had already discussed this with the Minister of Finance with Cabinet colleagues and with the Director General of Finance and Planning,” Gonsalves said.
Let us revisit this claim in one year, at the end of the Chairmanship. It is easy to make all kinds of claims and projections in advance, but as is said, it is not how the story starts that matters, but how it ends. At this point however it can be stated indisputably that CECLAC is a minor player in global affairs. In fact, in hemispheric affairs. Recalling how and when it came about, there is very little to show since about its achievements, despite the Gonsalvesian tendency to overblown rhetoric on these matters, particularly when employed in an effort to boost his image. We will all do very well not to swallow this now, but let time unfold and the outcomes and results become measurable!
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