KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he does not “feel too easily offended and disrespected” following an incident in Guyana earlier this month when he and his Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Keith Rowley, became the latest high-level officials to fall victim to American Airlines policy.
In a statement, the Guyana Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the airline had refused to allow the two prime ministers, who were attending the 2023 International Energy Conference and Expo in Georgetown, to check-in through the VIP lounge at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
The Foreign Ministry said the Guyana government had previously protested this position taken by American Airlines against its own high and senior government officials, but without success.
“They have continued to pay scant regard to the Government’s requests for entitlements to the positions held to be respected,” the ministry said, adding that in the case of the two prime ministers “all Government protocols were in place to facilitate their departure”.
Speaking on a radio programme here on Sunday, Gonsalves told listeners “first of all, nobody forced me to do anything” and that both government leaders were inside the VIP lounge “early” on the morning of their departure.
“I think it was (as) we are going to Miami and then to Bahamas and the chief of protocol came and said that the people who are doing the check in at AA requested that we come there so that they could identify the face to the passport. That’s what I understand. So I said, ‘Fine. Keith, let’s go.’”
Gonsalves said that they stood a short distance from the counter and after being told that the protocol details had been completed he left the area.
“Nobody asked anything. I just stood up, Keith and I, we stood up talking. Nobody asked us anything. So I thought (what) was required was just a visual identification.
“The only inconvenience for me is that I was drinking a cup of black coffee earlier that morning. That by the time I got back, it was cold and just had to get another one. I mean, I understand the government of Guyana has some problems there because of how AA deal with it and could understand the government of Guyana raising it from the standpoint of how heads of government may be treated or whoever.
“I don’t know the whole history. I understand there’s something there but it’s the first time that I was ever requested by AA anywhere to come and turn up at the counter when I travel as Prime Minister,” Gonsalves said.
He said he did not inquire as to the situation “but I understand some people taking different sides of the story (and) that one set of people saying it’s gross disrespect to our leaders. Other people saying, ‘Well, what happened, Ralph and Rowley thing they are gods?’”
“Well, I don’t think I’m a god. It’s not water off my back. And I certainly didn’t take it as any mark of disrespect to me. We have so many challenges in our countries and in the region and globally, tell you the truth that is the least of my concern.
“I know it’s an important matter for the Guyana government and I can understand how they feel and that they are raising it and I’m not telling them not to raise it. But in as much as you asked me, the only thing for me, I was interrupted having my cup of coffee and by the time I went back, it was cold,” Gonsalves said.
While he agreed what occurred in Guyana was “unusual”, Gonsalves said he wanted to make it clear that “I am not knocking the Guyana government. I am saying they have their history with them and there’s an issue which they’re taken up … to clarify, but I personally, as Ralph, was no sweat off my nose.”
He said for those persons who have raised the situation as being “gross disrespect, I don’t feel too easily offended and disrespected. I have my feet well planted on the ground.
“And on the other hand, there are those who feel well, ‘Yes. Who Ralph thinks he is, who Keith Rowley thinks he is, let them go like everybody else. Well, I’m flesh and blood like everybody else. But I’m also the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Keith is the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
“I’m just mentioning facts but if somebody thinks that somehow being Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines gone to my head and make me feel in some way that I will think that this is gross disregard of Ralph, no man, none of that.”