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Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, left, greets his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau in Ottawa.
Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, left, greets his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau in Ottawa.
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Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that the Canada-CARICOM summit made “some progress” on a number of issues but some affecting St. Vincent and the Grenadines directly, such as the need for a visa to travel to Canada, remain unresolved.

Gonsalves said that the first time he spoke on the morning of the conference, “I said plainly that I have come to Ottawa not with illusions. Therefore, I will not be disillusioned … but I’m hoping for the best,” he said on radio on Sunday.

… If we don’t have overwhelming results, they must at least not be underwhelming. Trudeau intervened and said he hoped they are well. I said, ‘Oh yes. It’s all well with our soul.'”

Gonsalves said the raised the issue of visa-free travel to Canada for Vincentian passport holders.

“… while Canada has the right to say who goes into Canada visa-free, I say it is passing strange that Nazis from Europe can enter Canada visa-free from, for instance, from Germany and Ukraine and all about, they can enter visa free but the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of Milton Cato, the founding father of our nation, who fought Nazism from within the Canadian Armed Forces, we need visas,” Gonsalves said on radio on Sunday.

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Gonsalves attended the summit in Ottaway last week in his first trip to Canada since 2008, when a Vincentian Canadian lawyer made an allegation against him, which the director of public prosecution in Kingstown discontinued for lack of evidence.

In 2012, Canada imposed visa requirements for Vincentian passport holders, citing concerns about the security of the travel document, an explanation which the government rejected.

Gonsalves said in response to his questions about the visa issue, he got at the summit “a lot of technical responses, which I’ve been getting all the time.

“They said well, you know, we have boost somewhere, we have the electronic travel authorisation if you have a US visa.

“You know what we had pushed them nuh on the — they went one end of the way nuh, because that only affects one-tenth of the population,” Gonsalves said.

He said that to facilitate his travel to Canada he applied for a visa in early September, having never applied for one since the removal of the visa-free travel for Vincentians.

“And I said I wasn’t going to do it unless I had a compelling reason why I have to go,” he said, adding that he applied for a visa rather than an ETA.

“I didn’t use my US visa as a basis to get in. I went through, I chose to go through the process which 90% of Vincentians have to go through; the long-winded process to get the visa,” Gonsalves said.

“I expect my own took a shorter time than most people. It took about two weeks. I got my visa on the 22nd of September in preparation to go. But I wasn’t satisfied with the agenda.”

He said that at the summit he raised the issue of Canada helping us CARICOM countries to persuade the United States A to remove the sanction concerning PetroCaribe, under which some CARICOM nations access Venezuelan oil on preferential terms of payment.

Gonsalves noted that Washington had left the sanctions in relation to Chevron, a U.S. company, exploiting resources in Venezuela because Chevron.

“I say why they don’t do that for us too,” the prime minister said.

“I raised regional security issues and where Canada can perhaps help us. I raised the matter of airline transportation. I raised Canada and CARICOM working together about what is the next frontier, the deep seabed. The International Seabed Authority on the Law of the Sea is in Jamaica, you know, and we don’t use it that enough.”

The prime minister said the next frontier is “not really so much space but the deep seabed.

“And we need to align with a major country or countries to be able to exploit the seabed in our interest. Otherwise, capitalism and hegemony going to take the resources of the deep seabed.  I’m looking for things not only for my generation here but the young people and for the future of this region and the world.”

Gonsalves said he also raised with Canada the issue of scholarships. “I said there is a trickle. I want to see a flood from Canada of scholarships for our students.

“…But these things were not on the agenda. … I had written a letter when I saw the agenda to CARICOM for us to talk about this. But by the time we had the meeting the Friday before people left the Monday it was too late to really change the agenda. So, I decided I will raise things on the floor in each of the sections…

“So, … you’ll read the communique and in the light in which I’ve talked to you, you will see that there’s some progress which has been made but the thing is a continuous effort,” he said.

Gonsalves said three central matters occupied the summit in Ottawa last week, namely climate change; reform of the international financial architecture and the associated matter of financing for development including climate financing; and the ongoing situation in Haiti.

He said that as regards climate change the talks were “a staging post”, saying that those issues are coming to a head at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28) in Dubai beginning Nov. 30.

The prime minister said reform of the international financial architecture and the associated matters are being dealt with by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“In fact, while the agenda was being drawn up, these discussions were taking place over a week in Marrakech in Morocco at the annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF,” Gonsalves said.

“And that discussion will continue. A I say what happened there is a staging post, people exchanging views.”

CARICOM leaders also discussed with their Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, the ongoing political and humanitarian situation in Haiti, where armed gangs control much of the country.

He noted that a meeting was a meeting of the Friends of Haiti held under Trudeau’s chairmanship at the sideline of the UN General Assembly in September.

“And of course, subsequent to that, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution and the United Nations Security Council is seized of the issue and therefore we have to work within the framework of that resolution where they discuss matters touching and concerning a transitional government based on a certain consensus, and of course, for the establishment of a multinational security support to help the Haitian national police deal with security questions,” Gonsalves said. 

“So, there was that bundle of things which I said, a staging post where other fora dealing with them,” Gonsalves said.

He said that Canada as a G7 and G20 country “could have some influence in representing our position and, of course, Canada represents our constituency at the World Bank and the IMF under the old rules from the 1940s, from the Bretton Woods agreement”.

The Vincentian leader, however, said there were specific things that had to be raised.

“What is Canada’s specific role?  … What would it do from a developmental standpoint in relation to CARICOM, within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals?” he said, adding that there has been talk about some additional monies for the region.

“… but I don’t know whether those monies — and relatively small monies for the whole region — whether they’re new monies or monies move from somewhere to somewhere else. You know what I mean, a sleight of hand nuh. So, the details there,” the prime minister said.  

Another broad issue which was raised touched on trade and investment, Gonsalves said.