Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 17th 2015 Contents BG16 COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt DECEMBER 17 • 2015
Dr Ralph Gonsalves is set to
make history in St Vincent
and the Grenadines as he
starts a fourth term in office
as Prime Minister. Having
already completed 14 years
as Head of Government, within three years
of the term to which he was elected on
December 9, Gonsalves will overtake the record
of former Prime Minister Sir James "Son"
Mitchell who served 16 years from 1984 to
Securing re-election to a fourth term as
leader of a political party and Head of Gov-
ernment is no easy task as the closeness of
the elections shows.
Indeed, in many cases, a leader and prime
minister in office for 14 years becomes a lia-
bility in general elections as the instinctive
urge of the people, particularly younger voters,
is for change. In this context, therefore, Gon-
salves re-election is all the more significant.
Clearly, the majority of the voting public
regard him as the person in whose hands the
stewardship of their affairs best resides.
There are many reasons for the ULP s vic-
tory over the NDP which has been headed by
Arnhim Eustace since 2000, when Sir James
Mitchell stepped down and virtually anointed
him as leader. But, undoubtedly, the sheer
force of Dr Gonsalves personality is a major
factor in the country s politics.
He is charismatic; he regards himself as a
man of the people, reflected in his insistence
on being called Comrade Ralph; and he has
a natural capacity for endearing himself to
people of all classes, races and religions. Even
his worst detractors have a grudging respect
for his ability to charm.
Beyond his interpersonal skills, Gonsalves
is a hard worker who pays considerable atten-
tion to detail in the governance of the country.
Despite a lack of sufficiently trained persons
in the country s public service, Gonsalves has
managed the economy well.
Inheriting an economy whose mainstay---
the export of bananas ---was severely weakened
when preferential access to the European
Union market was removed based on a World
Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling, he has had
to be inventive in maintaining employment
and diversifying the economy. He also had to
pursue aid and funding beyond the country s
There was much method in what seemed
to be madness in seeking financial help from
Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and from
developing economic relations with Venezuela,
under Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro,
these events cushioned the economy s fall.
Significantly, in establishing these new rela-
tions, Gonsalves did not alienate customary
trade, economic and political links to the Unit-
ed States, Canada and the European Union.
If anything, he displayed astute footwork in
tip-toeing between the rain drops of con-
tending foreign interests.
A great deal of political capital both domes-
tically and internationally has been invested
in the construction of an International Airport
in St Vincent. Completing this facility and
making it economically viable will be a major
challenge for Dr Gonsalves in his fourth term
The airport is regarded as the key to open-
ing-up the tourism potential of the main
island, St Vincent, and further exploiting the
already established allure of the Grenadines.
However, operating it will be costly and its
viability will depend on how quickly new
hotels and resorts can be constructed to bring
in an optimum number of airplanes and
Since this Airport is Dr Gonsalves "child"
and will be part of his legacy, it is expected
that the early part of his fourth term as Prime
Minister will focus on making sure the tourism
industry develops rapidly; a tough task given
Gonsalves, is also a man of scholarship. A
review of his speeches and writings during
his period as Prime Minister, reveals careful
research and well-reasoned argument. He has
seldom made public statements in the
Caribbean and international spheres that serve
a purely political purpose. The great majority
of his speeches and writings has been erudite
With regard to the Caribbean, he has been
an unrelenting champion of integration,
eschewing the fallacy that national insularity
can bring success and debunking the notion
that any country in the region has the capacity
to bargain effectively on its own in the inter-
national community. In this regard, he ranks
with the giants of Caribbean advocacy such
as P J Patterson, Shridath Ramphal, William
Demas, Alister McIntyre and Norman Girvan.
As a sitting Prime Minister over the last
14 years, he has shown remarkable courage---
born of his credentials as a scholar and former
University lecturer---in criticising his colleague
Heads of Government for the slow pace of
integration. And, he has been dogged in keep-
ing alive the flame of Caribbean unity as the
basis for advancing the collective interest of
the Caribbean people.
There have been other areas in which he
has demonstrated a Caribbean commitment
and a capacity for action that belies the small-
ness of his country. I well remember sitting
with him in a coffee shop in St Vincent in
2012 when former West Indies fast bowler
and then cricket commentator Ian Bishop
Gonsalves sent an aide to invite Bishop over
and a conversation took place that led to
negotiations with the West Indies Cricket
Board, the recall of Chris Gayle to the West
Indian cricket team and to Gayle s flaying of
England s bowlers in the test series that year.
Gonsalves is that kind of man. He acts intu-
itively and purposefully for the causes and
principles in which he shares the care and
pride of the Caribbean people.
In this fourth term of office, a great deal
of hope of the peoples of St Vincent and the
Grenadines and the Caribbean reside in his
unrelenting championship of their social,
political and economic development.
History can be made in more than the
achievement of four terms in office. Dr Gon-
salves knows that well.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's
Ambassador to the United States. He is
also senior fellow at the Institute of Com-
monwealth Studies, University of London
and Massey College, University of Toronto.
The views expressed are his own).
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