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The indefensible cannot be defended

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Tue, Oct 4. 2011

In the face of strong public criticism of the racially divisive statements he made at a Unity Labour Party (ULP) public meeting last week Sunday, Minister of Agriculture Montgomery Daniel, instead of apologising, has attempted to defend the indefensible.{{more}}

Last Friday, the Minister called in to the Shake Up radio programme and “explained” that when he had made the comment that “… no boat ain’t bring me here in chains, and I did not come here in indentureship, so I know where I come from, and comrades, I know where I am going,” he was responding to a comment made by a protester that “the Carib should go”.

We condemn that alleged “Carib” remark, but no matter what was said to Minister Daniel, when he himself degenerated into racially divisive remarks, the Minister did himself, his government, and the country as a whole, a tremendous disservice.

To add insult to injury, former minister of government Dr. Jerrol Thompson, who hosted last Friday’s Shake Up programme, told Daniel that he (Thompson), would not have had respect for him, had he (Daniel) taken the “slur” sitting down without saying anything. Likewise, why should Vincentians take this slur from a minister of government sitting down? It is extremely disappointing to hear that in Dr. Thompson’s opinion, Minister Daniel’s response is acceptable because Daniel and other persons of Carib descent were insulted.

We can perhaps say Minister Daniel was under pressure and made a mistake. However, it is how we react after criticism of our actions, that best characterises us. The Minister of Agriculture, having had the benefit of a week of reflection, has not retracted his statement or apologised, but can only offer up that he hopes “that the public will understand”; he “did not intend to disrepect or disregard Vincentians” and he “hopes that we do not try to divide St. Vincent”. So what exactly was the Minister doing when he made the statements?

To attempt to play politics simply because some of the farmers are known supporters of the opposition NDP is also inexcusable. Many of the protesting farmers support the ULP. But that is besides the point; it was never a political issue, rather a matter affecting the livelihood of farmers. The respective political persuasions of the farmers is totally irrelevant. Most importantly, the picket came about because of the Ministry of Agriculture’s handling of the situation, causing farmers to lose tens of thousands of dollars.

It is irritating that the government seems to be playing games with the words “blame” and “responsibility”. If any public servant neglected to carry out his/her duty, then it is those in charge who must take the blame for the laxity in supervision on such a vital matter. The buck stops with Minister Daniel and his government, not any negligent public servant. There have been too many manifestations of what the government itself has described as “bureaucratic bungling” in the Ministry of Agriculture, hence the calls for Minister Daniel to “go”, that is, be removed from his post as the head of the Agriculture Ministry.

Similar calls have been made in the past about other errant ministers, which, in most cases, the Prime Minister has studiously ignored. But the minister under fire this time chose to go down a slippery slope, using his ethnic origin and constituency base to cast slurs on the origins of the vast majority of Vincentians, his prime minister included.

Africans, Indian and European indentured servants were brought here by a common oppressor; our common struggles against colonial rule brought us the rights and freedoms we cherish today.

We must not allow that multi-ethnic strength of ours to be dissipated by cheap partisan politics and insensitive remarks. It behoves Prime Minister Gonsalves to publicly disassociate himself from the remarks of Minister Daniel and to publicly rebuke and discipline him for his damaging and divisive statements.

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