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A disappointing response


Tue, Jan 31. 2012

We must admit we are disappointed at the response of Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, to the offer by Prime Minister Gonsalves to discontinue action in defamation cases against Mr Eustace and his fellow opposition Parliamentarian, Daniel Cummings. Dr Gonsalves had sued both Parliamentarians successfully and the courts had ruled in his favour, with the Court of Appeal upholding that judgement in the case of Mr Cummings.{{more}}

We were hopeful that Dr Gonsalves’ gesture was the beginning of the long awaited reconciliation process in our country, but at a Press Conference last week, Mr Eustace said that he could not, in good conscience, accept the offer, while the Prime Minister was proceeding with other defamation judgements against colleagues of Mr. Eustace, including Mr Douglas DeFreitas and Mr E.G. Lynch.

If one is not familiar with the circumstances surrounding the cases against Mr Eustace and company, one could be tempted to make a favourable comparison between Mr Eustace’ decision and that of African liberator Nelson Mandela. The latter, while imprisoned by the apartheid racists in South Africa, had steadfastly rejected offers by the apartheid regime to free him, while keeping thousands of other South African freedom fighters in jail. Unfortunately, no such comparison can be made for the circumstances are vastly different.

In the case of Mandela, he and his colleagues were unjustly imprisoned by an oppressive system which denied them recourse to legal action for redress. In Mr Eustace’s case, no such situation exists. Those convicted of defamation have been so judged by the courts in a democratic society. These are cases of the Court ruling that unsubstantiated statements maligning Dr Gonsalves had been published. It is the right of the Opposition, a right which we all hold quite dear, to criticize and to oppose, but not to resort to slander and defamation.

We understand quite well the need of the Opposition Leader to stand in solidarity with his colleagues. We are also well aware of the politics of the situation, and the dilemma in which a beleaguered Mr Eustace must have been placed. One can even understand some sense of suspicion and scepticism, given the bitter nature of our partisan politics.

But when Mr. Eustace rejects an offer of reconciliation, what is he saying? Is it that he is prepared to pay the damages awarded? Or is it that he is not interested in furthering the reconciliation process that most Vincentians have been calling for?

Would not a response, accepting the offer, but indicating that it would be more meaningful to consider other offenders, been far more likely to result in a positive outcome? That would have thrown the ball right back into the Prime Minister’s court.

What about an offer to meet with the Prime Minister to discuss the whole situation and arrive at a solution acceptable to both sides? Wouldn’t such a meeting, even if a complete settlement were not immediately agreed upon, been an important step in a broader reconciliation process, helping to tone down significantly the vitriol of the politics of our country?

We have to bring a greater sense of responsibility and maturity to our political discourse and practice.