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Mitchell Autobiography portrays Eustace as timid, unwise


by Camillo M. Gonsalves


Whatever your political persuasion, Sir James Mitchell’s place in Caribbean history is secure. For sheer electoral success alone, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ longest-serving Prime Minister has earned the right to pen his autobiography. But, with the exception of a premature review by Adrian Fraser, the deafening silence greeting James Mitchell: “Beyond The Islands” is curious. Why won’t the NDP celebrate the memoirs of its founding father? Why wouldn’t they want to celebrate their party’s glory years?

The answer to these questions lies in Sir James’ undisguised contempt for Arnhim Eustace.{{more}}

In between his own chronic name-dropping, tales of gold Rolex watches, fine wines and rampant self-aggrandizement, Mitchell characterizes Eustace as timid, unwise and unable to guide St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the era of trade liberalization. It is a stunning indictment from Eustace’s predecessor and mentor, and shows that, even within the NDP, Arnhim is a divisive and disappointing figure.

Sir James’ undisguised disenchantment with his handpicked successor begs the question: If Mitchell himself has lost confidence in Eustace, why should anyone else support him? Remember, Eustace became Prime Minister and leader of his party based almost entirely on the strength of Mitchell’s endorsement. Other than Sir James’ support – now irrevocably withdrawn – what does Eustace have to recommend himself as a leader? Two failures at the polls?

An Unwise Captain, Sinking The Ship Of State

Mitchell’s autobiography declares that improved air access to St. Vincent is vital to national development, especially in the wake of bananas’ decline and the looming threat of trade liberalization. “I knew that beyond the elections the storms of liberalization that lay ahead,” he states at page 426. However, Sir James makes clear that it was Eustace who scuttled his plans for a jetport at Arnos Vale. And, in his vivid seaman’s imagery, Mitchell also blames Arnhim for his poor captaincy of the “ship of state.” At page 426, Sir James says:

“After I surrendered the leadership of the party, stepping aside as Senior Minister, the new Prime Minister, Arnhim Eustace declined to sign the final design contract won by Sypher Mueller in competitive tender. He also cancelled the technical visits of the Kuwaiti Fund. . . I had assumed that my successor would be wise enough to value our legacy and deploy our experience toward new triumphs. Instead I could see my vision of a Jetport in St. Vincent vanishing, our direct linkage to Caracas and Miami receding like a mirage in a desolate landscape, and the ship of state drifting inexorably, only to founder in the turbulence of the Taiwan Strait. When you can no longer climb the mountain, enjoy the valley. It was time to go home and smell the Frangipani flowers.”

A page earlier, Mitchell again bemoans the idiocy of ignoring airport development. In discussing his emotions in the wake of the ULP’s Road Block Revolution, Sir James expresses his “disappointment with . . . my ministers for not seeing the wisdom of developing our opportunities with jet transport to Miami before the banana industry collapsed.”

Mitchell assumed that Arnhim would be wise, and he was disappointed. He hoped that Eustace would be an able captain of the “ship of state,” only to see it run aground. And he prayed that his successor would see the importance of a new airport, but was disillusioned again.

One is left to ask: what is Eustace’s thinking today? Has he belatedly seen the wisdom of an international airport? Unfortunately, we may never know, because in the 19 months since Ralph Gonsalves announced the ULP’s plans to build an international airport at Argyle, we are still waiting for Eustace’s response. With this sort of delayed reaction, we should be grateful that when Eustace almost sank SVG in the Taiwan Strait, the people hired Captain Ralph to right the ship!

Eustace the Timid

The reason that Eustace killed some of Mitchell’s grander ideas, and the cause of his silence on the International Airport today, may lie in what Sir James depicts as his timidity. In discussing the race to succeed him as leader of the NDP, Mitchell states (page 435):

“Gentlemen, are you ready to chose my successor? Which of you are ready to come forward?”

The long-serving Jerry Scott put forward his name. The newcomer, the economist I had brought in – Arnhim Eustace, my Finance Minister – timidly indicated his willingness.

It is this timidity – manifest in politics, his philosophy and his aversion to creativity – that cripples Eustace as a leader. It is this timidity that condemns him to a fate of doodling endlessly in the margins of the nation’s ledger book, looking to the IMF and the USA for supervision. Couple this timidity with what Sir James asserts is a lack of wisdom, and the reasons for the NDP’s impotence and decline become obvious.

Abandon Ship!

To be sure, James Mitchell: “Beyond The Islands” is self-serving and vapid, glossing over both political triumphs and failures, and spending more time in wine cellars and Rolls Royces than in his cabinet, Grand Beach or SACE’s boardroom. But the unmistakable image of Eustace – in Sir James’ own words – is that of an unwise, timid and uninspired leader. In successive elections, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have concurred with Sir James’ assessment of Eustace. With the ship of the NDP listing on its side, taking on water and drifting aimlessly in a sea of lies and innuendo, it is unsurprising that its onetime supporters continue to jump overboard.