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Something in the mortar besides the pestle?

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Fri, Dec 16. 2011

Editor: I write to endorse the sentiments expressed in Oscar Allen’s article on this country’s cocoa agreement with Armajaro which appeared in Searchlight of Tuesday, December 6, 2011.{{more}}

He certainly has my support in his declaration: “That Gonsalves-Debenham Cocoa Memorandum must go . Now”

I am also in total agreement with his view that: “There is a sinister undercurrent in this cocoa memorandum with Armajaro Trading Ltd.”

In my opinion, the fact that such an agreement received an easy passage in our parliament is an indictment of Vincentian journalism and journalists.

For some time now, I have observed that politicians in some cases have been setting this country’s news agenda . The cocoa project is a case in point. I shall expand.

The moment I heard Sir James Mitchell in the last election campaign making a case for cocoa production the journalist in me immediately made me sceptical and suspicious. Was this a genuine proposal for the good of the country? Or was it a strict business proposition? In other words: What is in it for me?

Sir James’ reaction to an honest comment by Eustace that he as Leader of the New Democratic Party and Leader of the Opposition was not consulted on Mitchell’s decision to take the cocoa proposal to Prime Minister Gonsalves left me in no doubt about his ulterior motive.

His reaction had me singing for many days a famous calypso by the Mighty Chalkdust: Massa Day Must Done.

As a person of African decent, I was offended by some of his remarks. For he was suggesting that Mr Eustace should be eternally grateful to him for many of his achievements, including the position of prime minister. Sir James, in typical Massa style, was taking offence that an ‘underling’ was courageous enough to show dissent to what was clearly gross disrespect on Sir James’ part.

Mr Eustace, to his eternal credit, responded appropriately, regardless of the political consequences. There are some black people who cherish their integrity, pride and dignity above high sounding titles, perceived power and empty promises of wealth. Hats off to you, Mr Eustace.

The truth is that when in the 1990s there was speculation about a possible successor to Sir James as leader of his New Democratic Party and as Prime Minister, the name Eustace was just one among those mentioned. My own take on the matter was contained in an article in the now defunct Barbados-based Caribbean Week newspaper, under the caption: “Who will succeed Mitchell”. (Yes, I was the author of that article!)The real story about this succession is still to be told. Not Mitchell’s spin.

I find it curious that Sir James feels that for his principled position on the cocoa-agreement matter Eustace should step down from the leadership of the NDP views he has made known in no uncertain terms. I cannot recall any such public calls from him for resignations when Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves was accused of rape by a female member of his security detail or when Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan became embroiled in a controversy over a delinquent loan that she and her husband Desmond Morgan have/had at the then state-controlled National Commercial Bank. Desmond Morgan is also a former Chairman of the NCB. His “integrity” was stoutly defended by the Prime Minister Gonsalves who declared him “an honest man.”

I often wonder what would have been the outcome had Sir James given public support to his party’s calls for Attorney General Jones-Morgan and Prime Minister Gonsalves to step down.

These things, however, do not surprise me, for I continue to monitor the “powder puff” criticisms that Mitchell and Gonsalves have been exchanging with each other in recent years, especially those from Ralph Gonsalves. Gonsalves’ most vicious verbal attacks are reserved for black Vincentian leaders and potential black leaders, with Arhnim Eustace being the most recent target. To my mind, there is a subtle message to Vincentians which can be construed in these attacks – you can’t trust this black man with leadership of your country when there are Gonsalves and Mitchell (two “white men”). I have been following the relationship between both men closely since an incident in Parliament some years ago which involved a question which was put on the Order Paper by the then Opposition of which Gonsalves was a member. The question was eventually withdrawn, but not before the then Prime Minister Mitchell threatened “fire and brimstones” on anyone who brought similar questions to parliament. I cannot recall ever seeing before or after a more subdued and sheepish Gonsalves, as what I observed when Sir James was delivering his “Keep my family out of this” tirade in reaction to that famous question. Monty Maule was the Speaker then.

The Prime Minister goes onto the international stage and makes calls for reparation for black people, while at home, three black teachers who contested elections on an opposition ticket are denied reinstatement to their positions. White business people do not suffer the same consequences for their association with the NDP and the opposition – the Nanos, the Salidinos, and the Jeeves’ immediately come to mind.

Armajaro have certainly not suffered for their association with the NDP. Please note they did not initially go to the Gonsalves-led government with their cocoa proposal. Their proposal was part of the NDP’s arsenal in the last General Elections. Gonsalves apparently has not held it against them, since by his own admission he was feted by them while he was in London at the invitation of the Queen. They subsequently signed a sweetheart agreement. No such luck for some black entrepreneurs, including Monica Ross and “Bigger Bigs” Samuel.

Teachers Johnson, Thomas and Daniel and their families continue to suffer. Can the teachers and their families bring a case for reparation against Gonsalves?

No self respecting journalist should allow Sir James Mitchell and Dr Ralph Gonsalves to come in the year 2011 and ram an agreement down the throats of Vincentians simply because they say it is good for us. The information is out there for the journalists to gather. There are other and better options than this disrespectful Gonsalves-Debenham agreement.

From my observation, for example, negotiations on such agreements need the input of persons with expertise in such areas as finance, logistics and operations management, product development, marketing, branding, development communication/journalism and public relations. I am of not aware of Gonsalves and Mitchell having such expertise. Or is it that the two gentlemen are all knowing because they both have held the position of Prime Minister or because of their “colour”- I’m sure many of us are familiar with that statement, as reported by Julian Francis. “I’m a Puttogee….”

A significant observation by Oscar is the apparent lack of confidence in Vincentian farmers exhibited in the cocoa agreement. Quite frankly I am not surprised. Farmers are among the black Vincentian entrepreneurs. My position is that there is a strong hostility to black entrepreneurship in this country which has been evident even more so over the past ten years. The prevailing view seems to be that black Vincentian entrepreneurs should be restricted to certain businesses. Or if they are part of a business, their involvement should be limited. For example, in the case of the cocoa project, farmers should just grow and sell the cocoa. Other areas of the business such as marketing, finance and overall management are out of bounds, in keeping with a view that I have heard frequently expressed : “Black people don’t have business head”. The ridiculous view is that certain managerial aspects of businesses are better left to persons of a different ethnicity, such as Portuguese, Indians, Chinese, Syrian, etc. How absurd!

I have always asked the following question: Why is it that a black woman can be found at a tray plying her trade for more than forty years, but a man of a different ethnicity can come to this country with a suitcase and in a matter of months own more than half of the number of the buildings in Kingstown?

Attempts by black Vincentian entrepreneurs to explore business possibilities, which can eventually bring economic empowerment to their race, are immediately shut down by the status quo. The sad thing is that the dirty work is done by those persons someone recently described as “the good negroes” always willing to please Massa. Many of these spineless people defend their unethical and criminal actions with the lame excuse “me ha me mortgage to pay and pickney to mind.”

I sense there is apparently a news black out of the stories which can substantiate my position. I anticipate that when such stories about the race prejudices that are meted out to black entrepreneurs in this country are eventually exposed, some in the media will feign ignorance about the existence of such prejudices with a “clueless” comment.

Oscar’s claim that the cocoa agreement reminds him of the infamous Ottley Hall agreement is not without merit. I was in Parliament, in my capacity as a journalist ,when it was “debated” and passed. I recalled then Prime Minister Mitchell being quite persuasive in his presentation of the bill. I wrote the only news report on the bill that appeared in the printed media. We all know what has been the outcome of that agreement in which so much was left up to the infallible Michell. The Ottley Hall story is also yet to be told. We should neither allow Gonsalves nor Mitchell to write the script.

Journalists must get to the bottom of this cocoa agreement, regardless. There should be a strong message to Gonsalves and Mitchell: Massa Day Must Done.

Bernard Joseph

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