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Prime Minister Gonsalves, at our service

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Editor: The VI Summit of the Americas concluded in Cartagena on 15th April. Most of the Latin America and Caribbean [LAC] Leaders attended, notable exceptions for different reasons, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Venezuela and, of course, Cuba. The Theme of the Summit was:- “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity.”{{more}}

But despite some progress made at addressing some of these fundamental issues directly related to socioeconomic development of the regions, it may be fair to say that other issues dominated the Summit. First, one that may be passed off as an expression of “human” frailty in lust of the “flesh” was expressed by the prostitute/sex scandal involving advance US Security and Military officers. However, the more substantive and politically relevant, and actually the dominant issues of the Summit were the debates regarding Cuba’s exclusion from the Summit, the continued US embargo against Cuba and that of Malvinas/Falkland Islands. Regarding the former, i.e Cuba, it was noteworthy that almost all of the LAC Leaders expressed their objection to Cuba’s exclusion and US embargo, including the host country Colombia and other countries considered to be strongly ideological friends of the main opponent of Cuba’s inclusion, the USA. The topic’s dominance was so notable that headlines in regional media question whether there can be any future Summits as we know them without Cuba. It is my feeling that this will be a serious challenge to any US administration that succeeds in the presidential elections in November 2012. I believe that a return of Obama may make this challenge more easily surmountable, but this “ease” is only relative to that of a Republican win.

The LAC also unanimously expressed its support for an implementation of the UN’s resolution regarding the dispute between Argentina and United Kingdom with respect to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. Some Latin American countries even went beyond the UN’s position and expressed support for Argentina’s claim on the disputed islands using historical and anti colonial reasons in the current changing world geopolitics. The CARICOM member countries’ position was reiterated and should now be clearly understood. It reflects that of the UN resolution which is basically that Argentina and the UK should sit and discuss the matter, taking into account all aspects into consideration, including history, geography, and also current occupants of the islands.

Our Prime Minister was nominated by his OCES colleagues to speak on our sub-region’s behalf. Prime Minister Gonsalves did not disappoint. On the contrary, it was Comrade in his best form. He abandoned his prepared speech (which ostensibly would have been more nationalistic) and entered into a conversation responsive to the issues raised and some not raised, but essential to our region’s development. He utilized his well known skills of eloquence mixed with his excellent knowledge and application of historical, political and biblical facts spiced with his characteristic humor to soften what may at times have been considered to be bordering stridency. Regarding the Cuba/US relations, he craftily ended his support for dialogue and action with Cuba with a version of a well known Caribbean calypso line… “If the Pope can play, who is we”…the mention was not lost on the audience, referring of course to the visit and engagement of the Pope with Cuba. Another example, in his argument for resources from those larger developed countries, the main procedure of the elements of climate change, he took his audience down the road of what appeared to be a well known cliché of Marxism but skillfully related with a lesser known Aristotelian maxim, much to the delight of the audience expressed in a wave of approving nods and smiles, including from the United States and Canadian delegations.

He touched on SVG’s role and historical relevance of the Garifuna civilization in the region, producing a notable acknowledging response from the President of Honduras in his speech where he informed the audience that our Joseph Chatoyer is also one of their national heroes demonstrating the regional bonds among our countries. Of note was the fact that a Garifuna leader formed part of the Honduran delegation. On a lighter but pleasant side, the Garifuna brother came and insisted on taking a photo with his motherland delegation…SVG. The true significance of these details can be lost among us unless we are present to see and feel the sentiments expressed or if we don’t ascribe enough importance to such events in our social and historical development.

I sat with extreme pride next to our Prime Minister, not just because he represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but more so our region, and stood out as a STAR among all the regional leaders. There was a heavy flow of delegations coming over after to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines desk offering congratulatory remarks. I was particularly impressed by the detailed superlative description by the Argentine Presidente herself, a popular and highly respected and important regional leader who characterized Prime Minister’s speech as eloquent, courageous, meaningful, and other similes, all conveying the positive impacting nature. Of course, as we can expect, the Prime Minister “exploited” the opportunity of the “flow” of commendations to skilfully negotiate assistance for St. Vincent and the Grenadines in its development. Very favorable responses were made by Argentina, such as University scholarships, and involvement in our airport/tourism development.

Unfortunately, we may not easily benefit from the full content of this speech since as previously mentioned, it was not a prepared and read speech but one reflecting the best of Prime Minister Gonsalves’ intellect, guile and eloquence, all being attributes that are most desirable in any leader and should be encouraged and maintained in St. Vincent and the Grenadines if we are to maximize our chances at navigating a successful pathway to our Nation’s development in the turbulent global socioeconomic environment in which we now find ourselves.

Dr. Douglas Slater
Minister of Foreign Affairs

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