President George H W Bush reflections
by Sir James Mitchell
former Prime Minister of SVG
ALL THE TRIBUTES around the world proclaim the essential dignity of President Bush senior. He is indeed the last of the aristocrats to lead the United States. His was a critical era of world history, when the Cold War imploded, with implications for us in the Caribbean.
The contrast between him and President Trump is so dire that the Trump style enhances the Bush legacy.
My experience over the last decades provide me with a definition of leaders. One type is arrogant and domineering and ready to warn that you worship at their shrine or you prepare to perish. The other is gentle and anxious to show his care for your wellbeing. Such a person exhibits the true moral of all religions, love your neighbor as yourself.
President Bush and his charming wife Barbara welcomed the leadership of the OECS one morning in The White House. Bananas and our preferences in Europe were the heart of our agenda. I was happy to leave the running to Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, the darling of Washington since the Reagan times with the intervention in Grenada.
I stepped aside and dedicated my attention to the President ‘s wife.
As we were leaving my colleagues confronted me. “Son Mitchell, what the hell you and Barbara Bush were laughing and chatting about so long.”
“My reply, “Her dog Millie.”
Millie had published the story of a dog’s life in the White House. It had been circulated to us.
President Bush arranged for us to follow up on bananas with his World Trade Organization Ambassador Carla Hills. She had a picture in her office of the President giving her a sledge hammer, an obvious term of reference.
Hardly had we sat down in Carla’s office when Eugenia in her flaming red dress blurted out: “If you kill my bananas, I will kill you.” End of meeting. End of diplomacy. We lost the WTO battle in Singapore. My plea was always that we could not level our playing field with the poverty on the Chiquita Latin American banana republics. Their banana workers earned twenty US cents a day while our democracy needed twenty US dollars for half day.
Thereafter our strategy was a stay of execution of our preferences and subsidy in Europe, securing various extensions of time to December 2005, working to diversify our economies. I am satisfied that the United States would never have challenged our banana subsidies during that Cold War. Nor could our black listing in finances arise while the Iran Contras debate thrived. We were to become sidelined to the war on drugs.
Our involvement with the Bush administration intensified with the Saddam Hussein invasion of Kuwait. We met with Vice President Quayle at the US Ambassador’s residence in Barbados and pledged our support at the United Nations for the recovery of Kuwait . Subsequently we developed foreign relations with Kuwait and secured help with various projects like the Cruise Ship berth and Vinlec generators.
The Reagan / Bush years were the high tide of our relationship with America. The USAid office in Barbados was a hive of activity.
Our Attorney General PR Campbell worked with the Justice Improvement project and secured the revision of our laws, also with British help. My friend Dr Kennedy Simmonds in St Kitts was the last beneficiary of substantial assistance in this region with the highway to the South East peninsula where massive tourism development today has propelled them out of IMF clutches.
Our outstanding NDP victory in the 1998 polls and my previous long stint in Opposition drew attention to me in political circles. I was invited by the International Democrat Union to joint leadership with the Guatemalan contender for office in that country to chair the observer mission for the first democratic election in Nicaragua.
A big team of over 30 from around the world gathered in Guatemala to prepare for Nicaragua. Observer missions later became a regular phenomenon. Throughout the exercise I had to prevail over unnecessary early pronouncements. Then, after Daniel Ortega and his Sandinistas conceded, I proposed a statement of congratulations. I was overruled. “We can’t congratulate a communist.” A few minutes later we looked at CNN and witnessed the congratulations being issued by President Bush. This produced an invitation for me to lead the Observer Mission in Hungary with Walter Mondale. The first in Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. We met with many who suffered under communist repression. I brought one from my team to lecture here on communist rule. He was a jailed nuclear physicist and in the new dispensation became minister.
The fluctuations of our fortunes with the big powers educated me.
The foreign policy lessons are clear. The mighty will always pick us up like a trophy for a mantlepiece, then ignore the dust steadily falling on us. We have to keep dusting off ourselves to remain attractive. We have to remain relevant and pursue the bankable assurances.
I sent President Bush a copy of my autobiography ‘Beyond the Islands’ which includes a picture with him. He graciously replied that he had received it and looked forward to our meeting again. I trust that my opus may be in his library.