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Vision Now? Vision Then!

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The success of the latest phase of selfless Cuban assistance to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the form of the ‘VISION NOW” programme in which Vincentians are receiving free eye care, including surgery in Cuba, are palpably plain for all to see.

It comes in the context of a series of initiatives involving Cuba, Venezuela and most Caribbean states, solidifying cooperation between these regional countries. The cheaper oil-and-gas PetroCaribe initiative, signed this week, is an important element of this regional solidarity and co-operation. {{more}}

It is however a pity that in the cut-and-thrust of local politics, some of these worthwhile initiatives come under attack, often from backward elements, but also sucking in well-meaning persons with genuine concerns in their overreaction to what they consider to be ill-advised statements from Prime Minister Gonsalves.

Now I do not believe that any right-thinking Vincentian can find any fault in the VISION NOW programme, though there are some who are uneasy by its perceived identification with the governing party and are fearful that it will be milked by the ULP for electoral gains. But that is the kind of politics we have here!

Similarly, it makes no sense to try and belittle the Cuban assistance or to contrast other programmes to it. If the Cubans can give us help in one area, Americans in another, Japanese in a third, and the Taiwanese in other areas, then they should complement each other, not be seen as rivals. And as for those so concerned, the reaction to the victims of Hurricane Katrina gives us as clear an indication as ever as to how Bush and company value the lives of poor and black people. If there is no concern for poor, black, born-and-bred Americans from New Orleans, then what about us in SVG and the Caribbean?

For that reason I am disappointed that a man of such formidable intellect as Dr. Gonsalves, in his electioneering, is leaving the door open to a deterioration of the debate with his unfortunate remarks about Bush not being able to recognize Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace by day or night. It is the kind of politics we can do without. Criticize the context of the Opposition’s positions on issues but as to who Bush would recognize? Best left alone.

The over enthusiasm of the Prime Minister and his penchant for self-promotion, often causes distractions from the main issues. Surely, he could defend his position on the rights of black people without having to describe himself as “the blackest”, the last of the Mohicans and the “only one” capable of doing this and that. Let history (not your story) be the best judge. We are ending up with meaningless debates and clouding issues.

While I am on this, let me also classify another cheap piece of electioneering. It came from my old colleague and friend, Foreign Minister Mike Browne at a ULP rally last Sunday. Poking fun at NDP candidate Norrel Hull, Mike Browne, with a headless doll clown in his hand, described Hull as a clown. Why? Because he got beaten once, twice in elections and only a clown would come back a third time for a beating. Mike, what a goof! How many elections did you, or Comrade Ralph contest before emerging victorious?

So let us deal with the issues, of which there are many to your credit.

The benefits we reap from Cuban cooperation did not come overnight. Nearly 30 years ago, a Cuba-SVG Friendship Society was established here to promote Cuba-SVG cooperation and solidarity. YULIMO (the Youlou United Liberation Movement) and later the United People’s Movement (UPM) openly promoted such relations.

In 1976, YULIMO and current Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves tried to get the Cato government to open unofficial contacts with Cuba. It was refused. Dr. Gonsalves, Casper London, Mike Browne, Adrian Saunders and I, among others, were vilified for visiting Cuba, for trying to get scholarships for our students. It was my persistence in 1979 that finally got the government to accept Cuban post-Soufriere relief that it had initially refused!

Today, many of the older folks who have received medical attention in Cuba, must remember with regret the days they bought the propaganda about “pulling out old people toenails” in Cuba and that sort of thrash. Many of us suffered discrimination because of our defence of Cuba. What we are enjoying today is nothing but the fruits of the vision of the progressive movement three decades ago. Talk about VISION NOW? That was VISION THEN!

If our VISION THEN is now bringing some tangible rewards, let us not allow them to be dragged into the mad of backwardness and cheap politicking. Let us lift the debate to the extent where we get the Opposition, not opposing worthwhile projects, but actually deploying its intellect to say how such programmes can be improved.

If we can move our politics on to such a higher plane, it will truly be the fulfillment of the flowering of the new progressive politics of the seventies. Truly the reward for our VISION THEN!

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