Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent
Now that the general elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines are over I can safely comment on the recently published book, “The Making of The Comrade: The political journey of Ralph Gonsalves”.
The book is a very welcome addition to the literature on the Caribbean’s political history because it is an account by a political leader and Head of Government of at least some of the events that have affected our regional condition. Not enough regional leaders have bothered to record, for contemporary analysis and for history, the behind-the-scenes events that led to crucial decisions, including the decisions not to make decisions of which there have been many.
Gonsalves describes this book, in his Preface to it, as “an autobiographical sketch.” In truth, it is part autobiographical sketch and part attempt to convince the electorate of St Vincent and the Grenadines to return him and his Unity Labour Party (ULP) to a third consecutive term in office.
In the context of the latter point, the book is an understandably biased view of the political and economic scene in St Vincent and the Grenadines. But, even that account is written in a racy style that makes for engaging reading.
The book suffers from its mixed objectives which are: to give an account of events that helped to shape contemporary Caribbean history, and to promote a political party for re-election. By its very nature, the latter objective is promotional while the former should be studious.
It also suffers because Gonsalves has written it while still holding office as Head of Government. Clearly, in the interest of preserving a relationship with his colleague leaders, particularly in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), he pulled his punches.
But, there is sufficient in the book to whet the appetite and for Caribbean people, as a whole, to look forward to Gonsalves writing – once he has left office - a scholarly and “no-holes barred” account of the last decade of the region’s history; a period that I have described elsewhere as a “lost decade” because of the failure of regional leaders to fulfill the pledge of deeper regional integration and to bring to fruition the single Caribbean community they promised the Caribbean people.
Nonetheless, “The Making of The Comrade” should be required reading for all who are interested in the Caribbean’s politics and its economic development. Every sixth form student in the region should be required to read it critically, and so too should students of the regional universities.
The book contains many nuggets that indicate a rich vein to be mined of crucial Caribbean events that tell the story of mistakes made in pursuance of inappropriate ideologies; and indecision about the governance structure of the region when, if the bull had been taken by the horns, CARICOM would today be in a better position to cope with the turbulent international economic environment in which it is engulfed. Also, the book teasingly opens windows on policies and relationships whose pursuit is not fully explained but which remain controversial in the context of hemispheric relationships – in particular, the relationship with the Hugo Chavez government of Venezuela and participation in the Chavez-initiated Bolivarian Socialist Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) as a rival to a US-sponsored idea of a Free Trade Area of the Americas that has been dead and cold for some time.
Clearly, a Ralph Gonsalves – unshackled from political office – who returns to academia and scholarship has a great account to give to the Caribbean people of his ride in a political journey that they shared with all its ups and downs.
A few events stand out in the book. In March 1982, he attended in Grenada a regional conference of “black nationalists, anti-imperialists, socialists, and communists” where he expressed concern that the New Jewel Movement - the group led by Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard that had seized power in a Coup d’ état in 1979 - was becoming more Leninist in “its structure, orientation, and articulation”. According to Gonsalves: “The wrong song was being sung in a land unsuited to its lyrics, borrowed wholesale from elsewhere.” He warned Bishop against this trend which he clearly attributed to Coard, and he records: “Interestingly, the Cuban comrades (also) warned against this kind of dogma and infantile ultra-leftism.” A year later Bishop was dead, gunned down by members of the Army of his own revolutionary government “in a classic internal power struggle” and the revolution ended by external intervention.
This idea of the importation into the region of what Gonsalves describes as an “inappropriate organizational guide” and the story of the internal conflicts in Grenada - and outside - of which he has a unique insider knowledge is a lesson for the region that hopefully he will tell more fully.
Of more immediate concern to CARICOM countries is Gonsalves‘ report of the failure of Heads of Government to correct the existing governance and administrative structures which “were correctly deemed to be inadequate for the deeper regional integration tasks at hand.” Appointed to head a Prime Ministerial sub-committee to try to settle once and for all governance arrangements that had been tossed back and forth for years, Gonsalves records that “it became clear to me that the “political will” for deeper and more appropriate governance structures was absent.” A subsequent report in February 2007 was “talked to its death.” He is now a member of yet another Prime Ministerial Committee, and it will be interesting to see if, in his third term, as Prime Minister he will use his seniority to establish a governance structure that would imbue again in the people of CARICOM a belief that regional integration can help enormously to improve their lives and their standing in the international community.
Gonalves also discusses briefly the proposal from the former Patrick Manning government in Trinidad and Tobago for a political union with the members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Intriguingly, he says he awaits “a definitive policy” from the new government in Trinidad and Tobago.
As distinguished Caribbean attorney and former Barbados government minister, Sir Richard Cheltenham, says in the Foreword to the book: “It is a story worth telling.”