Viewing cable 06BRIDGETOWN754
Title: ST. VINCENT: A DEMOCRACY UNDER STRESS

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
06BRIDGETOWN7542006-05-03 21:47:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bridgetown
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C O N F I D E N T I A L BRIDGETOWN 000754 
 
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SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/20/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR PREL SOCI KDEM CU VC XL
SUBJECT: ST. VINCENT:  A DEMOCRACY UNDER STRESS 
 
REF: A. BRIDGETOWN 530 
     ¶B. 05 BRIDGETOWN 1420 
 
Classified By: CDA Mary Ellen T. Gilroy for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
¶1. (C) Summary:  Democracy is under threat in St. Vincent and 
the Grenadines from Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, according 
to an increasing number of Vincentians who warn that the PM's 
fondness for the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela is indicative 
of his autocratic nature.  Gonsalves's detractors argue that 
the PM's harsh retaliation against those he perceives to be 
his opponents has cast a chill over public debate in their 
small country.  The critics believe the PM's repressive 
streak has been on the rise since the ruling party's December 
2005 re-election and worry about the impact of five more 
years of Gonsalves.  They point ominously to proposals for 
wiretap legislation, the regulation of NGOs, and legal 
standards for the media.  While it does not appear that the 
establishment of an authoritarian government is imminent in 
St. Vincent, Gonsalves's methods suggest that he seeks power 
for power's sake and, if the conditions were right, could 
happily be a dictator on his little island.  End summary. 
 
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Democracy Under Siege by Gonsalves 
---------------------------------- 
 
¶2. (C) Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is threatening 
democracy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in the opinion 
of a growing number of the country's political observers. 
The PM has constrained public debate and criticism of his 
Government over the course of his five years in power by 
retaliating against his opponents through a variety of means. 
 Gonsalves and members of his Government have taken to 
criticizing the press as irresponsible and threatened to 
legislate media standards.  The Government has also proposed 
legislation that would regulate NGOs and allow it to tap 
telephones.  These proposals concern critics of the PM, who 
fear he will be provided legal mechanisms through which to 
punish opponents. 
 
¶3. (C) Such warnings about Gonsalves's intentions have come 
for the last few years from the opposition New Democratic 
Party (NDP), which claims that the PM's friendships with the 
leaders of Cuba and Venezuela demonstrate that he is an 
unreconstructed communist who harbors authoritarian 
ambitions.  Others have now joined the opposition in voicing 
similar concerns about the deteriorating health of their 
nation's democratic culture.  During recent visits to St. 
Vincent, Poloff listened to the views of leaders of the 
country's small civil society and journalists who had 
previously been supporters of the PM. 
 
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Victimization 
------------- 
 
¶4. (C) Gonsalves's favored means to silence opponents has 
been to dominate public life in St. Vincent, which a forceful 
personality can easily do in a small island-state of only 
110,000 people.  Through his substantial charisma, Gonsalves 
uses his Prime Ministerial soapbox to control public debate 
and silence critics, according to observers.  Those he cannot 
silence may face "victimization" through which they or their 
family members lose Government jobs.  The NDP has complained 
for the past five years that Gonsalves has been emptying the 
Government of civil servants, including lowly night watchman 
and charladies, who are believed to support the opposition. 
The St. Vincent Bar Association recently added its voice to 
the NDP's, criticizing the Government for failing to renew 
the contract of the President of the Family Court, Sharon 
Morris-Cummings, because of her family's political views. 
Her husband, Daniel Cummings, is an opposition Senator in 
Parliament who had served as manager of the national water 
authority until the Government terminated his contract in 
¶2004. 
 
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Small Civil Society 
------------------- 
 
¶5. (C) The small size of civil society in St. Vincent allows 
the PM to dominate public discourse and limits the ability of 
individuals to challenge the Government, several observers 
explained to Poloff.  Government is omnipresent in nearly all 
aspects of daily life, making it difficult to have a role in 
society that is not in some way politicized.  People feel 
that this brings, at times, unwarranted intrusion into their 
lives.  Poloff was told how a group of rural citizens who met 
recently to discuss a Government plan to turn their land over 
to a hotel developer discovered that a plainclothes member of 
the police force's Special Branch had monitored their 
gathering. 
 
¶6. (C) Civil society is also limited by the small number of 
NGOs that operate on the island, while those NGOS that do 
exist have limited memberships, often relying on a few 
committed people to maintain some semblance of an operative 
civil society.  For example, a single attorney, Nicole 
Sylvester, serves as President of both St. Vincent's Bar 
Association and Human Rights Association (HRA) while also 
trying to run her family law firm.  Despite Sylvester's 
frequent criticism of the Government in her role with the 
HRA, several observers credit her with maintaining political 
impartiality.  Because, however, Sylvester's father was once 
a prominent member of the opposition, the lawyer has come in 
for regular criticism from the Government, which, according 
to several sources, successfully pressured a radio station to 
cancel a call-in program she hosted. 
 
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Restrictive Legislation Feared 
------------------------------ 
 
¶7. (C) Legislation recently proposed by the Government would 
increase Gonsalves's power to silence his critics, warn 
several Vincentians including the HRA's Nicole Sylvester and 
journalist Kenton Chance, who writes for the "Vincentian" 
newspaper and the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).  (Note: 
Chance, who describes himself as having been a supporter of 
the PM until the last election, is currently attempting to 
start a media workers association in order to protect freedom 
of the press in St. Vincent.  End note.)  They pointed to 
plans to introduce legislation that would allow the 
Government to regulate NGOs, set standards for the media, and 
monitor telephone calls. 
 
¶8. (C) Gonsalves's detractors argue that while the wiretap 
legislation currently being considered is intended to help 
the police fight crime, the Government has already proven 
that it lacks the restraint and good judgment to use such 
authority properly.  They point to the Government's abuse of 
an obscure law in 2005 to prosecute a popular media figure 
and regular critic of the PM for statements made during an 
opposition party meeting (ref B). 
 
------------------------------ 
Comrade Ralph, Still a Comrade 
------------------------------ 
 
¶9. (C) A growing number of observers believe that Gonsalves, 
a former Marxist academic who still goes by the moniker 
"Comrade Ralph," harbors a strong belief in communism and 
would like to impose the system, or at least its autocratic 
side, on St. Vincent if he had the opportunity.  They point 
to Gonsalves's relationships with the Presidents of Cuba and 
Venezuela as evidence of his real political beliefs.  Upon 
returning from one of his many trips to Cuba, for example, 
Gonsalves conveyed to a British diplomat his admiration for 
Cuban President Fidel Castro's ability to bypass bureaucracy 
and "get things done."  The diplomat explained to Poloff that 
he took this opportunity to remind Gonsalves that the 
dictator's ability to do so came at a steep price for the 
Cuban people. 
 
--------------------------------------- 
Cubans, Youth Cadres and Long Term Papa 
--------------------------------------- 
 
¶10. (C) Gonsalves has adopted methods used in Cuba to 
guarantee support for that country's communist regime, argues 
newspaper editor Shelley Clarke.  Cubans will soon join 
Vincentian youth in visiting every home on St. Vincent to 
deliver low energy lightbulbs supplied by the Cuban 
Government (ref A), a disturbing invasion of privacy in the 
editor's opinion.  The Vincentian teenagers are part of the 
Youth Empowerment Service (YES), a program begun by the 
current Government that Clarke and others believe is used to 
indoctrinate the nation's youth into the dogma of the ruling 
Unity Labor Party (ULP) and what some fear is a growing 
Gonsalves cult of personality.  As proof of the personality 
cult, Poloff was directed to observe the new ULP headquarters 
building that is topped with large photos of Gonsalves and 
the words "Long Term Papa." 
 
----------------------------- 
Should the U.S. Get Involved? 
----------------------------- 
 
¶11. (C) The USG should have funded the opposition party in 
the last election argues Clarke, editor of St. Vincent's 
largest circulation newspaper, the "News."  St. Vincent's 
December 2005 election was the NDP's chance to stop 
Gonsalves, as evidenced by the closeness of the race.  Clarke 
explained to Poloff his transformation from enthusiastic 
supporter of Gonsalves when he first came to office in 2001, 
to disappointed supporter when the PM failed to come through 
with campaign promises, to being so worried about the 
direction Gonsalves is taking the country that Clarke now 
believes the USG should secretly be involved in the nation's 
internal affairs.  The editor, who used to speak regularly 
with the PM, shared the substance of his last phone 
conversation with Gonsalves, describing the PM's attempt to 
convince Clarke that his newspaper should endorse the ruling 
party in the 2005 election.  When the editor declined to do 
so, Gonsalves made what Clarke took to be a threat before 
hanging up the phone. 
 
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Comment 
------- 
 
¶12. (C) St. Vincent is not on the verge of an autocratic 
takeover by Ralph Gonsalves, despite the warnings of his 
critics.  Nor is the PM moving the country toward socialism, 
which would scare off the investors who are building the 
tourist facilities upon which the country is basing its 
economic future.  Instead, the megalomaniacal Gonsalves 
appears to be restricting public debate in order to limit 
criticism of what he believes is the right formula for ruling 
St. Vincent.  This does not mean, however, that vigilance 
should not be paid to this leader whose past behavior and 
proposed legislation has a real air of delusions of grandeur. 
 Despite his democratic credentials, Comrade Ralph truly 
seems to admire the authentic Long Term Papa in Cuba who is 
enjoying 47 years of dictatorial rule. 
GILROY