C O N F I D E N T I A L BRIDGETOWN 000369
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CAR
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/19/2017
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL SNAR KCRM VC VE XL
SUBJECT: OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR SAINT VINCENT'S OPPOSITION
REF: BRIDGETOWN 299
Classified By: DCM Mary Ellen T. Gilroy for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
Â¶1. (C) Summary: The head of the St. Vincent and the
Grenadines (SVG) opposition party, Arnhim Eustace, has
stepped up his criticism of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in
the last three weeks. His most recent themes included
Gonsalves' December pardon of a convicted drug dealer and
Gonsalves' embrace of Hugo Chavez, who visited SVG in
February. Both issues sparked fierce public exchanges
between the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and the
ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP). A 6,000-strong protest
march in late February demonstrated that this is not just an
NDP fight, but that popular disaffection with the Gonsalves
administration may be growing. End Summary.
Drugs and Thugs
Â¶2. (C) In December 2006, PM Gonsalves granted a formal pardon
to convicted drug dealer Alex Lawrence based on "national
security interests of St. Vincent and the Grenadines."
According to Eustace, the pardon and its timing (during
Christmas) were deceptive and irresponsible. In reaction,
St. Vincent's newspapers have been filled with articles and
opinion pieces, some of which have criticized the pardon as
"immoral," "unprecedented," and "raising international
credibility implications." The pardon was also the major
impetus for a 6,000-strong opposition march through Kingstown
in late February, during which protesters called for the
prime minster's resignation and new elections. According to
Eustace, the pardon is also evidence of Gonsalves' remaining
ties to drug trafficking elements and their influence over
the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (GOSVG).
Ken Boyea, first cousin and former political confidant of
Gonsalves, told EconOff that "in the back of all Vincentians'
minds is the fact that Gonsalves went from a drug trafficker
defense attorney to Prime Minister, practically overnight."
According to both Boyea and Eustace, "Gonsalves' background
casts serious doubt on the genuineness of Gonsalves'
anti-narcotic efforts." (Note: According to Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) representatives at post,
they enjoy a cooperative working-level relationship with the
GOSVG's Drug Squad but also admit that the country's serious
lack of resources may hinder the Drug Squad's ability to be
fully effective. End note.)
Chavez and Gonsalves: Too Close for Comfort
Â¶3. (C) Another major point of contention for the opposition
party is the perceived growing influence of Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez over St. Vincent. Opposition members
criticized Gonsalves' apparent approval of Hugo Chavez's
anti-U.S. rhetoric during his February visit to St. Vincent.
The opposition was especially incensed by Chavez's indirect
attacks on the NDP. During one rally, Chavez yelled,
"However, not only in Washington. Those who want to keep us
divided are here also in St. Vincent! Here, we have people
who want us divided!" At the opposition march, EconOff
witnessed at least four protesters carrying American flags,
returning Chavez's verbal attacks with attacks of their own.
One protester yelled, "Who does Chavez think he is; coming to
our country and telling us what to be for or against. This
is St. Vincent; we make our own decisions!" Eustace summed
up his party's concerns: "As St. Vincent and the Grenadines
gets closer to Venezuela, receives more gifts, we could find
ourselves also embracing their ideologies."
Â¶4. (C) Gonsalves was easily re-elected as Prime Minister in
December 2005 on a populist platform that painted him as the
paternal guardian of the poor and disenfranchised. In recent
weeks Opposition Leader Eustace appears to have focused on
two issues, drugs and Chavez, that have resonated with
Vincentians, and may put some pressure on Gonsalves.
Although the public display of displeasure with the prime
minister was exceptional, Gonsalves may succeed in shrugging
off the opposition's recent attacks, especially if he
continues his potentially lucrative relationship with Chavez,
which has already yielded promises of cheap fuel and a new
Â¶5. (C) Following the NDP's crushing defeat in the 2005
elections--it retained three seats to the ULP's 12--rumors
were rife about a change in the opposition party's
leadership. To quash doubts about his control over the NDP,
Arnhim Eustace decided to stand for re-election as party
president during the NDP's December 2006 convention, even
though he had two years remaining in his previous term. He
won overwhelmingly. Nevertheless, Dr. Godwin Friday, an NDP
member of parliament, said that supporters wanted a more
"vigorous opposition." Eustace's new mandate has probably
motivated the recent escalation in his criticism of PM
Gonsalves, serving also to dispel Eustace's image as an
introvert and boring. Ken Boyea, himself a former contender
for PM, told EconOff that "although Eustace lacks charisma,
he is bright, capable and honest," and added that he would
"completely trust Eustace with the keys to the country."