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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06BRIDGETOWN239
2006-02-03 20:42:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Bridgetown
Cable title:  

CARIBBEAN POLITICS: AN INSIDER'S VIEW

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  CPAS  CVIS  EINV  OFDP  PINR  SNAR  XL 
pdf how-to read a cable
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L BRIDGETOWN 000239 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/01/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL CPAS CVIS EINV OFDP PINR SNAR XL
SUBJECT: CARIBBEAN POLITICS: AN INSIDER'S VIEW

REF: A. BRIDGETOWN 85


B. 05 BRIDGETOWN 1216

C. 05 BRIDGETOWN 95

Classified By: Acting DCM Sheila Peters, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).



1. (C) Summary: Caribbean political campaigns are awash with
money from a variety of sources, particularly wealthy
expatriates seeking to influence governments, according to
regional political consultant Peter Wickham. The
availability of money favors ruling parties and has
dramatically changed the way campaigns are run, giving
inordinate influence to outside consultants, as well as
non-nationals and members of the diaspora from whom much of
the money is raised. In the extreme, this has allowed an
American billionaire to virtually purchase the Government of
Antigua and Barbuda. It has also led to special
consideration and sweetheart deals for certain regional
businesses; in some instances campaign contributors have been
rewarded with diplomatic passports. Considering the
diminutive size of governments in the Caribbean, a relatively
small campaign contribution by U.S. standards promises great
benefits for the contributor and, unfortunately, provides
increasing opportunities for corruption. End summary.



--------------------------


Money in Politics


--------------------------





2. (C) The amount of money spent on political campaigns in
the Caribbean has increased with each election, according to
Peter Wickham, a consultant who has worked for various
governments and political parties throughout the region.
With no campaign finance laws or disclosure requirements
present in most countries, political parties are free to
accept funding from any source, including wealthy expatriates
seeking to curry favor for their business and personal
interests. The most extreme example is American billionaire
Allan Stanford, who has spent millions to virtually buy
Antigua and Barbuda by bankrolling either party and providing
funding for Government projects. Influence does not have to
come at such a high price, however, considering the small
size of the countries in the region. A sudden injection of
US$350,000 in the last two weeks of St. Vincent's December
2005 election campaign allowed the ruling Unity Labor Party
to sway voters in a handful of hard fought parliamentary
races by helping people pay overdue bills, fix leaking roofs,
and buy groceries.



3. (C) Money has changed the manner in which campaigns are
run, with outside consultants such as Wickham having great
influence in countries where political decisions used to
depend solely on the opinions of local party leaders.
Wickham agreed with the assessment of other observers, who
have noted how campaigns once depended on rousing oratory by
stump speakers but now feature expensive rallies with musical
acts and other entertainment; the political speakers are an

annoyance that the audience must endure. Campaigns also rely
on in-kind donations from local supporters or members of the
diaspora. Shipping containers full of hats, T-shirts,
posters and other campaign paraphernalia typically arrive
from the U.S. as elections approach. Money also allows
parties to fly in supporters from overseas. Wickham believes
the ruling party flew about 400 people to St. Vincent from
the U.S. for the recent election. Dominica, however, is the
major offender with both parties flying in several planeloads
of people from the U.S. for its May 2005 election.



--------------------------


Dominica Diplomatic Passports for Sale


--------------------------





4. (C) In poor, economically strapped Dominica, well over
US$2 million was spent on the 2005 election campaign, with
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit's ruling Dominica Labor
Party (DLP) having the lion's share. Although the opposition
charged that China funded the ruling party, most of the money
came from wealthy Caribbean expatriates. The Government did
not deny, for example, opposition charges that a
non-Dominican living in the Cayman Islands provided the
ruling DLP with funds in exchange for a diplomatic passport
(ref B). According to Wickham, the largest amount of money
came from Leroy Parris, Chairman of CLICO Holdings Limited, a
Barbados-based insurance and real estate company. The
Government rewarded Parris with a particularly friendly
business environment and his company will soon finance
construction of a new housing development in Dominica.
Parris was also named a "Goodwill Ambassador" who will help
attract investment to the country.



5. (C) Note: The Government of Dominica's interpretation of
"Goodwill Ambassador" appears to include real diplomatic
status. In September 2005, the Dominica MFA sent Post a
diplomatic note requesting that it issue a visa in the
diplomatic passport of "Ambassador at Large" Parris. Despite
Post's repeated requests for an explanation of the capacity
in which Parris, a Barbados citizen, will serve as a Dominica
diplomat, the MFA failed to provide an answer. Post recently
returned the passport to the MFA without the requested visa.
Dominica also continues to have an active economic
citizenship program, through which individuals from various
countries of concern have previously purchased passports.
End note.



--------------------------


Ralph Gonsalves Sure Can Cuss...


--------------------------





6. (C) In St. Vincent, Wickham works for Prime Minister Ralph
Gonsalves's ruling Unity Labor Party (ULP), where the PM was
closely involved in planning the recent campaign and
personally reviewed each opinion poll and discussed the
results with his advisors. Wickham is impressed with
Gonsalves's intelligence and attention to detail, although
the PM can get too involved in minutia and is often openly
critical of those around him. "When you have been cussed out
by Ralph you have really been cussed at," said Wickham. He
does not believe that voting irregularities allowed the
ruling ULP to win three closely contested parliamentary seats
in the December election, as the opposition has claimed (ref
A). Instead, Wickham is of the opinion that it was the
aforementioned infusion of cash and flying in of voters that
allowed the ruling party to win the three races his polling
showed they could very well have lost.



--------------------------


...But Not at Marijuana Growers


--------------------------





7. (C) Marijuana growers have considerable influence in St.
Vincent, where they are not necessarily considered
undesirables but can be quite prominent people, according to
Wickham. He thinks there is some truth to the rumors that
that certain individuals tied to the drug trade provided
funding to Gonsalves's ULP, at least during the 2001 election
that brought it to power (ref C). In Wickham's assessment,
Gonsalves has to appear to be doing just enough to tackle
marijuana production to satisfy the USG and CARICOM member
states. "Vincentian ganja is a big thing" in the Caribbean,
said Wickham, who believes that it is difficult for the
Government of St. Vincent to crack down on one of the
country's few lucrative industries.



--------------------------


St. Lucia Politics Up in the Air


--------------------------





8. (C) St. Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony is hard to
read; his comments during political strategy sessions amount
to little and it is unclear how engaged the PM is, in
Wickham's assessment of another of his clients. Wickham
offered that the current political situation in St. Lucia,
where a Member of Parliament who represented a small third
party recently resigned her seat, is very unsettled. The MP
had intended her resignation as a means to force PM Anthony
to call a national election earlier than it is
constitutionally due in December 2006. Anthony declined to
do so, but his ruling party could look weak if the opposition
United Workers' Party, led by former Prime Minister John
Compton, wins the by-election that must be held by April to
determine who will fill the empty parliamentary seat. The
outcome could have a significant impact on the upcoming
national election.



--------------------------


Biographic Information


--------------------------





9. (U) Peter Wickham is the Director of Caribbean Development
Research Services, Inc. (CADRES), a Barbados-based consulting
firm specializing in public opinion polling. Among CADRES's
clients are a variety of corporations, international
organizations, and media outlets. Wickham is best known for
his work as a political consultant, conducting polls for
governments and political parties throughout the Caribbean.
CADRES recently opened an office in Trinidad and will soon
begin working in Guyana. Wickham identifies himself as a
liberal and his clients are typically labor parties. He
says, however, that it is preferable to work for ruling
parties, regardless of ideology, because they tend to pay
their bills. Wickham is also a political commentator who
appears on TV and radio in Barbados and writes a weekly
column for the "Nation," the country's leading newspaper. He
completed his bachelor's (Political Science and Law, with
honors, 1990) and master's (Political Science, 1993) degrees
at the University of the West Indies, where he also served as
a Liaison Officer for the University of California's
Education Abroad Program. The affable Wickham has met
periodically with Emboffs over the past several years to
offer his views on a variety of issues.



10. (C) Comment: The increasing availability of campaign
funds to Caribbean political leaders, combined with a lack of
legal control over how the money is raised, makes for a
troubling situation in a region where many turn a blind eye
to corruption. A few hundred thousand dollars, a pittance to
a wealthy businessperson in Barbados or the Cayman Islands,
could buy a great deal of influence in one of the small,
economically troubled countries in the region. Some of this
influence may be purchased to further legitimate business
concerns, but as in the case of marijuana growers, or even
the bearers of passports to which they are not entitled, the
influence could be used for more nefarious purposes. End
comment.
KRAMER