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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06BRIDGETOWN754
2006-05-03 21:47:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Bridgetown
Cable title:  

ST. VINCENT: A DEMOCRACY UNDER STRESS

Tags:   PGOV  PHUM  PINR  PREL  SOCI  KDEM  CU  VC  XL 
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FM AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN
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INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1418
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L BRIDGETOWN 000754 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

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.



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


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.



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


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.



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


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.



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


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.



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


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