KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves said this week that he does not regard himself as a "water carrier" or the "president of a fitness club", as he defended his decision not to meet with two legislators from a "colonial country assembly".
Gonsalves was responding to Opposition questions in Parliament regarding the position taken by St Vincent and the Grenadines on the Falkland Islands dispute and whether it really intends to prevent Falkland Islands' flagged vessels from docking here.
Northern Grenadines parliamentary representative Dr Godwin Friday said the Gonsalves Government is "sending conflicting messages concerning its position in relation to the Falkland Islands.
"... On the one hand, it agreed with other Caricom (Caribbean Community) governments and the United Kingdom Government at the 2012 UK-Caribbean Forum to support the principle and the right to self-determination for all peoples, including the Falkland Islanders," said Friday.
"And, on the other hand, at the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) summit in Caracas in February 2012, it agreed to support Argentina in the dispute over the Falkland Islands and, in keeping with that support, agreed to prevent ships flying Falkland Islands flag from entering our ports," he added.
In his response, Prime Minister Gonsalves said at the time when the two legislators from the Falkland Islands visited the island, an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, seeking to be diplomatic, then said he was unable to see them because of scheduling problems. But Gonsalves, who was acting as foreign affairs minister, told legislators that he had no reason to be diplomatic with the British Government and refused to meet with the legislators because there was no basis for such a meeting.
"As I made it plain to the British high commissioner, I did not refuse to see them because of any scheduling programme. That is what an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told them. I told them the truth. The persons in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the minister, wanted to tell them something that was diplomatic. The British are our friends. I am not going to go around in any diplomatic circles. I am going to tell you the truth why I am not seeing you," Gonsalves said.
The Falkland Islands legislators, along with the deputy British high commissioner, had arrived here as part of a campaign to sensitise regional governments about their quest for self-determination.
The islands, a self-governed British overseas territory, are at the heart of a 180-year-old dispute between Argentina and Britain.
ALBA nations, at their summit in Caracas earlier this month, supported a resolution by four South American nations, including Argentina, to ban Falkland Island flagged ships from their ports.
BOLIVARIAN ALLIANCE OF THE PEOPLES
BOLIVARIAN ALLIANCE OF THE PEOPLES
OF OUR AMERICA
SPECIAL COMMUNIQUÉ ON THE MALVINAS
Caracas, February 04, 2012
The Heads of State and Government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), gathered in Caracas, Venezuela, on February 4-5, 2012, reiterate their strongest support for the legitimate claim by the Republic of Argentina on its sovereign right over the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, as well as the surrounding maritime areas;
Hope that the Republic of Argentina and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland resume negotiations to attain a peaceful and definite solution to said dispute, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the United Nations (UN), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CLACS);
Urge the parties to abide by Resolution 31/49 of the UN General Assembly, refraining from adopting decisions that entail introducing unilateral modifications into the situation while the aforementioned Islands are going through the process recommended by the General Assembly.
Praise the permanent constructive stance and willingness of the Argentinean Government to attain, through negotiations, a pacific and definite solution to this anachronistic colonial situation on American soil.
Support the decision made by the countries of the region to ban ships with the colonial flag imposed on the Malvinas from entering their ports.
Gonsalves said that the ALBA summit merely supported that resolution. He told legislators that he had rejected the request for a meeting with the legislators before attending the ALBA meeting, and defended himself against criticisms by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace that he was arrogant in refusing to see the Falkland Islands lawmakers.
"That is not arrogance. That is a simple question of defending the sovereignty and independence of this country," Gonsalves said, citing the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which identifies the state as the highest action in international affairs.
"To show you something, two colonial legislators came. The British high commissioner himself did not consider it worth his while to come to St Vincent. He sent somebody lower down the totem pole," Gonsalves said.
"So what am I? Am I the president of the fitness club," he said, dimissing those "who want to say I am arrogant. I am not a weak leader. I don't put water in my mouth... when I am speaking on matters of principle. Others may do that and hide and duck. I don't do that. You take me as you find me and I present an intellectually powerful argument based on principle. You may disagree with it, but I have a position."
Gonsalves said that while the Falkland Islanders, as a member of a "colonial assembly", had permission from the British government to visit him, Britain could not assume that he would agree to see them.