By Demion McTair Updated 9:27 p.m., Saturday, 11 April 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4)
EDITORIAL: Statements turning into a public spat between Grenada’s Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell and St. Vincent’s Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves may leave questions in the minds of many as to how things escalated so quickly between the two leaders.
A brief stroll down memory lane, however, shows that the leaders have a history of disagreements, some of which spilled over into international diplomatic arenas.
Here are previous areas of disagreement between the two:
As recent as July 2017, Dr. Gonsalves publicly disagreed with Dr. Mitchell over financing for the regional airline – Liat.
According to Jamaica Observer, Dr. Gonsalves said “I think Prime Minister Mitchell’s speech last night was unfortunate,” adding, “of course we disagree on LIAT, but to say that the decisions which are made in relation to LIAT at the board level are political, he just doesn’t get”.
Speaking at the time, during the ceremonial opening of the 38th summit of Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders in Grenada, Prime Minister Mitchell, the then incoming Caricom chairman, said that transportation remains the lifeblood of the regional integration process.
“But he said that weak domestic and intra-regional air travel, added to low service competition and high travel costs, all culminate in the reality that Caribbean countries connect more easily to destinations outside of the region than to destinations within member states” – Jamaica Observer reported.
While Gonsalves takes leftist positions on many issues, Mitchell is more aligned to the right.
Manifestations of this include the fact that their political parties are not aligned. Ralph Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) is member of the center-left organization – Permanent Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean (and former member of Socialist International), while Dr. Mitchell’s New National Party is a conservative political party and is member of the The International Democrat Union (IDU) and the regional Caribbean Democrat Union.
In fact, Dr. Keith Mitchell has been a close ally to former Prime Minister of St. Vincent and political adversary of Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Sir James Mitchell.
Sir James went to Grenada in 2012 to assist Dr. Mitchell’s election campaign in 2013 where he won all 15 seats in the parliament.
Dr. Keith Mitchell even co-chaired a meeting with Sir James to decide on an election date to settle a major political crisis in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2000-2001.
In the Caribbean region, Dr. Gonsalves is often seen as the leader of the pack of center-left leaders who have strong relations with the likes of Cuba and Venezuela, while Dr. Mitchell is seen as a strongman among the more center-right leaders in the Caribbean.
Stark Revelations on Wikileaks:
Perhaps the most intense showing of differences between the two leaders is the release of diplomatic cables from Wikileaks, alleging that Dr. Mitchell leaked information about statements made by Dr. Gonsalves and other leaders to the then US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
Some of the leaked statements Wikileaks diplomatic cables published on May 9, 2007, alleges were made, include that Prime Minister Mitchell said: “Ralph is dirtying me with Chavez,” referring to PM Ralph Gonsalves of St.
Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Mitchell continued that
“he (Gonsalves) is carrying Roosevelt (PM Roosevelt Skerrit
of Dominica) and possibly Baldwin (PM & MFA Baldwin Spencer
of Antigua) with him” in damaging Mitchell’s standing with
Chavez” – Wikileaks.
“Reaching back to a public event in Cuba that probably
took place in early 2006, Mitchell described his discomfort
at appearing on the podium after SVG PM Gonsalves delivered a
fiery anti-American tirade. Mitchell could not match the
rhetoric as the PM assured Charge that he values Grenada’s
relationship with the United States and will not jeopardize
it by engaging in public denunciations” – the leaked cables stated.
The most recent public spat came about after Dr. Mitchell publicly decried St. Vincent’s open borders in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an April 6 press conference, Dr. Mitchell said “We have to protect our brothers and sisters in Carriacou and Petite Martinique from what is taking place in the Grenadines at this particular time”.
It is not clear if Prime Minister Gonsalves had heard Dr. Mitchell’s public remarks, or if both leaders had behind the scenes discussions.
But, on April 10, Prime Minister Gonsalves said “I want to say to the people of Carriacou and Petite Martinique that if you are having difficulties getting food, we can help because we have a lot of it in Union Island and we can get to Union Island. I want to tell our brothers and sisters that”.
“If you want to get cooking gas, we can help you, but let us do it in a structured and organized manner” – Dr. Gonsalves added.
There is strong integration in the Grenadines and people from Carriacou and Petite Martinique are accustomed to getting supplies from St. Vincent.
In his statement today, Dr. Mitchell said “My fellow Grenadians, particularly our brothers and sisters in Carriacou and Petite Martinique, do not be misguided into flouting the law of the land; do not knowingly endanger your health and that of your family. I encourage you to think and act wisely”.
“There is no shortage of food and we are continuously revising our operations to ensure that we optimise the distribution of goods and restocking of grocery stores” – he added.
Even though Grenada closed its borders, the country has so far recorded 14 cases of the Covid-19 disease while St. Vincent has recorded 12. Neither countries have recorded Covid-19 cases in their Grenadines territories.