Our Readers' Opinions
September 18, 2015
The Missing Details: On the NDP Garifuna Conundrum – Part I

by Anatol Scott

It is not a very edifying experience to be confronted on the Internet by unknown individuals, day after day, with negative comments such as the following:

“You piece of s**t, Anatol. Good riddance to bad rubbish; A few words came to my mind: …shameful, shameless, vultures, selfish, self centered, attention seeker, wannabe relevant; They are pumping him with rum; Where did you learn about character Mr Anatol Scott? Where and when did you decide, to be … the veil [that] slave owners [placed] on the backs of black men for power and wealth? You are despicable and unworthy of friendship from anyone;{{more}} I wouldn’t waste any ink on Scott; clearly he is a man who is not value laden, one who has no moral compass and would never be trusted by neither side. He is the real loser in all of this; good riddance.”

These and many other similar comments have emanated from several diehard New Democratic Party supporters who, with absolutely no knowledge of the details pertaining to the visit of a Garifuna delegation to SVG, proceeded to lay blame for the resulting fiasco on me. They are thereby attempting to present Mr Arnhim Eustace, President and Leader of the NDP, as the upright and unspoiled victor in a misplaced battle with me. In a three-part article, I will try to present the pertinent details chronologically in the hope that informed and logical decisions on this issue might result in changed perceptions.

The Background and the Rejoinder – (Truth is the right we deny and the wrong we justify)

The issue actually has its beginnings in a three-part article, entitled “Don’t Mess with History” which was published by Caribbean News Now (July 2014) and I-Witness News (August 2014) and was e-mailed directly to Mr Eustace in the hope that it would provide deeper historical insight into the reparations and Garifuna issue, especially as it pertained to the debate in the National Assembly at that time. Neither Mr Eustace nor his office ever acknowledged receipt of the articles but, months later, when I met him in New York, he did confirm that he had received them. However, the articles did initiate a number of direct e-mail responses from many readers, among whom were a number of Garifuna individuals residing in the United States primarily. Joseph Guerrero soon became my favored correspondent and we began exchanging information back and forth between us.

I learned that he had participated in the Global Highlights’ SVG radio program being run by Ms Luzette King. During this period, she also had attempted to reach me through my brother, Jerry Scott. On contacting her, she expressed an interest in having me appear on GH to discuss my articles but, given that I was not familiar with that medium, I informed her that, compared to television, I was nervous about appearing on radio and that I would have to give some thought to the matter before giving a response. Nevertheless, Luzette became an active and enthusiastic participant in the ongoing messaging between Joseph and myself in particular.

Our discussions turned more toward how to get the Garifuna connected directly to the governing structure of SVG, but Joseph insisted that the connection could not be with the Ralph Gonsalves’ ULP government because Ralph had earlier rebuffed their initial attempt. Joseph then introduced us to Mr Wellington Ramos, a vice-president of the Garifuna Nation of which Joseph was also a member. This organization was formed only recently but, its prime objective was to pursue a new and stronger relationship between the exiled Garinagu and SVG.. The discussions became much more intense as more and more information was exchanged between us and, apart from messages, we began to communicate by conference calls, all of which were arranged by Luzette.

The idea of preparing a formal proposal to Mr Eustace was put forward and a unanimous decision was taken that, because I am a Vincentian and because of published writings and my specialization in the history of Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean, I should write a proposal and present it to the group. Having thought about and studied Garifuna issues for many years and having already formulated certain ideas in terms of tourism development of SVG, they were all surprised and delighted that I had combined the two themes so effectively and that they had an eight-page proposal in their hands in less that 24 hours. Three minor changes (one from Joseph and two from Luzette) were made to the text before it was agreed to forward the proposal to Mr Eustace.

Based on my concern about a lack of acknowledgment on the previous articles from Mr Eustace and other past political issues, I felt that I should not be the one to forward the proposal. Luzette volunteered that she had very direct contact with Mr Eustace by telephone and e-mail and that she would undertake to send the proposal to him. This was followed by a long three-week period of no response from Mr Eustace but with repeated affirmations from Luzette that she was keeping in touch with Mr Eustace and that he was extremely positive about the proposal. Finally, a day and time was set for us to hear what Mr Eustace had to say via a conference call, once again, arranged by Luzette.

During that very long conference call, Mr. Eustace went over every item in the proposal, and acknowledged his agreement with every item. In the end, he voiced his only concern which was that he wanted to ensure his own ideas pertaining to embassy staff would be implemented; i.e that he would want a greater input in terms of jobs in embassies for the young people of SVG, especially those with higher education related to matters of tourism. He also indicated that he had given a copy of the proposal to Dr Godwin Friday the person in the NDP executive with responsibility for matters of tourism and that, based on his response, he would be passing the information to other executive members. Lastly, he indicated that he would like to have the proposal featured as part of the upcoming NDP manifesto.

The days that followed were euphoric. It seemed that we could do no wrong. Everything was headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is at such times that rifts begin to appear in human affairs. As always, the rift in our assembly showed itself in the form of an insignificant, completely unanticipated, issue. The disagreements between Luzette and I started quite innocently when, in an Internet post on Global Highlights, Luzette made a comment to the effect that she believes in and is a strong supporter of Mr Eustace as party Leader but that she does not support the party. This statement left me quite puzzled so I asked her to explain what she meant. In her response, Luzette laid out all of the supposedly good qualities of Mr Eustace. She presented the familiar image of Mr Clean that surrounds Mr Eustace, a familiar image that is commonly being presented by many NDP supporters, that of a caring, highly respected professional individual who has been involved in no evil as compared to Ralph Gonsalves and Sir James Mitchell. I countered with a comment to the effect that no human being could be that good and that he, as well as the others, were simply fallible human beings.

The conversation then turned to the matter of the importance of having a black man at the head of government in SVG. I refused to enter into what I consider to be a variety of unproductive racist talk in SVG and laid out my argument that the leader of a political party, whoever that may be, should embody and be capable of presenting the policies of the party but that those policies should be decided by the party members, and be debated and accepted or rejected by the elected and aspiring representatives as a whole. I made it clear that I do not believe in any variety of one-man rule, black, white, or mixed, and that the input and worth of each elected or aspiring representative, as much as possible, should be given equal weight. In response, Luzette made it clear that she did not care much for any of the other representatives in the NDP and she could not see herself voting for any of them.

At this point, Luzette asked a question which has proven to be central to the unravelling of this matter. She suddenly asked (words to this effect): If anything were to happen to Mr Eustace, who would you consider should lead the Party? My answer was, based on my limited personal knowledge of all representatives, the person I would consider above all others is Godwin Friday but, I added, I don’t know what he thinks about anything having to do with SVG because he hardly ever speaks.

Our exchanges throughout this discussion were in no way pleasant but, as a result, shortly afterward, I began to recognize that Luzette and I were beginning to drift apart because she began to find ways to object to almost all of my ideas or suggestions on most topics. More particularly, I began to realize that one should never, ever, disagree with Luzette King on any matter but I held firm to my own convictions. The first outward sign of the schism that was developing was when, in a conference call, Luzette suddenly informed us that she had decided she did not want her name to be mentioned in any official way as being connected to the Garifuna objectives. When I questioned this, she made it clear that she would want to continue in our discussions, that she would like to continue getting the message across on radio, but that she would prefer to work behind the scenes rather than openly or in public. This did not seem to be much of a problem for Joseph and Ramos when I raised the matter privately with them but, I made it clear that I considered her approach and thinking to be problematic. In short, my view was – either she was completely on board with us or she was not.

Time moved on. Despite the tension that existed between Luzette and me, the euphoric mood persisted as we awaited further news on progress from Mr Eustace and his executive. The good news came in the form of an invitation to us, through the SVG Progressive Organization of New York (SPOONY), to meet with Mr Eustace in New York where a Town Hall Meeting was to occur. At the time, I was deeply involved in door knocking activities for the New Democratic Party in the provincial government of Alberta elections. As a result, I was not particularly interested in traveling to New York. Strangely, it was also at that time that I started receiving e-mails from several Facebook ‘friends’ warning me to be very careful with Luzette since she was supposedly making disparaging remarks about me in private communications with ‘friends.’ One particular friend, through the process of cut and paste, sent me a direct quotation from Luzette stating that she, Luzette, would go to any level of activity in order to ensure that I never got close to Mr Eustace.

When I read those words, four days before the expected meeting in New York, I immediately decided that I was going to New York. The problem was that my passport had expired. So I had to launch an immediate action to get a new passport within two days. This was done and, at my expense (1200.00 Can.), I arrived in New York in time for the meeting. Thanks to Joseph, at the appointed time on Saturday, May 23, we arrived at the designated address. After waiting for almost two hours for Mr Eustace’s arrival and his not showing up, we realized that something was wrong.

Ramos contacted Lennox Daniel, General Secretary of SPOONY, who suggested that we should meet him at Doug Howard’s home where a fund-raising BBQ for the NDP was in progress. After several more hours of Doug and Lennox unsuccessfully trying to reach Mr Eustace, Charmaine Bailey, presented me with her telephone where there was a text message saying that Mr Eustace was not in New York, that he knew nothing about a meeting, and that he was on his way with his son to New Jersey. Somewhat enraged, I insisted that Stephen John, President of SPOONY, should appear in order to explain and deal with what appeared to me to be a massive communication problem all around. By this time, it was past 10 o’clock in the evening and I was unable to get to the place where I was supposed to be spending the night.

Doug Howard, a straight shooting man of action and a tremendous organizer, quickly solved that problem by billeting me with one of his helpers, Maureen Barrow, while Stephen John, on my insistence, managed to arrange a meeting with Mr Eustace for the next day, Sunday, May 24. Although Joseph and I met with Mr Eustace on that day, the meeting was not very successful because Mr Ramos, we belatedly discovered, could not be present on that day. Mr Eustace did confirm, however, that the schedule which had been provided him showed that the meeting with us was supposed to take place on Tuesday, May 26, the day that I was supposed to be on my way back to Alberta. I insisted, therefore that the meeting would have to take place on Monday, May 25 and Mr Eustace concurred. On that date, very privately before the meeting began, I made it clear to Mr Eustace that something drastic needed to happen to correct the type of public relations and messaging errors that had been exposed by the incident.

I must make it clear that, at no time during these uncomfortable instances, did I sense any discomfort between Mr Eustace and myself. However, and especially as a result of more recent happenings, the questions that still bedevil me are: When and where did this communication error of different dates for our meeting arise? Did the mis-communication emanate from SPOONY or did it come out of the seemingly lax operation at NDP headquarters in SVG? Who is the person, in one or the other of these organizations, that should be held responsible for this error? Was this a ruse, put in place at the last minute, by a malicious or malevolent individual in order to ensure that “I would never [get] close to Mr Eustace?”

I would certainly not have gotten close to Mr Eustace had I allowed the New York meeting to proceed on Tuesday, May 26 instead of Monday, May 25. (To be continued)