by Dr Garrey Michael
The astonishing spectacle of the blood-soaked image of the Vincentian Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, reeling from a blow to the head is now archived in the Vincentian collective memory. The image sped across multiple social media platforms where it could live forever.
It is also stored in other online data bases, libraries, newspapers, and national archives. Clearly, the perpetrator who threw the projectile that struck the Prime Minister had no intention of creating and preserving a new memory in the Ralph Gonsalves story. And my own article, “Bloody Thursday” was one among others that sought to capture the historicity of that moment. Indeed, the article made it absolutely clear that until August 5, 2021, Vincentian history had seen never a moment quite like this.
In some quarters, however, the attention to this unprecedented assault against a Vincentian Prime Minister ignited a ferocious debate on how best to tell that story, and indeed, even whether this story should be told at all. For the New Democratic Party (NDP) and its supporters, this focus on Dr Ralph Gonsalves as the injured party has been deeply problematic. It completely upended their decades long portrait of Gonsalves as villain, and instead offered a competing representation – Gonsalves as victim.
Within NDP circles, this idea of Gonsalves as a figure deserving of sympathy is heresy. To the NDP faithful, Gonsalves committed two unpardonable sins. First, in 2000 he led the ‘Road Block Revolution’ that ended the reign of the NDP as the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. And the memories of that defeat have haunted and continue to haunt the NDP. These ghosts have never rested. Second, he has been ruthlessly efficient in pursuing an electoral strategy that for 20 years has relegated the NDP to the opposition bench in SVG’s parliament. Over time, in an irony of epic proportions, the NDP’s antipathy towards Dr Gonsalves had transformed him into the very colossus that they most fear and hate today in equal measure.
The assault against Dr Gonsalves punctured this political caricature. Like Shakespeare’s Shylock in Merchant of Venice, Gonsalves’ critics discovered that if you pricked him, he did bleed – just like the rest of us. And if he is in pain, he cries – like the rest of us. Nonetheless, to keep intact the image of Gonsalves as unworthy of sympathy, some have doubted the evidence of their own eyes that Dr Gonsalves had sustained a serious injury. Others went further and declared that if Gonsalves had been indeed injured, he had been the architect of his own suffering. Preserving the image and idea of Gonsalves the evil genius simply had more seductive power than recognizing and accepting his physical frailties as a mortal man.
Gonsalves’ critics seem less aware that to ignore, trivialize, or blame Gonsalves for the attack against himself is mutiny against fundamental historical principles. To silence the past, or to ignore the past because we are uncomfortable with a particular occurrence, is to corrupt historical practice. Hence, we cannot turn our heads away from an attack against a sitting Vincentian Prime Minister simply because Ralph Gonsalves is the holder of the office. As a legal matter, he was the victim of a criminal act – an unprovoked attack against his person.
None of this eliminates questions on how well Dr Gonsalves’ security detail functioned in the moment of the protest. Was it safe for the Prime Minister to alight from his vehicle when and where he did? Clearly, it was not. Was it the responsibility of the security detail to make that judgment? Certainly, it was. Simply put, two things can be true at the same time. The stone thrower is responsible for throwing the stone that injured the Prime Minister. And neither the Prime Minister nor his security escort fully assessed and understood the threat to his person. The security shortcomings, however, are no defense for criminal conduct. Vincentian laws protect the right of parliamentarians to enter and egress parliament safely. Obviously, no stone thrower has a right to make those laws irrelevant.
On the broader protest itself, history weighs heavily. Since 2000 the ghosts of the ‘Road Block Revolution’ have haunted Vincentian politics without rest. For the NDP, the protests both before Bloody Thursday and after Bloody Thursday have an unyielding purpose: to replicate the ‘Road Block Revolution’ of 2000 that brought down the Mitchell Administration and forced early elections.
Note, however, that the former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell rejects the story that he was forced out of power. Rather, he contends that he chose to retire from public office to relieve himself of the burden of state that he had borne for decades. Sir James is no doubt sincere in his representations. But it cannot shake the convictions of the vast majority of NDP supporters for whom the story of Dr Gonsalves unfairly ousting the NDP from power is an article of faith.
None of this undermines the role of the shooting of Cornelius John and the requirements for Covid19 vaccines as catalyzing events for the latest anti- government protests. In fact, demanding justice for Cornelius John carries a moral purity and urgency that is beyond dispute. However, the same cannot be said about the opposition to the Covid19 vaccines. Indeed, standing against mandating the vaccines is fundamentally anti-science, pro-Covid, and utterly destructive to the common good of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The NDP’s alliance with the anti-vaxxers may be one of convenience, not conviction. But the experience of other countries is compelling: Covid19 constitutes a deadly threat to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Senior NDP parliamentarian St Clair Leacock has clearly linked these two issues as crucial to the NDP’s position that the ULP has broken its covenant with the Vincentian electorate. They are the straw that broke the camel’s back, he says. He seeks nothing less than the calling of an early election.
The Vincentian constitution, however, offers no easy path to this hosanna. Currently, the ULP controls 60 per cent of the parliamentary seats, including nine out of 13 constituencies on the mainland itself. The mainland constituencies have been the enduring strengths of the ULP and the rocks that have crushed the NDP’s political ambitions. And in the popular vote the parties are separated
by less than half of one per cent.
The NDP’s protestations that it won the popular vote is therefore constitutionally meaningless.
Traditionally, the NDP has embraced the constitutional principle that the legitimate government is derived from winning the majority of constituencies. In fact, during the last 10 years, the NDP lost the popular vote but launched frivolous lawsuits seeking to reverse the elections outcome. Hence, the NDP’s winning the popular vote cvvvannot alter a simple fact: the constitution guarantees safe haven to the ULP government for five more years.
No one understands this better than Dr Ralph Gonsalves. And he has made it abundantly clear: there will be no early election unless he wills it. The constitutional, legal, and political walls that protect the ULP’s legitimate governance of St Vincent and the Grenadines are immense, and perhaps impregnable. They cannot be easily breached. In the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines, no governing majority this strong has ever failed to complete its term of office. The ULP might take comfort in that.
Still, in the din of the protests of 2021, we can hear the drums and see the lingering ghosts of the 2000 Road Block Revolution.