ANOTHER CHAPTER in the political history of St Vincent and the Grenadines will be officially closed tomorrow when former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, alias ‘Son’, will be formally buried in his native Bequia.
Tributes from far and near have been flowing thick and fast from persons far more renowned than me and who have had much more personal knowledge of and interaction with this formidable statesman than I have had, but for much of my adult political life, he has been a factor, mostly in adversarial roles, so a “two cents bit” from me is hopefully not out of order.
There are many characteristics of the late P.M. that stand out, but one cannot escape his resilience and ability to rise from adversity.
He had the dubious distinction of achieving political infamy before glory after his ill-fated attempt in 1966 to launch a political party in the then Market Square was a flop earning him the sobriquet of “Archie Bruk Dem Up”, a popular calypso of the times.
He bounced back from that to be a successful Minister in the Labour Government of 1967/72, so much so that after disagreements, he not only left, contested elections as an independent, but after winning his seat in the tied election, demanded and obtained the top job in the alliance with the PPP of the veteran Ebeneezer Joshua, emerging as Premier in 1972. It was but a signal of much more to come.
Another downside came with the collapse of what became to be known, derisively, as the “Junta” government in 1974. This heralded a decade of political isolation by Sir James, political slights, discrimination and clear attempts by the Labour Party to grind him into the dust politically. He even lost his ambitious attempt to win a seat on the mainland in the 1979 elections when the combined battering of the Labour party and the new UPM left him out of Parliament for the first time in over a decade.
He did not give up and in spite (a most fitting term) of the efforts of Labour including an unwarranted State of Emergency in 1979 and attempts to deny him the deserved position of the Leader of the Opposition, he persevered and triumphed, winning the 1984 general Elections and giving calypsonian Becket’s “Horn fuh dem” real meaning. James Mitchell went from strength to strength becoming the only politician who had led his party to a clean sweep of the polls in 1989. It may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back because after this zenith, a slide occurred and after widespread popular opposition, he was forced to hand over the leadership of his party and then to watch with chagrin as the NDP lost the 2001 elections.
Yet his remarkable capacity for resilience emerged yet again and by the time of his death it was popularly felt that his personal standing in political terms outranked that of his former colleagues in the NDP and had his erstwhile rival, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves often showering public praises on him. His patriotic and sensible position on vaccination against the Covid pandemic has won him many admirers at home and abroad.
That is not to say that there were no negatives, especially when he was in power, but this is neither the time nor place for them. What is clear is that, as is said in official circles, “protocol having been established”, Sir James must now automatically become a candidate for National Hero status.
His credentials surely far outweigh those of some persons put forward.
He built a legacy around commitment to agriculture and the land, and his actions in acquiring both the Lauders and Orange Hill estates undoubtedly put paid to a moribund plantocracy. But his land reform schemes, while well-intentioned, did not realize their potential as they were poorly executed. I have had limited personal experiences with the late P.M. Mitchell, beginning with the 1973 situation following the murder of then Attorney general Cecil Rawle, a situation not handled with maturity. Then after years of political antagonism, I found myself engaging with Sir James in the search for some level of opposition co-operation against the Labour government. That venture fell by the wayside in the aftermath of the events in Grenada 1983 and Mitchell’s open backing for the US invasion of that small island.
But to his credit, our political disagreements did not prevent his administration from discontinuing ridiculous charges brought against me for having illegal literature, a newspaper from the Soviet Union. My thanks to him for this step. I have already overstepped my boundaries in the tribute and did not even mention Sir James’ bold move to open diplomatic relations with Cuba in spite of his well-known anti-communist views. In wishing him a peaceful rest, the negatives can wait for a more appropriate occasion.
My condolences to his family and hope that his party can revive the best of what he had to offer.
● Renwick Rose is a community activist and social comm entator.