On hearing the news that our country had been elected unanimously to the Presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a community with a population of over 600 million people, amidst my pride, I remembered a quote for which a departed comrade of mine was famous.
That comrade, Caspar London, among his other memorable quotes, had one from the legendary Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, which said simply, “Dare to struggle, dare to win”.
In other words it is only by attempting ambitious, but achievable targets, and resolutely sticking to plans and tasks, can one succeed. Under the bold leadership of Prime Minister Gonsalves, SVG has scored another magnificent victory, following in the footsteps of our election to the Security Council of the United Nations and the building of that historic “coalition of the willing” that enabled the construction of our international airport.
The Prime Minister certainly deserves the accolades which are coming this way for his vision, ambition and tenacity. The Caribbean states are no longer just an appendage in CELAC, we have assumed a leadership role in this hemispheric body, the only such one existing without the pervasive influence of the United States. He may be much maligned in some quarters but once again, he has, by accomplishment, “dissed” his detractors. Undoubtedly he is now one of the principal leaders in the hemisphere, in spite of our small size and a political figure of global significance.
Yet in spite of these achievements, neither he, nor the rest of us can afford to rest on our laurels. History is a great teacher, and we must resort to it often as a guide to the future.
The Caribbean has produced a number of outstanding leaders but it is instructive to recall what happened following their departure. What became of the oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago after the death of the fabled “Doc”, Dr Eric Williams?
Similarly, the Manleys, father Norman and son, Michael, played a big role in Jamaica’s anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles, but by the time Michael lost office, that country fell into the hands of rabid right- wing elements, led by Edward Seaga of the Grenada invasion infamy. Similarly Barbados’ “Father of Independence” Errol Barrow, must have turned in his grave when Tom Adams took power in his beloved country, bent on placing it back in the camp of subservience. And then there was Maurice Bishop in Grenada, succeeded by a number of leaders, none of whom were worthy to “kiss his bottom foot” as we say in local parlance. Let us not forget these lessons of history.
So, no matter how reluctant a leader is to depart the stage, that departure is inevitable. The question therefore is how are we to guard against the unfortunate experience of our neighbours? This is not a matter for Dr Gonsalves alone, for it is our country, our society at stake.
To make matters worse, those who are on the other side of his administration are no better than those who dragged the honour of Barrow, the Manleys and Bishop in the dust. It therefore must be a national concern.
Dr Gonsalves has spoken often about succession but if truth be told, deeds have not matched words.
Therefore, while undoubtedly, he must have a crucial role to play, it is not his sole domain. The more we revel in his accomplishments, the greater the responsibility on all of us to ensure that we safeguard the gains of the last two decades.
Our reality is that in spite of all the succession talk, the shadow of Ralph Gonsalves looms larger than ever over not just his administration, but the entire country.
While undoubtedly, such influence of an outstanding leader is to be expected, we must not satisfy ourselves to be enduring members of the choir. We cannot and must not leave the succession only up to him. The gains that our country have made cannot be allowed to be frittered away, whether it is by those who succeed him internally, or those backward elements from the outside who are completely on the wrong side of history.
If we look dispassionately at the current administration, then one cannot escape the conclusion, that there is not enough room for many others to display whatever leadership skills they possess. This is not a recipe for foolish in-fighting but a call for a manifestation of what Dr Gonsalves calls “letting them fly with their wings unclipped”. There must be more room given to others who lead important Ministries to be on show and be accountable and counted.
If there is not a perceived and viable collective, including the voice of non-party elements, then what one infamous French King once said, “Après Moi, la deluge” (in English, after my departure, “the storm could always come”) could well come to pass. We have come too far to allow this to happen. After all, our alphabet has 25 other letters besides “I”. The responsibility is ours, all who believe in progress and democracy.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.