(C-AL9-01941) LEADERSHIP PROFILE: ST. VINCENT PM RALPH GONSALVES

Código Fecha Clasificación Origen
09BRIDGETOWN622 8 October 2009 Confidencial / No para extranjeros Embassy Bridgetown

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FM AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN
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INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L BRIDGETOWN 000622

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/02/2019
TAGS: PINR, INRB, PREL, PGOV, XL
SUBJECT: (C-AL9-01941) LEADERSHIP PROFILE: ST. VINCENT PM
RALPH GONSALVES

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires D. Brent Hardt, reasons 1.4 (b,d)


SUMMARY


1. (C/NF) Politically rooted in 1970s leftist movements, St.
Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is
a pragmatic ideologue with a strong populist bent. He has
the charisma and political savvy needed to keep himself in
power for years to come, though his popularity is gradually
eroding. "Comrade Ralph’s" ties to Venezuela and the ALBA
grouping as well as Cuba are close and built on both
pragmatic economic interest and a healthy measure of populist
spirit and socialist ideology. His nascent relations with
Iran appear to be more mercenary, but nevertheless bear
scrutiny. Gonsalves can be expected to work with us on
common issues of concern, while at the same time taking
public potshots at us to highlight his leftist credentials
and rile up his domestic base. Despite his affection for
Chavez, fears that he could be in danger of becoming a Chavez
puppet are overblown. End Summary.


Rising to and Staying at the Top


2. (C/NF) After becoming Prime Minister in 2001, following a
lengthy political career in the opposition that included
serving as legal counsel for some key Vincentian drug
runners, Ralph Gonsalves moved methodically to establish a
vertically-oriented government in which virtually all
decision making comes to his desk and opposing viewpoints are
not warmly embraced. Easily the most intelligent and
charismatic of Eastern Caribbean leaders, Gonsalves is a
highly educated lawyer (and self-proclaimed legal scholar)
with excellent political instincts and a style of interaction
based on pragmatic self-interest — "self" being defined as
himself, his party, and his country in that order. He is
also a known philanderer, with numerous stories of sexual
harassment and sexual assaults trailing him. Two rape cases
against him appeared to have been foiled only by his ability
to control the office of the Public Prosecutor. "Comrade
Ralph" remains popular with his base and, with St. Vincent’s
political opposition mostly emasculated by lack of leadership
and money, he remains secure in his seat.

3. (C/NF) Opposition figures and some in civil society see
him more darkly, as the head of a centralized political
system exercising near-dictatorial control over all aspects
of Vincentian politics and economy. Some of this is
overblown rhetoric born of frustration with the inability of
the opposition to mount any real challenge to Gonsalves’
party, but there are kernels of truth as well: St. Vincent
is littered with relatives and former close friends of
Gonsalves’ who have lost positions in government or "kitchen
cabinet" jobs for disagreeing with him on economic policy
issues. In a similar vein, it is undisputed that Gonsalves
abused his position as National Security Minister and his
personal relationship with the Public Prosecutor to
circumvent the rule of law and ensure that rape charges were
never filed against him. Gonsalves has effectively secured a
firm grip on the press by intimidating media outlets that
challenge him in any way through litigation. Gonsalves has
sued successfully at least one such outlet, and trepidation
amongst Vincentian media professionals has resulted in a
measure of self-censorship.

4. (C/NF) Currently, Gonsalves’ main and ultimate objective,
one he feels could define his premiership and secure his
place in history, is to redefine St. Vincent’s relationship
with the British Commonwealth by redrafting the constitution.
He has called a referendum on a new constitution for
November 25, but will need a nearly impossible two-thirds
majority to win the referendum. Despite the floundering
opposition,s inability to mount an effective
campaign,securing two-thirds support for the broad range of
changes Gonsalves is seeking is a tall order )- probably too
tall even for Gonsalves. That he would pursue such far
reaching changes and put his political capital on the line
reflects one of Prime Minister Gonsalves, dichotomies: at
one level he is ambitious and self interested, while at
another level, he is a disinterested academic and theorist
willing to risk a short-term political loss for what he sees
as fundamental political change in the region. For while the
constitutions the Eastern Caribbean were bequeathed at
independence (modeled on the New Zealand constitution) have
served the region relatively well, there are elements that
could benefit from change. For example, Gonsalves has
proposed a hybrid system that would add a proportional
representation system to the first past the post system that

tends to generate lopsided parliamentary majorities unhealthy
to democracy. He is also seeking to move St. Vincent to the
Caribbean Court of Justice from the UK Privy Council )- a
long-overdue change that even the Privy Council has recently
advocated.


Out of Left Field


5. (C/NF) Gonsalves is, among all the Eastern Caribbean
leaders, the one most closely aligned philosophically with
the leftist-populist "Chavista" crowd. He attends most of
the PetroCaribe, ALBA, and related meetings, and is regularly
pictured with Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Raul Castro, and
Daniel Ortega. He has even taken on a sort of apprentice in
Dominica PM Roosevelt Skerrit, who we suspect he egged into
joining ALBA before St. Vincent to gauge regional reactions
before moving forward to join himself. Gonsalves has
publicly supported ALBA and PetroCaribe, sent Vincentian
defense forces to march in the ALBA summit parade, and taken
potshots at the U.S. and the global financial system at will.
He even penned a slanderous letter to other CARICOM Prime
Ministers supporting wild accusations made by Chavez and
briefed by Venezuela,s ambassador to St. Vincent that the
U.S. government was backing a plot to assassinate him — a
letter that surprised both his CARICOM colleagues and the U.S.

6. (C/NF) Despite these personal political leanings, when it
comes to foreign relations, Gonsalves is eminently practical.
He knows his country needs money, and he knows his party
needs money to support the public infrastructure programs
that bring jobs and buy votes. He is not shy about reaching
out to "non-traditional" sources of funding, to include Iran
and Libya, to support these projects. At the same time,
Gonsalves has expressed his own reservations about Venezuela
and the PetroCaribe arrangement. He told PolOff in an August
meeting that he suspects Venezuelan oil subsidies would not
last forever, noting a recent PetroCaribe price hike, and
hinted that he would attempt to stockpile reserves in case
the situation worsened.

7. (C/NF) Gonsalves has pledged to us privately that he will
not participate in any military component of ALBA and insists
he sees it only as a funding source in bad economic times.
Similarly, he has worked hard to reassure us that, despite
his decision to establish relations with Iran, he is only
interested in whatever money Iran can bring to the table for
his pet airport project. He explained to the Ambassador in
2008 that St. Vincent pursues a "mature" policy with respect
to relations with Iran and other countries )- meaning that
he believes himself capable of managing such relations in the
best interests of his country without doing the bidding of
other countries. He points out that many U.S. allies have
relations with Iran and questions why we believe smaller
friends such as St. Vincent should be subject to a different
standard. He can probably be taken at face value as far as
his intentions with Iran go, but it remains uncertain if a
country with such porous borders and thinly stretched police
forces will be able to maintain adequate checks on such a
relationship. As for Venezuela, his support for ALBA and
PetroCaribe will continue to the last dollar these programs
provide him. The rest is all platitudes: Gonsalves is not a
Chavista satellite and will not become one. He genuinely
believes he can secure handouts from whoever will provide
them and still maintain his freedom of action. That is why,
despite his ideological orientation, he nevertheless
maintains ties with Taiwan instead of China )- he is happy
with the Taiwanese and not willing to derail the gravy train.


Gonsalves as U.S. Partner


8. (C/NF) In keeping with this pragmatic approach to foreign
relations, Gonsalves continues to work closely with us even
as he uses the U.S. and the "colonial powers" as a foil to
play to his foreign leftist audience and his hard core
domestic base. Gonsalves has agreed to sign on to a PSI
Shipboarding Agreement, his counter-drug forces work closely
with USG counterparts, his security forces are among our most
reliable clients for training programs, and his financial
intelligence unit was the first in the region to use asset
forfeiture laws. Privately, he has praised the historic,
cultural and commercial ties shared by St. Vincent and the
U.S., and has conveyed privately and publicly his admiration
for President Obama. Moreover, despite being blindsided by a
poorly documented ranking in the most recent TIP report,
Gonsalves has also pledged to work with the Department to
address potential human trafficking concerns in St. Vincent,
and is looking forward to additional engagement by G/TIP in

the near future. Gonsalves has adeptly walked a fine line
between populist, occasionally anti-US rhetoric to bolster
himself locally while maintaining good relations with us on
security and law enforcement issues. He knows we are his
most reliable strategic partner and an important source of
investment, tourists and trade, and he is unlikely to do
anything to damage that relationship.
HARDT