By Peter Binose
What two man-made events during the last 10 years caused the most suffering in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Who is responsible?
Well, it was three events really: the first was the December 2005 re-electing of the Unity Labour Party led by Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves as Prime Minister.
The second was the departure from St. Vincent of St. George’s University Medical School at Ratho Mill.
The final nail in the coffin was the total destruction of the banana industry by neglect in spraying the crop against Black Sigatoka.
What will be the final result of these three happenings? Well its already started with the collapse of the states financial institutions.
When the ULP were re-elected on Dec. 7, 2005, the people never dreamt for a moment, what the country faced over the next five years.
People were induced by cement, lumber and roofing sheets to vote a particular way.
It didn’t take much to encourage Vincentians to vote ULP — a lot of red T-shirts, open-air concerts with loud music, and the aforementioned building materials. Add to that free junket seats on chartered aircraft, from the U.S. and elsewhere, shipping home people to vote ULP, who really didn’t qualify to do so, regardless of being on the voters list.
To run a state under the capitalist system is somewhat different to running a system under communist leaders. Under the capitalist system the state tries to balance the books, tries to work within a simple formula, do not spend more than you earn. It’s just the same as running a household: dad comes home with $500 at the end of the week, mother cannot spend more than is available. Even any business will fail if its overheads are greater than income and earnings.
But no, that does not apply to socialists who want to show their communist contemporaries what wonderful comrades they are, true of the MARXIST and even MARXIST-LENINIST leaders who still have the words of Castro ringing in their ears, “The capitalists show us how they earn it, we show them how we can spend it”. MARXISTS thrive from friendships with other MARXISTS. They copy each other and look for one-up-man-ship situations where each can impress the other. Taking on bank breaking projects, well beyond the sensibilities of any fiscal management.
Ralph Gonsalves took the Vincentian people into a Marxist association called ALBA. The voter were not told in the ULP pre-election manifesto nor were they kept fully informed of progress into the ALBA, they have never been openly given site of, or copies of treaties and agreements signed with ALBA.
Part of the ALBA thing is PetroCaribe, whereby we buy oil and gasoline from Venezuela through PetroCaribe. The deal sounds great, we pay them 60 per cent of the bill and owe them 40 per cent over 20 years with 1 or 2 per cent interest. The oil and petrol is fully paid for by vehicle owners at the gas station pump, plus the added significant duty and tax. PetroCaribe allow the 40 per cent to be used by the government for social projects. What has happened is that millions of PetroCaribe cash has been taken and put into the airport and also used to keep the country ticking over. When people buy gasoline at the gas pump, they pay a 100 per cent of the bill, when the government then only pay 60 per cent of the cost of the gas, it means that a 40 per cent tax is being inflicted on the people, because besides paying for it in full at the pump, further down the road the 40 per cent will have to be paid to PetroCaribe, which quite simply means you are paying twice.
Without that PetroCaribe money the country would have folded and been totally broke several years ago. That PetroCaribe money has had the effect of encouraging our Scientific Socialist government to spend. Of course the money at some time in the future has to be repaid, it will eventually amount to billions, a debt created for our great grand children. Without PetroCaribe the whole country would by now be bankrupt, and unable to support itself. That’s what you call MARXIST magic.
One of the biggest cash injectors into the Vincentian economy, twice that of bananas, was the St. George’s University, a medical school called St Georges University at Kingstown Medical School. The female students were being subjected to a crime wave of rape and house robbery. Neither the police nor the ULP politician leaders were able to give any comfort or help to the schools student population.
The students were unhappy about being housed in St. Vincent. They voiced so to the government, police and university administrators in St. Vincent and Grenada.
To make things many times worse, Gonsalves invited Hugo Chavez to visit SVG and the airport site at Argyle. On a platform, Chavez ranted and raved in a speech about the United States, making remarks about the U.S. President, which included derogatory and disrespectful remarks about president Bush. Gonsalves laughed and hugged up Chavez, suggesting agreement with Chavez’s behaviour and uttering’s. There were a quite a number of American medical students at the affair, who were deeply offended. They went back to the college and held student meetings over a number of days. They wrote to Gonsalves, TV and all the newspapers protesting the behaviour of Chavez, and the backing and support of Chavez by Gonsalves. The next semester students due to start in the January took a vote of whether to study in SVG, 85 per cent said no, and the University pulled out.
According to Gonsalves, the problem came with the re-negotiation of the University contract. The University had held an exclusive right to use the Kingstown hospital for the students to do their rotation. Gonsalves refused to renew the exclusivity contract and told the university that they intended to house and facilitate several other medical colleges in SVG, and all those students would be able do their rotation at the hospital. If that was true it would of been the straw that broke the camels back. Perhaps that was what drove St. Georges from our island. To add insult to injuries St. George’s was told some of the students would be Cuban. They flatly refused the new Gonsalves terms.
Chancellor of the university, Charles Modica, told Vincentian officials that a poll conducted on students scheduled to come to SVG for the semester beginning in January 2008 revealed that 85 per cent were opting not to.
The final result was, shortly thereafter complete abandonment of SVG as a part of their successful campus.
Some people have tried to equate in some way the medical school situation with the rescue of the American Students from Grenada, saying that getting rid of the SVG students was a Cuban requirement. I am not sure that is true.
April 2007 ARTICLE: Sir Louis Straker makes a statement regarding the Kingstown Medical School:
During the period of May 2007 to January 2008, 50 students will be doing their clinical rotations here. These students, he explained, would be rotated between Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines every two weeks. Sir Louis said the Chancellor of the university Charles Mordica told local officials that this arrangement might be temporary. He said a poll conducted on those students scheduled to come to SVG for the semester beginning in January 2008 revealed that 85 per cent were opting not to. Sir Louis said all is being done to ensure that the students feel comfortable and secure and to protect the image of this country.
December 2007 ARTICLE: the Kingstown Medical College, run by the American St. George’s University, pulls out of St. Vincent and closes down their operation completely in St. Vincent. Whilst the Gonsalves government claim they left because they could not agree a new agreement, whereby the University required exclusivity in operating a medical college on the island, the college gives another reason. The University claim that rape, robbery and violence against students has risen out of control, they must therefore leave to protect their students, teaching them from their base in Grenada.
A letter from students to a number of media concerns claims that the move is political. Remarks made in St. Vincent by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, about their president Bush, were endorsed by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ inaction to remedy such remarks and comments, by him sitting on a platform with Chavez and smiling and clapping his hands in approval.
What everyone is aware of is that there are hundreds of empty unletable apartments. Hundreds of apartment owners unable to pay their mortgages, caused serious problems for NCB Bank and Building and Loans during 2009 and again in 2013. There are empty apartments from Villa to Brighton, with the worst situation in Ratho Mill and Prospect.
Super markets going broke and some still in trouble. Aunt Jobes supermarket at Stoney Ground, relied on the Medical students. Gittens supermarket at Ratho Mill, is all but a shell of its original self. Go and have a look, you will be deeply shocked.
Hundreds of small shopkeepers and service providers are all but out of business.
The two medical schools that have been attracted to Saint Vincent just cannot replace the numbers that were lost from St. Georges.
People are unable to pay their mortgages and the banking and lending system in in serious trouble.
Now who do you think should be blamed for this?
Some foreigners and Vincentian’s equate this situation in some way with the Grenada invasion in 1983 when the United States invaded and liberated Grenada. A U.S.-Caribbean force landed on Grenada on October 25th 1983, in an action “Operation Urgent Fury“. (There were several hundred American medical students on the island, which America had to protect). Perhaps it is thought, getting rid of the American students from St. Vincent removes the necessity of the Americans to invade St. Vincent to rescue them. Thus protecting the new Cuban reliant socialist state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, under the control of comrade Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
To the horror of most civilized Caribbean leaders, Ralph Gonsalves has said on a number of occasions that he would like to carry on the work of Grenadian (Cuban and Russian Soviet Union backed revolutionary) Maurice Bishop.
Bananas were a huge foreign exchange earner, despite problems with European imports and U.S. and South American objections to preferential treatment to Caribbean bananas, which resulted in export-import adjustments. But still SVG could live with new terms.
In April 2004, a meeting by the Ministry of Agriculture and interested parties was held at the Sunset Shores Hotel at Villa. Under discussion was what was described as the most serious problem that the Vincentian banana industry had ever faced.
The subject was Black Sigatoka, a fungal disease that affected the leaf of the banana trees. Causing the leaves to die, thus affecting the photosynthesis that is critical for any growing plant. Once affected by Black Sigotoka the leaves initially show some blackening and then dry up and die, this causes the banana crop to ripen prematurely, even start to ripen before the fruit is full and ready for harvest. Bananas that are boxed green for export, ripen during transport. The meeting was told that Black Sigatoka was in Trinidad and there was the possibility and probability that it could eventually spread to other islands including St. Vincent. The discussion was about how to try and stop the disease from reaching SVG, what to do if it did arrive. Therefore the Ministry of Agriculture and all concerned were fully aware of the consequences of Black Sigatoka, yet when it finally arrived in St. Vincent, failed to apply proper treatment and control.
The ULP Government and the Ministry of Agriculture were fully aware that Black Sigatoka was heading our way even before 2004, months and perhaps years before.
In my opinion there are a number of reasons why the disease was not taken seriously and was allowed to spiral out of control, until it ended with what is now seen as the total destruction of the Vincentian banana industry.
Lack of government interest in agriculture, with a ULP senator saying “time for the banana is over, now its the time for tourism” such statements dripped down to the Ministry of Agriculture managers and supervisors, professional interest in banana was lacking.
Then the government was suffering what has proved to be a continual financial crisis because of its funding of the Argyle international airport. They starved the Ministry of Agriculture of necessary funds, without funds the chemicals required to spray the bananas were late coming, weeks and months late. Then the spray aircraft needed repair, they were late funding that also. When spraying finally took place, instead of spraying on a frequent basis, they sprayed some fields and not all of them, they did not spray at the correctly required intervals. The disease finally destroyed the whole of the banana trees throughout the country.
Then the Ministry of Agriculture told the farmers to slash and burn, they did that and planted new baby plants supplied by Orange Hill. When these new trees finally got to the fruit stage they also became affected. The whole scenario started again, no spraying, spraying of some fields and not others, running out of chemicals, aircraft required repair, spraying at extended intervals, all this caused a secondary loss to the farmers.
All the blame must therefore fall on the government and in particular the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Agriculture.(The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Binose. Opinions and other information for similar publication can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or can be submitted using our “Contact” button at the top right hand side of this page.)