The small island countries of CARICOM have given a demonstration of dignity and sovereignty, maintaining firm positions on the U.S. interference policy against Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Here is an Exclusive interview with Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “Comrade Ralph”, as he is known to his supporters and countrymen, is the main leader of the Labor Unity Party, and is serving his fifth consecutive term in office, after winning the 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2020 elections.
In addition to being an active campaigner for the republic and full sovereignty, Gonsalves is a renowned intellectual figure. An economist and Master in Public Administration from the University of the West Indies, and Doctor in Administration from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, he has written on trade unionism, Marxism, neocolonialism, political economy, Africa, the Caribbean and the problems of integration and development, among other topics. Some of his most outstanding books are “The Specter of Imperialism: The Case of the Caribbean” (1976); “History and the Future: A Caribbean Perspective” (1994) and “The Non-Capitalist Path to Development: Africa and the Caribbean” (1981).
Currently, Gonsalves is one of the main promoters of the policy of reparations to Afro-descendant populations for the crimes of slavery and trafficking, as well as an active promoter of the integrationist policies of CARICOM and ALBA-TCP.
Question: How do you analyze the global and continental geopolitical situation? What projects and forces are in conflict? What are the main trends?
Ralph Gonsalves: We are in an extremely complex period of the global political economy, flooded with multiple contradictions. One of the constants is the advance of monopoly capitalism, which has spread across the globe. The asymmetrical link between global monopoly capitalism, the governments of North America, Europe, Australia, Japan and what are known as “emerging markets” is visible. Of course, within the major monopoly capitalist countries there are national factions, so there are contradictions within the European Union itself and between them and the United States, even though they all share capital’s historic mission.
Monopoly capitalism has become “casino capitalism”, which generates its own set of contradictions as it no longer has a direct relationship with the real production of goods and services. Then there are the links between these capitalist countries and the groups and classes that are related to them in the emerging countries: hence the tensions we see in Mexico despite having a progressive government. Or we could mention the cases of Argentina, Chile, Honduras and even Bolivia. Also within those countries we are seeing the workers’ demand for more rights.
It has been seen all over the world–but much more so in the periphery of the metropolitan centers–the unequal degree of development generated by the monopoly capitalist mode of production; the response of the people who oppose this type of domination has also been uneven. In metropolitan countries, the struggle against the 1% can take on an ethnic dimension, as for example with the Black Lives Matter movement. In the midst of this tangle, there is also China, a country governed by a Communist Party, which is not exempt from contradictions.
These are the major contours, among which we see characteristic problems of the global political economy that affect us all. We see for example that the issue of climate change, biodiversity, desertification, land degradation, drought and public health emergencies -currently with the COVID pandemic-, all have conspired to create immense problems, the response to which depends on their location in the global division of labor and how they organize their production.
In Latin America–and also in Asia and Africa–although there is resistance, it is still incipient. And where resistance is becoming more organized, as for example in Cuba or Venezuela, we see the action of responses that violate international law, such as unilateral sanctions and the use of the financial system as a weapon by the United States. This generates tremendous instability. On the other hand, there are particular regions of the world with issues that have not yet been resolved, such as what is happening in Russia, in Crimea, in Georgia, in Ukraine itself.
In the midst of all this panorama there are islands, like us. Small island states have special challenges, in relation to the global political economy and also on specific issues such as climate change, pandemic, education and security issues. To address this we must practice principled multilateralism, based on true internationalism, which will enable us to deal with interference in our internal affairs by other countries, who use trade, banking, shipping and the like as weapons. Unfortunately, this is a pitched, never-ending battle. Small countries, like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we have to make room for ourselves among these cross challenges, and establish alliances that allow us to breathe, to govern, to guarantee the welfare of our people. The world is a very complicated place and its inequality is very striking.
What we progressive forces need is a clear idea of what is happening, and a narrative of our own about development, which includes diverse groups and classes, including elements of the progressive national bourgeoisie who want to work together to find solutions to the problems of the periphery. What we need is to carry out these actions in an internationalist and multilateralist manner, leaving aside unilateralism. Men and women make history but only to the extent that the circumstances of history allow them to do so. Of course, leadership and organization can rise above the circumstances themselves and create the conditions to achieve relevant changes, as for example Fidel Castro did in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and as happened in several other places. In any case, what is clear is that today more spaces are being created for progressive national activity, so that the countries of the periphery can confront monopoly capitalism and imperialism, to guarantee well-being and for the peoples to have greater control over their own collective lives.
Q: In recent years the impetus for continental integration that developed strongly since the beginning of this century has waned. Do you think it is possible at this time to give new impetus to the processes of regional unity? What are the keys and what are the obstacles you perceive to this?
RG: Integration has been an irregular process, there has been an ebb and flow. For example, CELAC, after the heyday of the previous period, had a decline. But in the last two years we have seen Mexico seeking to put some things in common, in line with the original objectives and goals of the organization. But at the same time you have right-wing governments trying to hinder that space, because it is against what the U.S. wants in our hemisphere. Clearly, the North Americans want to stop the advance of CELAC and sustain the OAS, of which they have control through their funding and location, and also through Luis Almagro, its Secretary General. Almagro deceived a lot of people. Personally I always felt uncomfortable with him. I met him a little before he took office and I accompanied that election with great caution. Regarding CELAC, Argentina assumed the pro tempore presidency in January and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is ready to succeed him in 2023. We believe that between Argentina’s current leadership and our own role we can give it some additional momentum.
Within our own region we see progress being made in CARICOM and the Association of Caribbean States is also doing useful work, prioritizing as it has five issues: trade, transportation, tourism, technology and disaster preparedness. In Africa we see the work of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with echoes in West Africa and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). We see that there are ebbs and flows. We also see that Britain has brought out all the weaknesses in Europe.
There are unevenness and discontinuities in all these processes, but the progressive forces have to look for spaces to advance in the interest of the people. And for that, we have to keep in close communication with the people, with the popular masses and their organizations. ALBA-TCP has suffered from the lack of resources, due to the way in which the United States has imposed restrictions on Venezuela and Cuba. The impact of COVID has further aggravated that situation, but we have just come out of a very positive meeting in Havana, at the ALBA-TCP Summit. As you can see in the declaration, there are many positive things. If indeed we see that there have been setbacks in some areas, in others we have seen progress. That is why I say that integration is necessary, but it has been discontinuous.
Q: In recent years, while a conservative offensive against integration has been developing in the continent, we have seen most Caribbean countries take a clear position on non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. However, we have also seen some differences. How do you analyze this situation? What is the specific contribution that the Caribbean can make to integration and unity at this stage? What forces and sectors do you perceive as allies?
The Caribbean governments, in general, are under very intense pressure from the hegemonic countries, where monopoly capitalism rules. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of independence of thought and conscience in the people to confront imperialism. For example, from the Caribbean as a whole we have maintained firm positions in relation to non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela. The same in relation to Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. But as soon as those statements are made, the U.S. government -and in some cases, the European Union- call each government one by one, seeking to make it back down. That was the case with the absurd recognition of Juan Guaidó as “president” of Venezuela.
We are seeing how in every continent progressive movements are returning to government. We see the Venezuelan opposition losing the elections overwhelmingly, and we see on the other hand the unity of the progressive sectors and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which has made it very difficult for imperialism. We see that in Honduras, twelve years after the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya orchestrated with the support of the United States, its movement is again in the vanguard and in Nicaragua, another example with being re-elected Daniel Ortega. But we also see how they are responding with Almagro and the Americans working together to stage coups d’état, through the cover of electoral observation missions. But also there, in Bolivia, Evo Morales’ party was able to return to power after a two-year coup. And what is happening in Peru, which was a center of anti-progressive activity, which supported a conservative coalition with the United States behind it, and which now has a progressive government. These are interesting changes. The government of St. Lucia has just been at the ALBA-TCP Summit as a full member, while the previous government had distanced itself from the organization.
But make no mistake; in each of these countries there is an intense struggle. In our own country the same thing is happening, the opposition here would like us to withdraw. They don’t like our relations with Venezuela and Cuba. They have a completely neocolonial perspective, but also significant mass support. But we continue to do our work, in conjunction with progressive forces around the world, while at the same time engaging with governments subjugated by the monopoly capitalist mode of production.
Q: In relation to the Caribbean and the processes of decolonization, Barbados recently proclaimed its character of Republic. In other countries, such as St. Lucia and Jamaica, the voice of those calling on their governments to follow this path is already being heard. Do you think it is possible that the example of Barbados could have a “domino effect”, or that there could be “a new wave” of decolonization in the Caribbean? On the other hand, what would be the next challenges for countries like Barbados: how to achieve, along with political sovereignty, economic independence?
RG: I think what we are going to see is not exactly a wave of removal of the queen as nominal head of state. I think what is coming is a continuing struggle to get parliamentary republics, with non-executive presidents and with a place of centrality for Prime Ministers. And I say this because of the constitutional arrangements that exist in countries such as Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In these five countries, to achieve republic status, you need two-thirds in the House and in the Legislature and two-thirds in favor in a referendum. In Barbados, only two-thirds in the House were needed, without a referendum, because its constitution is different.
What happened in the other territories? There are four countries that became independent between 1962 and 1966. Trinidad and Tobago had the queen as nominal head of state. That changed in 1976 because the constitution did not require a referendum, only a special majority, which they got, and it allowed them to achieve a republican form of government. At independence, Guyana already had a republican form of government, but what they did was to change it to an executive presidency. Dominica became a republic the moment it received its independence from Great Britain. And now we have the case of Barbados. But the other countries, the five that I named, located in the northern Leeward Islands, began their process towards independence in 1974. Grenada was the first with Eric Gairy. The British granted independence at a high price: that of having very little chance of changing the fundamental aspects of the Constitution. So when we tried in 2009 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we failed, although a year later I won my third consecutive term.
Colonialism is still alive in the minds of the people. When you go to a referendum, there are significant sectors of society that do not want to take on the republic, so getting a two-thirds majority is extremely difficult. It is true that the Jamaican government has looked at moving towards a republican form of government. What happened in Barbados shows that there are many people who are anti-monarchist, but do not expect this to become a regional movement. Given the constitutional arrangements and also the political circumstances, this does not necessarily mean moving towards the elimination of the monarchy to embrace republicanism. But that is something we aspire to, because as much as you respect the royal family of Great Britain, they are British, they are not Caribbean. This is a fiction that has existed for too long and should be eliminated.
Q: If you had to outline three ideas that represent the challenges facing the region, what would they be?
RG: The challenge of the hegemony of monopoly capital, and all that this implies. The challenge derived from climate change. And the challenges related to public health.
Q: If you would like to close the interview with something we have not asked, or perhaps with some message addressed to the popular movements of the region?
RG: I would ask people, mainly young people, to show solidarity with clearly defined principles. That they commit themselves to defend and promote our independence, our sovereignty, equal opportunities, the improvement of living conditions. There will always be vanities involved, but I believe that what I have just described is the main thing: we must not be distracted by secondary spectacles, by what Lenin called “infantilism”. If we show solidarity, we will succeed.
Source: Alai, translation Resumen Latinoamericano–English