CARICOM condemns physical assault on SVG PM

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, his shirt covered in blood, is evacuated after media reported that he was hit by a stone during a protest in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Aug. 5, 2021.
REUTERS/Robertson S. Henry

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has condemned the physical assault on the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, during a protest last week organized by the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).

“As chair of the Caribbean Community, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and in my own capacity, I condemn the physical assault upon the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves,” said Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister.

“The assault was serious and almost fatal,” he added. “As it is, Dr. Gonsalves injury to his head is still being medically assessed.”

The CARICOM chair said that the introduction of violence into the political life of CARICOM is “shameful and deplorable,” stating that “those responsible for it must be brought to justice with all due dispatch.

“The assault is all the more shameful because it occurred as the prime minister was walking into the national parliament, the highest law-making body of the State, where a robust debate was taking place in full regard for democratic principles of dissent and discussion,” he added.

“There is no place for violence and personal physical assaults in our CARICOM democracies, where the rule of law prevails and rights, including the right to peaceful protests, are fully upheld,” he added. “All-law abiding and well-thinking people of CARICOM should join in resolution that such gratuitous violence will not be tolerated in our peaceful societies.

“Our prayers are with Dr. Gonsalves for a speedy recovery,” Browne continued. “He has been and remains an invaluable Caribbean son and leader, deserving of the greatest respect.”

According to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), Gonsalves, who turned 75 on Sunday, suffered a concussion when he was struck in the head by an object outside Parliament on Thursday during the protest organized by the NDP and two trade unions against a move by the government to have frontline workers vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“By the grace of God almighty, I am doing well and on the mend. It is confirmed that there are no neurological deficits,” wrote Gonsalves on Friday on his Facebook page. “However, I have suffered a concussion and must be monitored over the next four to six weeks. But it could have been far more serious.

“I take this assault as not just an injury, but also look to the intent of the throwing of this projectile at me,” he added. “The intent was to cause grave harm, even death.”

CMC said that Gonsalves, who flew to Barbados for further medical treatment, suffered the concussion, “a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.”

Parliament has since approved the amendments to the Public Health Act that allows for the vaccination of public sector employees, considered to be front line workers and removing the word “voluntary” from a section of the law that refers to “vaccination against an illness that has triggered the declaration of a public health emergency — as is the case with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” CMC said.

It said Minister of Local Government, Julian Francis told Parliament, during the early hours of Friday, that a woman has since been detained by the police and has admitted to injuring the prime minister.

But the woman’s attorney, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, said on radio that the woman had denied the allegation, and that the police had “intimidated” her into “admitting” that she had struck the prime minister, according to CMC.

Meantime, NDP leader Dr. Godwin Friday has condemned the raiding of homes by police of opposition supporters, saying it “points to a very serious moment in the country.”

The Jamaica Gleaner reported on Sunday that the NDP is claiming harassment and intimidation after the police late Saturday raided the homes of several opposition supporters.

“What happened today signals a very dangerous course on which the police and the ULP (United Labor Party) have embarked,” the Gleaner quoted Friday as telling a press conference in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital, Saturday night. “What started with 10 persons may be more and is nothing more than an attempt to suppress democracy in this country.

“Democracy is not a giant conifer, a big mango tree, but a gentle flower that those with big heavy boots are waiting to stamp upon and crush beneath their feet. And when that is done, all of us suffer,” he warned.

According to the Gleaner, Friday said that “people must stand up for what is just and right, and when forces are arrayed against the people, that is the time for them to stand their ground.”

He said that what he had warned about on the streets and in other speeches is now “real, actual” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, according to the Gleaner.

Friday told reporters that news of the raids came when heavily armed Black Squad officers arrived at the home of the general secretary of the NDP, Tyrone James, the Gleaner said.

“It’s reported that James — a retired commandant of the Coast Guard — was not at home at the time, and the police subsequently returned,” the publication said.

Throughout Saturday afternoon, there were raids on the homes of at least 10 people, Friday told the press conference, according to the Gleaner.

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