St. V’s prime minister downplays Marshall controversy

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves on Sunday presented embattled, newly-appointed Deputy New York Consul General Sehon Marshall to his compatriots in the Big Apple even after an initial outcry over his would-be appointment.

Marshall, who officially assumed office last week, was dogged by controversial remarks he made on radio in August regarding jobs that he said some Vincentians in the Diaspora, particularly in the United States, hold, such as “baby-sitters” and “dog-walkers”.

As the controversy brewed, Marshall apologized for this comments, and Foreign Affairs Minister Camillo Gonsalves, the prime minister’s eldest son, urged nationals, at a town hall meeting, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn in September, to give the potential diplomat a chance.

The prime minister noted at a standing-room-only town hall meeting at the same venue Sunday evening that Marshall’s appointment was “clouded in controversy,” adding, however, that “Vincentians in New York, people of the Caribbean and the Diaspora should go past [the controversy].”

The Vincentian leader said that Marshall, “has come from the barrels of the poor in Chateaubelair,” a town along the north western coast of mainland St. Vincent.

“There are some people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines infused with the body of colonial ideas who think the only people who should represent St. Vincent and the Grenadines abroad are those who came for a particular background and a particular class,” he said.

Gonsalves said Marshall, a former teacher and talk show host, with a master’s degree in international relations from a prestigious university in Azerbaijan, brings a set of experience for this job.

“We heard him on radio in St. Vincent and the Grenadines being a sharp defender of the ULP [incumbent Unity Labor Party],” he said. “When he misspoke, those who had been at the suffering end of his sharp tongue politically saw an opportunity to bring him down and to seek to persuade me to throw him under the proverbial bus.

“Well, I would not allow someone who did not quite appreciate, at that time, the importance of a transition between talk show host and diplomat — his failure to sufficiently appreciate that transition led him into error; but, in my judgment, the mistake did not constitute a hanging offense,” Gonsalves added.

“And I reflected on the matter and applied my heart to wisdom and concluded that he is worthy to represent St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he continued. “I will not allow them (opposition critics) to bring down a young man from a humble family, who, by dint of God’s gifts, which he embraced and developed, and they want to bring him down sorely because of partisan politics.”

Gonsalves said he had read carefully the letters of Paul in the bible and “was struck by his sense of balance and proportionality, and I had to bring balance and proportionality to this question, and to give Sehon Marshall a chance.

“And I want those of you who are more mature than him to help him and guide him,” said the prime minister, adding that it was not planned that Marshall’s debut meeting with Vincentians in New York be at Sunday’s town hall meeting.

In his brief maiden address to nationals here, Marshall said it was “with profound honor and deep humility that I address you today — honored to have been chosen by the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to be a consular representative here in New York; humility in the acknowledgment of the tremendous responsibility this opportunity offers to be of service to this community of Vincentians.

“I take his opportunity to thank the prime minister for imposing such confidence in me, and I assure him that this faith will not be disappointed as I pledge to perform my duties with the greatest ideals of service,” Marshall said.

“To you, the members of the New York Diaspora, I assure you that I shall work with Vincentians all to strengthen the bridge of communication, collaboration and cooperation,” he added. “I dare say, I’ve not embarked on his journey pretending to have all the answers but rather acknowledging that your support, your cooperation and your encouragement are vital as we journey together on a path that has been, and must continue to be, mutually beneficial to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and to those living in New York.

“I know as we work together, we will find more common goals that can drive our actions, uniting us over the task of building our country,” Marshall continued. “I reiterate my firm commitment to you to do everything I can to ensure that I reflect the values, goals and ambitions of the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as regards improving the relations between Vincentians at home and in New York.

“Rest assured that these duties will be performed with the greatest degree of humility, dignity and professionalism,” he said to loud applause.

Unlike September’s town hall meeting, featuring Camillo Gonsalves, which ended in uproar over Marshall’s potential appointment, no one in the audience, this time around, publicly objected to Marshall’s assumption of office.

Ulric Jones, Jr. — who carries the sobriquet “Soca Jones,” a popular Vincentian entertainment promoter in New York, who was among the most vocal critics of Marshall’s appointment in the September town hall meeting — on Sunday “sang a different tune.”

“As a conscious Vincentian, I will adhere to your request for the new Deputy Consul General,” Jones told Prime Minister Gonsalves during the question-and-answer segment.

Gonsalves replied: “Thank you, ‘Soca Jones.’ ”

Marshall replaces Edson Agustus, a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, who was recalled earlier this year over reports of alleged mishandling of visa and passport matters at the New York Consulate General.

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