On July 3, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government held a special conference, which saw Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley handing over the six-month CARICOM Chairmanship to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Gonsalves, who has been part of CARICOM for 19 years, promised that he will use his six-month term as chairman to deal with the deleterious effects that climate change is having on the socio-economic future of the region. The new chairman said smaller islands in the region like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Dominica are now dealing with a battered infrastructure due to severe weather in late 2019, and not enough has been done to help the islands rebuild.
Gonsalves’ new role will also test whether or not he is deserving of a fifth term as president of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as the end of his term as chairman will coincide with the next general elections to be held in the nation, which must be held by December.
“Comrade Ralph,” as he is affectionately called by his supporters first became involved in politics as a UWI student, while completing his degree in economics at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. As president of the University of West Indies’ Guild of Undergraduates, he led a student protest of the deportation of historian and intellectual Walter Rodney by the Jamaican government led by former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer in 1968.
He later returned to the UWI-Mona to earn a master’s degree in government, which he completed in 1971. In 1974, he completed a Ph.D., also in government at the University of Manchester. Subsequently, he turned to the study of law and was later called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in London in 1981.
Following the end of his academic career in England, he returned to the island to practice law. Before becoming prime minister, Gonsalves practiced law extensively and successfully before the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in a wide range of matters, but particularly in the fields of constitutional law, criminal law, administrative law, matrimonial law, real property law, law of tort generally and the law of contract.
In 1994, he became the Deputy Political Leader of the Unity Labor Party (ULP). The ULP was a merger of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Labor Party and the Movement for National Unity (MNU). After the resignation of Vincent Beache, Gonsalves became the leader of the party in 1998 and led the party to victory in the General Elections held in 2001.
He has remained a popular prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines since then, winning other general elections held in 2005, 2010, and 2015. Now in his fourth term and 19th year in office, Gonsalves has been the longest continuously serving head of government since the island became independent in 1979. Gonsalves has also been Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of North Central Windward since 1994.
Gonzalves is currently married to his second wife Eloise Harris. He has two sons by his first marriage, Camillo and Adam; one son by his second wife, Storm; and two daughters, Isis and Soleil. In 2015, Camillo was elected as a Member of Parliament and currently serves in his father’s Cabinet.