Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has apologized to his Vincentian counterpart Dr Ralph Gonsalves “for any discomfiture” he may have suffered when a security guard attempted to screen him at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) on April 14.
The incident, which was first reported by Barbados TODAY and later picked up by regional media houses, occurred while Gonsalves was in transit on his way home from Guyana. He entered the passenger lounge alone as no protocol officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were on hand to greet him when his flight landed.
“I told (Stuart) there was really no reason for (the apology),” Gonsalves told reporters in St Vincent yesterday. He added that Stuart remarked the incident was ironic since Gonsalves, on the outbound leg of the trip, had told him that the protocol and security officers at the VIP lounge of the GAIA were “arguably the best that I meet anywhere in the world”.
“He [Stuart] said, ‘It‘s ironic that there was this incident when you had showered such praises’,” Gonsalves reported.
“I said, ‘Yes, and those praises still remain, because the persons who interacted with me on that Tuesday, the 14th [of April] were neither the protocol nor the security of the state of Barbados. That is, the Government of Barbados’, Gonsalves said.
“They [airport officials] came subsequently and, to tell you the truth, I didn’t take it as any big thing,” the Vincentian leader added.
Gonsalves said he came off the plane “casually”, not wearing a jacket. He said his Cabinet colleagues later joked that it was probably because he was “so casual” and had lost so much weight that the security at the airport could not recognize him.
Gonsalves said he was travelling alone, as he often does when taking trips across the region. He also pointed out that contrary to media reports, the flight landed earlier rather than later than scheduled. “But the important point, the protocol officers were not there. And sometimes that happens because, I suspect, [of their] co-ordination with LIAT.”
Gonsalves said when he did not see the protocol officer, he proceeded to the passenger seating area of Gate 9 rather than go to the VIP lounge, as he only had one hour between connections. He said there were two women on duty at the screening station.
“If any of them had recognized me, they would have said to me, as they have done before, ‘Prime Minister, just walk around the actual security screening’, because they know that . . . the protocol for screening is not applied to the head of state or head of government.”
Gonsalves said when none of the ladies indicated an exemption to him. He placed his bag to be screened and he went through the metal detector, which beeped. He said one of the women told him, ‘Sir, it beeped’. “I said, ‘Yes. It’s my shoe. There is something on it.”
Gonsalves had previously said he had an implant in the sole of one of his shoes because one of his legs is slightly longer than the other.
Still relating the experience, he continued: “She says, ‘Well, you have to go through and take off your shoe’. “I said, ‘no, that protocol does not apply to me. I am the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines’.”
The Vincentian leader said reports suggesting that he was arrogant in his response were “clearly a contrivance by somebody”.
“I always like to be fair to persons. Around that area, you have a noise, a din, and I spoke softly, not aggressively or anything to the lady. So I give her the benefit of the doubt and I went and get my coffee.” Gonsalves said that when he was about to pay for the drink, an officer from a private security firm told the vendor not to accept the money, as Gonsalves had not been screened.
“So I smiled, sipped my coffee, and told him, ‘Don’t create a diplomatic incident. I am the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.” Gonsalves said that the male security officer did not touch him or say anything else but began to use his telecoms equipment.
The Vincentian leader said he then went and sat down and the protocol and other officials from the Government of Barbados arrived shortly after.
“There was no altercation; I behaved quite cool and calm and that is the end of that story. I didn’t think then and I don’t think now that it was significant . . .,” he said.
“I want to emphasize again, it wasn’t a significant matter. I don’t feel in any way put out. I was in no way embarrassed; nothing of any of those feelings. I just took it in my strides as a mature traveller going about my business, wanting to get home; simple, straightforward,” he said.