On Oct. 5, 2021, a polished leader — Sen. Edgar Iles — was, as he lived, smoothly laid to rest. A former senator asked me to write about this veteran and statesman. My instant thought was that we’ve lost a diplomatic style that’s hard to find in today’s politics.
Sen. Iles’ suaveness swayed the International Olympics Committee to invite this tiny territory for a chance to show its proud heart on the world stage of its IOC Sports Federations and even the Summer Olympics. When former Senate President Ronald Russell told me that Sen. Iles got Wallace Williams, Dr. Marlon Williams Sr., would join him to compete in Olympics track and field, I was shocked:
“He got you guys to compete in the world’s greatest sports event?”
Russell responded: “We first had to try to qualify and then we competed in the Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Ray Seales had won an Olympic gold medal in boxing and Seattle claimed him since he trained there. But Julian Jackson, now in the World Boxing Hall of Fame, started in the V.I. Boxing Federation. Thanks to Sen. Iles.”
Political successors at his funeral — notably Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and Senators Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet and Janelle Sarauw — posed serene faces which hid the tensions between their co-equal branches. Currently, the Judicial Branch must again referee another clash over Gov. Bryan’s power to appoint and remove members of all boards created by the legislative branch. This time it is WAPA’s. It is hard to see why — in view of the recent Superior Court’s reaffirmation of executive powers regarding the hospital boards --there were no conferences on WAPA’s.
Sen. Iles’ choice of diplomacy over that of personal politics would have urged a sit-down instead of infighting. After all, the Democratic Party got its triumphant votes by offering itself as a slate, which would work from within for the benefit of We the People.
Cecil Benjamin, a Democrat stalwart and labor leader, recalled when leaders listened to each other: “Your father was a founding Republican, but he taught me much on labor tactics. I offered them at a conference in South Africa and they were well-received.” The value of diplomacy also aided me in South Africa when apartheid ended with help of global labor movements. In Cape Town, my People to People group had dinner with several of President Mandela’s Cabinet members. After we ate, the Minister of Labor came to me: “Let’s go for a stroll and chat.”
We spoke frankly. I told him that reparations are a must for his recaptured nation. He said: “Apartheid was like an atom bomb blast that has to be cleared away before we can arrive to that point.” I was puzzled. It took a while to grasp his profound insight that the impacts of colonization must be first cleared so that the need of reparations will, en masse, be obvious to both the formerly colonized and their colonizers.
If I had let my ego get its way, I would have never noticed we had agreed on the same goal. My instinct to reflect on the Minister’s words, instead of on self-importance, was an instance of pure diplomacy; a natural trait of Sen. Isles.
— Michael A. Joseph, St. Croix