For as far back as I can remember politicians have pledged to make Vieux Fort the “new frontier” in Saint Lucia. The area has spans of flat lands ready for developers, an international airport that Compton promised would open the southland to the world, as well as attractions such as Pointe Sables, Maria Islands and Moule a Chique —famous for having one of the highest lighthouses in the world.. Government after government promised change in Vieux Fort; better days were near, but all was in vain. Decades of neglect have plagued the Mangue, Shanty Town (renamed Bruceville) and Fond Campeche to name but a few locales. In other areas residents exist with unspeakable poverty.
The main commercial area in Vieux Fort is now replete with derelict buildings and vacant commercial spots. And except for street vendors on Clarke Street making their hustle, the place is a relative ghost town unable to attract any new business.
With the ushering in of Kenny Anthony in 1997 many Vieux Fortians imagined a better day around the corner. After all, their newly acquired saviour was a past student of the Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary School, not St. Mary’s College like his predecessors. He had sat on the same benches as kids who barely had enough to eat, whose mainly single parents could not afford uniforms or school-books.
Budget after budget, ever patient Vieux Fortians waited for promises to be fulfilled, alas to no avail. They saw Coconut Bay Resort open but many once-thriving local establishments such Il Pirata and Clouds Nest gradually disappeared. And while manufacturers such as WLBL blossomed, many other factories shut down under unbearable pressure.
Especially in the last several months, the island’s south has experienced little economic activity. There have been jobs, jobs, jobs but they involved only a few drains and footpaths; no sign of promised “major development”.
Over the last week, however, Vieux Fort has been busy. Grounds are being cleared for a “proposed” construction, reportedly to be grandiosely named “Kenny Anthony Complex.” Meanwhile other building blocks, including where Customs is housed, remain vacant. Vieux Fort and the rest of the island continue to pray for the opening of Jude Hospital (destroyed by fire in 2009). The George Odlum stadium that was put into medical service soon after the fire is itself fast falling apart. At a rally in Desruisseaux last Sunday the UWP challenger for the prime minister’s seat, Dr. Ulric Modesir, needlessly reminded Saint Lucians of horrors associated with the makeshift hospital. But why only now?
On Thursday – a religious holiday (Corpus Christi) – on what would have been an otherwise quiet day in Vieux Fort, Team En Rouge was in full campaign mode. Sections of Pointe Sables were reserved for speed meetings over as much Bright Beer as those putting up red posters and flags could consume. I listened like a fly on the wall as the MP for Vieux Fort North directed the strategic placing of the yards of rags. Meanwhile residents of Fond Campeche await delivery of his long-promised pipe-borne water. Two drains were blocked during his last campaign to provide a bathing area for women and children – a boon for Peeping Toms and other perverts.
Near the Taiwanese-funded “promenade” that leads to an area where pigs and residents coexist in seeming harmony, more red shirts congregated, more free Bright Beer passed around. Among them a prominent businessman from the south, one of the few who continues to thrive, plus a well-known former UWP supporter who has put on much weight since landing a plum public service appointment in the PM’s office.
A little boy about six years old gazes dreamily at an ice cream cart. I hand him an ice cream but it is soon pounced upon by an adult female who insists on sharing his cooling treat. More Brights come into view. It’s a particularly hot day and one can’t help wondering whether or not they are distributed for free or in exchange for favours. Hungry and thirsty families have always taken advantage of the few goodies available to them at election time. Are they registered to vote? Will they vote? What will they vote for? Have they set their minds to go with the flow, whatever that might be? Certainly the non-stop Brights will help them forget their problems for a while; some even dance to music that exists only in their Bright heads. No need to explain to them that the fundamental cure for poverty is knowledge and not doctors bearing money, chicken and beer.
Sure, the liquefied hops and barley in the clear bottle allows them, too, to forget that over the last umpteen decades no one has left their legacy, their mark on this town named Vieux Fort (Old Fort). But then again maybe there is power in words and as along as it retains this name nothing “new” will happen in this town. Not even for my daughter who was born there three years ago.