It’ll come as no surprise that very little was written by other local newspapers about the October 1993 debacle that claimed the lives of two young farmhands, Randy and Julius Joseph, and seriously wounded several other people, among them curious bystanders and shoppers at a Morne Panache grocery store. No surprise that some would today conveniently seek to profit politically by associating the particular horror at Grand Riviere with recent preemptive police action in the face of threats mindlessly issued via the Internet by person or persons unknown—but clearly ill-intentioned—all in the name of constitutionally guaranteed dissent. The first-mentioned horror was related to a good cause (better pay and conditions for banana producers) that desperate politicians of the day had turned into a perceived easy ride to parliament. The more recent, again dressed up to look like legal protest, targeted a proposed controversial development in Vieux Fort. The following related press release issued March 17, speaks for itself:
“The St Lucia Labour Party has expressed outrage over the decision by the Allen Chastanet government to send armed SSU officers to patrol the DSH site to deter any public protest. The SLP believes the action of the Chastanet government out of proportion and hasty in response to a posting on Facebook. The government did not send regular police to determine whether there was an illegal protest or sabotage but instead sent a battalion of heavily armed SSU officers. This is clearly an attempt to frighten St Lucians who are in opposition to the project. The SLP thinks it was a clear statement to St Lucians that any attempt to protest for the preservation of their heritage or patrimony will not be tolerated by the UWP government. It will indeed be a sad day for St Lucia for the government to order the SSU to put the people of St Lucia under the barrel of machine guns if they dare go near the DSH site.
“The Labour Party notes that these tactics of the UWP are not new, as we remember that the farmers who stood up for their rights were shot in cold blood by the SSU on the orders of the UWP. The SLP had hoped that the UWP would have learnt from its past misdeeds and never again go down that road where St Lucians are threatened when protesting. Once again the police are being ordered to turn their guns on peaceful citizens of our country while the Allen Chastanet administration has started selling our passports at an unacceptably low price to provide St. Lucian citizenship to Chinese with an agreement that allows proceeds from the sale to be kept overseas under the control of the DSH master developer . . . The SLP calls on the police to use their discretion and to not be used for political purposes under the guise of ensuring law and order. Citizens have a democratic right to protest and the police must not be used to suppress that right . . .”
Hyperbole is one thing. Outright prevarication perchance to provoke illegal activity in the name of peaceful protest is something altogether different. Nowhere in the SLP’s release is the content of “the posting which appeared on Facebook” quoted. Had the
SLP chosen to reproduce it, readers would’ve been better placed to decide for themselves whether the police action was “an inappropriate hasty response” ordered by the Chastanet government, not in the best interests of the nation, and unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the police commissioner Mr. Milton Desir stands by his reaction “to the widely publicized threat on Facebook.”
He says: “We never received orders relating to this matter. We were alerted by concerned citizens and we saw for ourselves a published threat that we could not in good conscience take lightly. We had no way of knowing who would show up at the targeted site, whether they planned to carry out their stated threat. We had no choice but to do what we did.”
Finally: “We were relieved that there was no incident, that good sense prevailed.” As for the comparison that recalled the 1993 incident at Grand Riviere, Desir said: “This is preposterous and dangerously provocative, and people should be warned against incitement that could have serious repercussions.”
Then again, the indisputable truth is that the St. Lucia Labour Party’s history is one of struggle, in or out of office, often against itself. More often than not such struggles involved internecine problems—with the nation suffering the consequences. Unforgettable is the William Peter Boulevard excremental attack on leading members of John Compton’s United Workers Party days after the Louisy-led SLP had won the 1979 general elections. Several innocent parties suffered serious injuries. Former communications and works minister Clendon Mason was near-fatally hit in the head by a rock. The show windows of all but one business house in the vicinity were smashed, stores looted. During the assault that went on for more than three hours (the police were ordered to stay in their quarters) hundreds of polyethylene sacks filled with human feces were tossed around, in the process transmogrifying the area into an open latrine. The damage cost millions to repair.
Then there was the precedential 1982 House debacle that included the tossing of the Mace around the chamber while the threatened Speaker cowered in his office behind locked doors. (During what passed for a debate one MP had famously addressed a colleague thus: “I will shoot from the hip and make shit come out of your mouth!”) I need not go into the power struggle that saw the SLP’s George Odlum and prime minister Allan Louisy at each other’s jugulars, again to the lasting detriment of regular citizens. The recorded history is accessible in Hansard and from the STAR archives. As are the details of the regrettable Grand Riviere incident.
To misquote the title of a famous civil rights song by Sam Cooke: “Change Has Gotta Come.” And the sooner the better!