I believe it was Franz Fanon who said, in effect, that when the people are convinced they have no defense against their oppressors they turn on themselves. The Martinique-born, French-Algerian psychiatrist, philosopher and writer came to mind on Wednesday as I listened to the nerve-rattling exchanges on Timothy Poleon’s Newsspin. Murder was no longer the “hot-button issue” it had been for days following the gruesome discovery of 16-year-old Christal St Omer’s body at Cap Estate.
Now, it seemed, Tim’s callers wanted only to talk about what they considered the motivation for the incident and others similarly horrifying. Just one day earlier Boo Hinkson had carefully engaged Poleon on the subject of our anti-social ways. From the guitarist’s vantage Boo had seen “the examples we set our children” as the root cause of the demonstrated anger, the senseless shootings, the generally egregious social atmosphere. It was hardly the first time the talented composer had sung this song. Thursday’s callers would not dance to the music. The majority went a good deal farther than Boo had dared to tread. They blamed the murders and other violence on demons.
The evil spirits had entered the bodies of our young people, they said, and taken possession of their souls; they were responsible for almost everything wrong with Saint Lucia today. When the host requested evidence of the devilish invasion, someone referred to a witches’ conference that he claimed the prime minister’s wife had chaired. Now we were all “paying for having permitted such a demonic activity in our country.” The charge was not new. It had made the rounds for several days in the time of the present government’s first term in office. If memory serves, it was also challenged and publicly denied by the prime minister himself. Well, now it was back as further proof that when you play with fire your fingers get burned. By one caller’s measure, we had invited hell’s angels to our country and they had taken residence in our kids’ heads.
As bizarre as it sounded, the notion was not without support. At least one caller assured Timothy Poleon that while crimes of violence had been committed in Saint Lucia before now, never had they been committed with such savagery, such obvious demonic relish. Another caller went so far as to summon the ghost of Kenneth John, the Labour MP for Babonneau, who had drowned shortly after the 1997 general elections, while attempting to rescue a woman caught in the under-currents at Grand Anse Beach. Over Poleon’s protestations, the caller insisted that the MP’s death was “no accident.” So, have we all gone mad? Over and over the promises at election time were brought up as further proof of a demonic mindset.
Amazing connections were made, as were references to the government’s recent decision no longer to subsidize kerosene. If mindless, the suggestions nevertheless offered much cause for pause. Recently, an incumbent politician privately expressed to me a nagging fear that government ministers might soon be targeted by crazed individuals convinced they had been denied employment because they were not supporters of the Labour Party. Indeed, the wall-to-wall bitterness and resentment is undeniable.
Many voters had taken the government at its word when in opposition it had promised to invest $100 million in the private sector for job creation. That what the government had in mind was NICE, STEP, LEAP had never occurred to them. Business people are also bitterly complaining. Some claim to have financially supported Labour’s re-election campaign. They never counted on being made to pay for government programs with no returns. The eight percent VAT break to the tourism industry cannot place butts on airline seats, let alone tired backs on local hotel beds. Business people are crying over the expensive adjustments demanded by VAT.
How soon before they too start seeing demons at every corner, demons hell-bent on putting them out on the street? It does not help that the prime minister is these days as scarce as dollars. While he seeks to teach Mauritians how to achieve success in a world that no longer exists, Saint Lucian kids can’t make it on schedule to school and their teachers are crying over their own disappointments.
As if further to remind us of the real world, the latest CNN report is that some 50 million Americans are short of food. Imagine that: people with not enough to eat in the good old USA. Such disasters once occurred only in failed states such as Bangladesh and sub-Sahara Africa. What to do? Some of the nation’s best brains have suggested from a safe distance that the government should immediately set out to reduce its operation costs. But official sources say the proffered recommendations are more than the government can afford. We may safely presume that among the perceived unaffordable costs is the possible loss of votes at election time. In the worst of economic times the government is banking on VAT, officially described as a more efficient way of collecting taxes. The government is also counting on what it refers to as a stimulus package to create a construction boom that will resurrect the economy.
As one minister assured me: “There is only one area that can usefully be cut but not without attendant problems.” He acknowledged the government payroll had long been beyond the country’s means, now more than ever, “but what do you do with the people you send home?” Talk about saying one thing and doing nothing! Last week Timothy Poleon was crowing about something called “Saint Lucian creativity” in relation to local unemployment. Despite the unavailability of back-up evidence that we can rescue ourselves and our economy, I pray he proves right—never mind that as I write a local evangelist is blaming the nation’s woes on gays and lesbians and God’s consequential wrath. Might Franz Fanon be right after all?