Reports reaching the STAR this week left us wondering how many more insults must be hurled at Saint Lucia’s most famous son before we learn to respect and treasure Derek Walcott. Wonderful to report, the report was true only in part. Initially we were told that our Nobel laureate was in the passenger seat of a car driven by a long-time close associate when security personnel at an all-inclusive hotel refused to let them off the compound until he had conducted a thorough search of the vehicle, its driver and her passenger.
In fact, Walcott was nowhere near the scene at the time of the reported intervention. He was by reliable account at home, presumably doing what geniuses do away from prying eyes.
The subject of vehicles leaving the compounds of Saint Lucia’s many all-inclusive hotels and being searched by security personnel has been a contentious issue here for many years, even though there remain serious questions about such searches. There are no related policy guidelines, a situation that one of these days could end, God forbid, in disaster.
It is high time the Saint Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association stepped in . . . or are the hoteliers waiting once again to face the courts over what many consider invasion of privacy and illegal searching of hotel visitors?
In 1993 renowned Saint Lucian musician Ronald “Boo” Hinkson sued Sandals LaToc in a case that drew national attention and was later documented in a major tourism publication.
As the story goes “Boo” had gone one night to the hotel to drop off two friends. As he made his way out, he was asked by security to allow a search of his vehicle. “Boo” refused and was prevented from leaving the compound, something that sounds a lot like kidnapping, to say the least.
The matter was resolved only temporarily with the intervention of Boo’s lawyer. It didn’t stop there. An affronted Boo filed a case in court against the hotel. The charge: “wrongful imprisonment.” What’s more, the musician won his case.
He later wrote to then Minister of Tourism Romanus Lansiqout who had taken much public backlash for the introduction here of all-inclusives. The letter which is quoted in the book “Last Resorts: the cost of tourism in the Caribbean” read in part: “No matter how many jobs, airline flights or US dollars Sandals brings into this country, they cannot buy the authority to trample on the rights and human dignity of the St Lucian people.”
In a chapter headed “The social impact,” the book also chronicles the turn of tourism in the Caribbean since the introduction of all inclusive hotels, using Pep’s (Aloysius Brouet now elected parliamentarian) winning Calypso “Alien” as a voice echoing the sentiments of the people.
“The chorus line like an alien in we own land was particularly cheered by Saint Lucians because all-inclusives, unlike other types of hotels, restrict the entry of non-residence to those who can afford expensive day passes, thus barring the majority of islanders from the premises,” the author wrote. “Some put on Sandals, exclusive vandals, it’s a scandal, the way they operate, building brick walls and barricades/like a state within a state,” are some of the poignant lines in the song.
It’s a song Rohan Seon remembers very well, including that the singer’s wife who then worked at the all-inclusive was given a pretty hard time when the song was released.
Several years later now deceased top tier lawyer Vernon Cooper had a run-in of another kind with another local all- inclusive, where he was denied entry without a “day-pass.” Cooper cited his right as a citizen to access and patronize any restaurant or place of public without having to access an expensive day pass. Cooper sued—and won.
Scenarios like these painted an ugly picture of the “all-inclusive” here in Saint Lucia, a concept which started off here in the 90’s as an unfriendly and anti-local establishment. And whilst some have lately been more accommodating to local patronage, the issues of proper beach access where hotels are and the practice of searches still going on by hotel security personnel of vehicles leaving the compound, even the vehicles of musicians who go there to perform, is not making matters any better.
Today a number of entertainers who perform at the hotel feel the idea of being searched by hotel security violates their rights.
“You can’t help feeling sometimes that this is race motivated,” one entertainer who did not want to be identified told the STAR. “These hotels do make you feel like you are about to step on a plantation from the days of slavery.”
Another popular entertainer Sam Epiphane admits that the practice continues at least at one of the hotels where he plays. “They search you when you are leaving, not when you are going in. So how would they know what you came in with? It just does not make sense.”
He added. “As a nation we cannot allow the hotels to define us. They cannot be allowed to treat all of us as crooks or potential troublemakers. If you suspect there is pilfering going on at your hotel, put the appropriate measures in place to deal with it. But do not label all of us as thieves.”
However, as Hinkson points out, the problem of entertainers being searched at their hotel in particular has been rectified following discussions with Sandals Resorts International regional manager Jeremy Jones.
The STAR also spoke with several lawyers on the matter. According to Richard Frederick, also an MP, security guards at hotels have no legal authority to search and detain. “In the case of an employee it is a different matter if they have entered into a contract with the hotel that states that the hotel can be allowed to search them then that’s different. However, if you are going there as a visitor, unless you are told that you will be searched before entering the security guards have no legal authority to search you or your vehicle when you are leaving.”
Another lawyer Thaddeus Antoine concurs. “Even the police who have the legal right to search must follow certain guidelines under what is called ‘Stop and Search’ and there must be reasonable suspicion for this to be done. In some instances a warrant is necessary before someone’s property can be searched.”
So why are the hotels seemingly a law unto themselves and why are such practices being allowed to continue? Many people we spoke with wanted to know what is the Saint Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association doing about the situation? The STAR tried to contact Minister of Tourism
Lorne Theophilus for a comment on the matter, but we were told he was out of office. Efforts to contact Caroline Troubetzkoy, SLHTA President also proved futile.
We’ve been informed that several concerned citizens are planning to write to the Prime Minister and Minister for National Security on the matter. From all we were told, the SLHTA will also get a request for the issue to be discussed at its upcoming AGM.