Hard to believe, the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce was once a nightmarish horned and saber-toothed creature capable of bringing powerful politicians to their knees at the heart-stopping sound of a hiccup. The grim brothers George and Jon Odlum and the not so winsome Winston Cenac would attest to that. So would the lower order, among them such as the ever-faithful Oliver Scott the elder, whose purpose in this life was to keep the red flag flying high.
On the other hand Peter Josie, Mikey Pilgrim, Julian Hunte and the current prime minister can with authority speak of the fearsome chameleonic beast when its leonine head was industry captain Ornan Monplaisir and John Compton the nation’s gatekeeper. If the last mentioned two were still around, both would readily confirm it was the Chamber—influenced in 1995-96 by a Nefertiti lookalike and a cagey wolverine in banana leaves—that finally had wooed the unpolished miners of the Valleys of Green Gold and delivered them into the redder-than-red manicured hands of a near stranger in shiny carnival armor.
Of course, soon after he mounted the throne the new monarch had done what every dictator does who is worthy of his reputation: he defanged, declawed and deballed the mindless monster that had tossed his predecessor out to the shit-tossing wolves of William Peter Boulevard. Wimp after eunuch wimp followed Nefertiti, finally reducing the Chamber to a pussy endorser of whatever fell out of the visionless emperor’s mouth. At any rate, that was the picture from the popular perspective.
The Chamber’s stated raison d’être, at least from the mid-eighties, has been “to promote and sustain a healthy political, economic and social environment in which free enterprise and ethical business practice can flourish in harmony with the development of the entire St. Lucian community.” Don’t laugh, dear fellow cynic, even though it must be acknowledged the preceding sounds like it was lifted out of a party manifesto. Curiously, the Chamber has never seen the need to proffer its own definitions of free and ethical and harmony and entire—despite that the italicized words, as employed by the Chamber, do not mean what the ordinary man imagines they mean.
But enough! The purpose of the above is to underscore the desperation that had motivated the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce when it published a particular message in 2010. This writer, for one, could hardly believe his eyes as carefully he studied what had struck him as a naked ultimatum to the unglued Stephenson King government. I could not help wondering what it was that overnight had awakened the long dormant Chamber and imbued it with the gumption to flash its gums, boneless though they were.
The 27 May, 2010 press communiqué was headed “Law and Order.” But perhaps I should change direction, if only for a moment, to refer to another public announcement made only two days earlier. Following are some snippets:
“We have heard the voices of the poor and dispossessed in neighborhoods where indiscriminate gunshots have endangered and taken the lives of innocent bystanders. We have heard from shop owners and residents of affected communities who are now fearful of leaving their homes or even answering knocks on their doors. We have heard from young people who are now afraid to venture outdoors to play, recreate or go to school.”
Additionally: “We have also heard from the business community which is alarmed at the effects of this uncontrolled crime on economic activity in the country. Social and religious leaders have also called to express their fears and concerns about the current crime wave in Saint Lucia and have asked us to show leadership on the issue . . . We have all waited in vain over the last three and a half years for a coordinated approach and a defined plan by the King administration to fight crime. Some members of the very government who should be devising plans to deal with the crime situation have not set proper example.”
More pointedly: “We caution the government not to disregard the links between the core of the problem and persons in high places. The citizens of Saint Lucia should not accept attempts by the government to make the police the scapegoat in the latest case of governmental incompetence.”
Now consider the following, issued just two days after the above-quoted public warning from (in case you’ve not already guessed) the leader of the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party: “The recent escalation in crime which has resulted in the senseless murder of four persons in the past week has prompted the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture to again raise the matter of lawlessness with all stake holders in the country. Notwithstanding numerous attempts to meet with the prime minister and key law enforcement officers of the state, a convenient time is yet to be found because the powers that be were involved with ‘important matters of state.’ Surely, if decisive action is not taken there will be no state or matters to attend to.
“The current situation as far as lawlessness in St. Lucia is concerned is no longer tenable and is at an intolerable level. Drastic and decisive action must be taken as mere words will continue to fall on deaf ears.”
Referencing the Dudas Coke debacle in Jamaica, the statement went on: “We cannot and will not allow our country to go down this path where eventually the state is at war with its citizens . . . This is a situation the Chamber is not prepared to sit back and allow to happen in St. Lucia. Consequently we are calling on the government to take urgent action to bring the rampant and senseless crimes being perpetrated by a few to an immediate halt—by whatever means possible.”
So long pussycat ways, hellooo plastic tiger!
Still echoing the SLP’s 25 May, 2010 advice (“the government must seriously pursue work for the young so as to keep them from the jaws of the illegal drug trade and other criminal enterprises”) the Chamber’s release went on: “We have for far too long ignored the social imbalances in our country, the plight of the less fortunate, the marginalized, the poor, the uneducated and the unemployed which apparently are the reason for the prevailing social decay . . . There is clearly a need for stronger social programs . . .”
The Chamber music and that of the SLP orchestra differed on just one note. While the latter had uncovered a deliberate attempt “by the government to make the police a scapegoat” by not adequately providing for them, the Chamber blamed the rampant criminality on “the litany of excuses from those charged with responsibility for law enforcement.”
Observed the abruptly contrarian Chamber: “Successive governments have provided vehicles, equipment, training and additional recruits and the problem has only worsened. It is apparent that there is need for stronger leadership in the police force to make use of the many outstanding and dedicated police officers . . . It would appear complacency and indecisiveness now haunt us. Persons are now petrified of leaving their homes whether professionally or socially [sic] . . . We join calls for a bipartisan approach to finding solutions and coming to grips with this menace that is causing our country and our people enormous pain and suffering.”
That was hardly the end of the performance. One week following the SLP-Chamber release, a not-so-new voice joined the chorus: “Noting that crime has become the number one concern among Saint Lucians, the National Youth Council has joined in the fearless fight against crime. Many citizens are now paralyzed by fear as criminals continue their rampage of terrorizing our country. Of serious concern is the lack of serious and far-reaching action by our police force and the government to bring this spiraling crime situation to an immediate halt.” [Writer’s emphasis]
Notice the Johnny-One-Note tone? On the occasion the SLP singers for their supper both demanded the King government and the police bring the spiraling crime situation “to an immediate halt.” Notice the identical phrase? Mere coincidence or devious collusion? Dear reader, you decide.
In the event it seemed everyone had forgotten the Kenny Anthony government, with elections around the corner—had convened in 2005 at the NIC conference room a widely publicized meeting to which all right-thinking citizens were invited, food and drinks on tap. As it turned out, at the appointed hour the room was barely half full; perhaps the citizenry was too busy keeping criminals from its front doors?
The meeting’s stated purpose? To arrive at something resembling national consensus about the best way to defeat escalating crime, in particular violent crime. Conceivably the government and police had run out of ideas. The day’s police commissioner Ausbert Regis blamed the deportees whose level of criminal sophistication, he said, was beyond the talents of his officers. Alas, the best the congregation could deliver was a businessman’s suggestion that bugging devices be implanted in the bodies of criminal deportees upon arrival at Hewanorra.
No one remembered the police already had access to surveillance equipment that allowed them to spy on the citizenry, whether or not criminally inclined—with or without a judge’s sanction. By the time the red heat became too much for delicate Sarah Flood-Beaubrun to bear in silence, the Americans had been given reason to consider Richard Frederick a person of interest—to them!
His 2005 entry into the political arena coincided with an official conspiracy to nail him as a money launderer. Soon the public would be hearing from the steps of the Castries market that Frederick was worth well over $45 million dollars; that he was a woman batterer who cared little for his mother; a land speculator and a quick-draw McGraw with a tendency to whip out his irons at the slightest provocation. (Ironically, it was his opponent in the 2006 Central Castries by-election who pulled out his weapon when a constituency resident told him what he was disinclined to hear!)
At a March 13, 2005 meeting on the Castries market steps, starring the Jamaican siren Tanya Stephens, Kenny Anthony described the then independent Frederick as “the most frightening development in the politics of the country” and questioned why the UWP had not told the electorate all they knew about the neophyte politician. “God forbid a man who makes a living defending and protecting drug barons in the courts of this country should be elected to parliament,” the prime minister prayed.
Of course that was hardly the first clash of the titans. There had been an earlier episode centered on a law lecture that had left Frederick, if not the Jamaican law students who received it firsthand, with the impression the prime minister had counted him among fellow Caribbean lawyers that had contributed to their profession’s unflattering reputation!
By 2001, with violent crime establishing new per capita world records, the official comforting word was that regular citizens had no reason to lose sleep. The line had been heard before, from the same mouth. In March 1998—yes, as far back as that!— in a televised address on law and order, the prime minister Kenny Anthony had claimed there were among the citizenry some who considered Lent “a time to kill, to terrorize our peace-loving community, to play out their internal quarrels.”
Specifically: “This state of affairs began with the killing of Michael Gaboo Alexander on March 4, 1998 as he rode a bicycle along the Allan Bousquet Highway near Balata.” By the prime minister’s judgment, the killing was “swift and professional.” The few witnesses could only tell the police “the number of persons involved.” By which time they had long evaporated.
Then there was the killing of Bonnie Clarke a short time earlier. “Notwithstanding that the trial in this matter has effectively collapsed,” commented the prime minister, “the speedy action in successfully identifying and apprehending the prime suspects should not be forgotten.” Despite “the rumors about various hit lists” the prime minister was confident the police were “slowly but surely closing in on two wanted men.” This was the first time a sitting Saint Lucian prime minister appeared to confirm rumors that some local homicides might possibly be contract killings. There would be more talk of hit lists.
He went on to reference several violent robberies and incidents involving guns, with no related arrests. The prime minister did not wish the citizenry to “exaggerate the situation,” however. “The fact is,” he reassured them, “the people engaged in the dastardly acts are small in number and all their acts are directed against each other.”
The police had convinced him the shootings in the last few months were “all linked to this small group of persons allegedly engaged in the illegal drug trade” and he in turn wanted the nation to rest easy in the knowledge that this “was not some widespread national crime wave assaulting any and every person in our community. In essence this a struggle among rival gangs, each determined, it would seem, to wipe out the other in order to secure control of the illegal drugs trade.”
He recalled that when the gang wars started “in 1996,” the year he took office, the police were “weak, indecisive and, it is alleged, compromised.”
Moreover, it was undeniable that “the element of corruption within the police force developed in that period [shortly before his administration replaced that of Vaughan Lewis], to the extent that evidence suggests they may have been involved in protecting certain drug barons.”
Further confirmation that our only security force included “criminals in uniform,” an observation with roots reaching back to the late eighties, tolerated by succeeding governments—if not nurtured for particular political purposes!
The prime minister promised that on his watch the police would undertake “a firm and sustained operation to secure our streets and rid our communities of this distasteful behavior. Operation Restore Peace would use all lawful means to bring an end to the type of criminal action we’ve witnessed and to apprehend the perpetrators.”
Finally he spoke directly to “the criminals who have inflicted the pain of the last few days on the people of this country.” He promised them “a tougher time than you ever imagined possible.” Additionally, “The net will be stretched around you and slowly but surely close in to trap you and terminate once and for all your unlawful activities. You can run but you surely cannot hide. In the coming months you shall find no hiding place in our beloved country . . .” The question immediately arises: What did the prime minister mean by “trap and terminate your activities once and for all?” How do you permanently stop a man’s activities without guaranteeing the man is in no position to repeat them?
As for the good guys: “With your help the police can do it. When Operation Restore Peace has achieved its objectives we will remove the shackles of our fear of violent crime . . . The criminals may have started the war but I assure you law and order will end the war.”
Conceivably, by “law and order” the prime minister referred to the armed to the teeth, US Marines-trained SSU. Three years later, the government was, by the prime minister’s account, still attempting in vain to “take back our country and streets from the criminals.” On June 28, 2001 he told the nation via TV what regrettably it already knew only too well: “Saint Lucians in all walks of life have expressed fear, anxiety, anger and frustration with this crime wave and its erosion of our lifestyles.”
If the quoted lines immediately above carry a familiar ring, maybe it’s because they feature, almost word for word, in the Labour Party’s press release of 27 May, 2010 that opened this feature.
“We have directed the police to take back the streets,” the prime minister went on. “They will achieve this by increasing regular patrols” and by establishing “a task force to target known criminals, deploying the SSU in trouble spots around the country . . . The objective of the police action will be to make life as uncomfortable as possible for all well-known and intending criminal elements.” Keep in mind that “task force,” dear reader, first mentioned, as I say by Prime Minister Kenny Anthony in 2001—whose deadly purpose was to target criminals known by the SSU!
Let us now, space being limited, fast forward to that all-important time—at any rate, to the prime minister’s address delivered on the evening of August 20, 2013. Let’s pretend the lawlessness in the House never happened that had started soon after Sir John’s passing in 2007. Let’s pretend, too, that no nefarious allegations were lobbed by fellow MPs at Richard Frederick, no references made to his ostensible connection with an ad-hoc police task force of deadly repute.
Let’s not recall his radio show and some of his more infamous guests, at least one of whom had stopped a bullet with his head in broad daylight outside a police station in Castries. If we try hard enough we might succeed in deleting from our memory banks the occasion when government MPs and a cowering female Speaker were denounced in the House as “criminals and renegades,” simply because they had not seen eye to eye with their towering denouncer on the meaning of “as soon as convenient.”
Labeled “An Unhappy Episode,” the cited August 2013 speech purported to address the U.S. State Department’s decision “to disallow officers of the Saint Lucia Police Force from participating in training programs arranged or financed by the United States.” Obviously reading from a teleprompter the prime minister described the issue as “exceedingly delicate and complex,” involving several parties, the RSLPF, the U.S. government, the DPP’s office and “most importantly the citizens of our country.”
What he referred to as “current events” had their origins, he said, “in the twelve individuals who were shot and killed by police officers between 2010 and 2011, during the tenure of the government of the United Workers Party.”
Notice, dear reader, the prime minister—in private life a constitutional lawyer—chose not to say the twelve individuals who were allegedly shot and killed by the police. He spoke instead as someone convinced the cops had unlawfully disposed of twelve citizens—a mass killing that the prime minister implied had mysteriously caught the attention of the U.S. State Department.
Why did he draw attention to the day’s administration when already it was common knowledge the Labour Party was not in office at the time of the shootings, that indeed its officials had, from their usual platforms and via social media, pointed several accusatory fingers at the government headed by Stephenson King?
The prime minister pointedly reminded his audience at home and abroad that the cited shootings had occurred “after the former government launched what was then described by the media and elsewhere as Operation Restore Confidence.” (Actually, the media referred to the operation by name only when quoting opposition politicians.)
In his 20 August, 2013 speech the prime minister, like a prosecuting attorney setting up his case, recalled that in an address on 20 May, 2010 his predecessor had threatened local criminals that “there will be no refuge, no stone will be left unturned and there will be no hiding place.” In another speech a year later, the same prime minister, referencing the criminal element, had reportedly said: “They will be hunted down, they will be found, they will be prosecuted, they will be judged and will be made to pay the consequences for the crimes committed against our peace-loving and law abiding people.”
In the aftermath of Operation Restore Confidence, said the prime minister channeling the prosecutor in his soul, “twelve persons met their deaths. These killings described by some as extra-judicial killings attracted the attention of the United States, in particular the State Department. In its Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011, the State Department noted that ‘there were twelve potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year, some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad-hoc task force within the police department.’ It is this issue which has preoccupied the United States and which has led to the actions taken against the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.”
But how much of the above is verifiably true? Who informed the U.S. State Department about the “potentially unlawful” shootings and the ad-hoc task force? Was the State Department preoccupied with the potentially unlawful shootings or was the department more interested in the fulfillment of promises given by well-placed and hardly selfless informants? (It comes to mind that long before it actually happened, certain individuals were confidently predicting the revocation of Richard Frederick’s U.S. visas, some going so far as to suggest “Frederick may not be in any position to contest the 2011 general elections!”)
In his speech dated 20 August, 2013, the current prime minister evidently forgot his own deliveries in 1998 and 2001, when he publicly threatened the nation’s criminals that their activities would “once and for all be terminated,” that they could run but not hide, that thanks to Operation Restore Peace they would “find no hiding place in this beloved country.”
He also neglected to mention what had led to the launching of his Operation Restore Peace and the police shootings that had followed. This was how he ended his address on 20 August, 2013 (not as he said more than once in his IMPACS-related address on Sunday, 30 August 2014): “At times like these, speculation will be rife but we must follow the rule of law as enshrined in our Constitution. There can be no other way. We now reap the harvest of rash decisions, particularly by policy makers anxious to gain quick resolutions.”
Was the prime minister referring to his predecessor Stephenson King—or to himself? Can the answer be between the lines of the unreleased IMPACS Report or is it contained in what the prime minister chose not to say on Sunday to the trusting sons and daughters of Saint Lucia? In any event, the writing is on the wall.
Meanwhile the reverted pussycat Chamber has gone back to sleep on its favorite doormat while the Christian Council (yes, it’s alive, if not altogether well) sadly weeps in silence. As for the day’s opposition party, it knows even less than it has said on the latest bombshell—unlike the internet and the world’s leading newspapers, the N.Y. Times and the Telegraph among them, that have since Sunday daily been painting the most unflattering images of Saint Lucia!