It would be side-splittingly hilarious but for its life and death implications, not to say its potential to wipe out what’s left of our comatose economy. I speak of what at home and abroad is being referred to as “Saint Lucia’s police situation” and began, as did most of our region’s evils great and small, with politicians whose only ambition is to be elected to office regardless of consequences.
Consider last week’s public declaration by Vernon Francois. Conceivably embarrassed beyond measure by the State Department sanction that had recently prevented him from boarding an aircraft at Hewanorra en-route to a police conference in Philadelphia, the still quite popular police commissioner seemed during a TV interview last Thursday to lose his normal composure.
Obviously hinting at the prime minister’s national address on August 20, Francois said: “I’m not in the business of trying to hide any police officer. So if there is going to be evidence put forward that can show police officers acted improperly, let us put it on the table. I am hoping those people who were unwilling to speak to my investigators will be prepared to speak to the CARICOM investigators, because this is something very important. Let us get past the allegations. Let us stop hiding in the bush. Let us stop running in the dark to the U.S. government. Let us put it on the table.” A loaded statement, especially coming from the normally controlled commissioner!
In the process of officially acknowledging a STAR report that previously his justice minister and the police commissioner had both publicly denied—the State Department’s suspension of assistance to local law enforcement, economic and otherwise—Saint Lucia’s prime minister had in his long-awaited address to the nation referred to what he described as a “matter exceedingly delicate and complex” and which involved “several parties: the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, the United States government, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and, most importantly, the citizens of our country.”
He also had cited the Leahy Law, named for its principal sponsor the Senator from the state of Vermont, Patrick Leahy. “Essentially,” the prime minister explained, “this law says that the United States shall not furnish any assistance to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
The prime minister had acknowledged that in the event funds are withheld from any unit under the Leahy Law, “the Secretary of State shall promptly inform the foreign government of the basis for such action and shall, to the maximum extent practicable, assist the foreign government in taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces to justice.”
“When these provisions are scrutinized against the actions of the United States,” noted the prime minister, “it becomes clear that the United States believes it has credible evidence that the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights.”
Also contained in the prime minister’s August 20 address was this hardly shocking tidbit: “The current events have their origin in the twelve individuals who were shot and killed by the police between 2010 and 2011, during the tenure of the government of the United Workers Party. Those killings occurred after the former government launched what was then described in the media and elsewhere as Operation Restore Confidence.” Common knowledge.
More interesting was the prime minister’s revelation that when he was still in opposition he had with his own eyes “seen a hit-list of targeted persons deemed to be criminals“ and that during the cited period “some twelve persons met their deaths.”
He said the killings, “described by some as extra-judicial, attracted the attention of the United States, in particular that country’s State Department whose Country Report of Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011 had noted the twelve potentially unlawful fatal shootings during the year, some committed by officers associated with an ad-hoc task force within the police department.”
He did not explain the State Department’s interest in these particular killings and not in any of the “400 unresolved homicides over the last ten years,” recalled by governor general in her most recent Throne Speech, ritually written by the prime minister.
Neither did he say how the State Department had come by information so damning as to warrant its abandonment of the Saint Lucia Police Force in the worst of economic times, when violent crime is at least as bad as it had been in 1998 when the current prime minister had launched his own Operation Restore Peace. From his remarks last Thursday, it would appear Police Commissioner Vernon Francois has the answers.
Actually I had written in more than one STAR dispatch about a contingent of strange bedfellows with a common cause that had supplied the U.S. Embassy in Barbados with information that must have seemed credible enough to warrant further investigation.
Soon after ratting on the so-called “ad-hoc” police task force—that conceivably was answerable to then acting commissioner Vernon Francois—the blabbermouths were broadcasting all over Saint Lucia (albeit it very carefully so as to avoid possible slander and libel suits) that a certain UWP candidate in the 2011 elections might any day be picked up by the U.S. authorities, possibly before the nation went to the polls.
Far less subtle was what appeared on the internet. Here the candidate was identified by name and photograph, with accompanying reports of his imminent extradition to the U.S. to answer several felonious charges, among them money laundering, drug trafficking and, yes, murder.
Not that any of this was new: in the lead up the 2006 general election, the then attorney general, the senate president and the prime minister himself had from their campaign platforms issued cagey questions to the particular UWP candidate relating to money laundering and an ostensibly on-going DEA investigation. Actually, the then attorney general and others had themselves triggered the DEA probe, on the basis of suspected customs violations on the part of the UWP candidate and a relative.
Another coincidence: the targeted UWP candidate’s opponent in the 2006 general elections was none other than the sitting attorney general whose office had in the first place instigated the money-laundering investigation.
In any event, the UWP candidate and his party were elected to office with Sir John Compton. But the campaign to unseat him by any means necessary continued unabated. He remained for five more years the opposition’s main target, with traitorous assistance from his own party brethren who considered him as much a fly in their bouillon as he was in the other party’s fish broth. If only for the duration of the 2011 election campaign, the sworn enemies had found common ground, however Machiavellian their motivations.
Ah, but already the chickens were coming home to roost, albeit undetected. In the final weeks preceding the 2011 elections the Americans were particularly active in their investigation of those “potentially unlawful fatal police shootings . . . some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad-hoc task force within the police department,” referenced by the prime minister in his August 20 address to the nation. Their approaches, whether to government ministers or to the police, proved futile. Still they persisted, at the same time not so subtly hinting at possible retaliation against the official stonewalling.
The SLP and a particularly jittery section of the UWP had made much of the earlier mentioned visa revocation. But when it became known that the U.S. Embassy had also canceled a leading cop’s visa, the government went out of its way to play down the implications, suggesting the withdrawal of a cop’s visa was hardly in the same league as the revocation of an MP’s.
Finally, with the public demanding that action promised throughout the campaign be taken by the newly re-elected government, the particular police officer was ordered home “on accumulated leave.” My information is that he has filed a related suit against the government that had been so careful not to officially link his forced departure with his U.S. Embassy problems.
The State Department was unimpressed. It insisted on having the heads of all the suspects in the “twelve potentially unlawful fatal police shootings.” Polygraph tests were undertaken, as well as several interviews that evidently confirmed the State Department’s suspicions, judging by the prime minister’s related comment on August 20: “The United States believes it has credible evidence that the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights.”
From “potentially unlawful fatal shootings . . . some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad-hoc task force within the police department” we had arrived at “the United States believes it has credible evidence that the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights.” Quite a progression, dear reader, wouldn’t you say? [All italics mine]
It becomes even more mind-boggling, considering what the U.S. authorities had discovered from their own meticulous investigations, and passed on following the hardly selfless accounts given them at election time in 2011, that upon returning to office the prime minister confirmed Vernon Francois as police commissioner, presumably not without excellent reason. Certainly Francois would not have been so elevated if the prime minister suspected there was blood on is hands.
Indeed, in his August 20 speech the prime minister said: “The question which should be asked is whether the government of Saint Lucia has taken, or is taking, measures to bring responsible members of the police force to justice? Of course, those so-called responsible members would first have to be identified.”
He had another question: “What do our laws say when unexplained deaths occur? Our law provides for coroner inquests to be conducted by a magistrate to determine, if possible, the cause of the death of the subject of the inquest.”
He said that in the case of “the twelve killings earlier mentioned”—the same twelve that so many believed, without confirmation by a coroner’s inquest, were extra-judicial killings and which had “attracted” the U.S. authorities—yes, the prime minister said he had been “advised” [right or wrongly] six inquests had been held and that the inquest into “five individuals killed in the police operation in Vieux Fort is underway but remains incomplete.”
Naturally, the completed “six inquests” had returned “verdicts of death by lawful act.” (The fatal shooting by police of a certain Dwight Henry was declared “unlawful.” But that verdict is under review; another inquest has been scheduled!)
The prime minister added: “Since the United States has decided to impose sanctions on members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, then it is reasonably clear it does not have confidence in the outcome of the inquests to bring those responsible for the killings to justice . . . Clearly, too, the presumption seems to be that the killings were unlawful.”
Did State Department investigations also reveal that most, if not all police killings in Saint Lucia dating back to the time of Terry James all the way to the shooting of Beck in the back outside the old Central Police Station in broad daylight, were declared ”lawful?”
More pointedly, what are the prime minister’s personal feelings about locally conducted inquests? What does he have to say about the unresolved 400 homicides, most of them committed on his watch? Anything here to warrant confidence in the system?
Let us not forget the U.S. authorities conducted lie-detector tests . . . about which there have been official statements, not necessarily the whole truth. But let’s leave this one for another time. Let us instead return to Vernon Francois’ recent challenge to the government that had not so long ago confirmed him as Saint Lucia’s Police Commissioner.
Would Francois and the nation collectively have suffered the big Hewanorra embarrassment had the alleged local squealers supplied him with what evidently they had given the U.S. Embassy officials? Would the U.S. still have had reason to withdraw its substantial financial and other support to the deprived, depressed and divided RSLPF? Did the well-placed informants have reason not to trust Vernon Francois with what they gave the Americans? Did they spell out such reasons to the embassy officials? Might that be the reason our commissioner was not allowed to board that plane to Philadelphia?
We might also ask: If the Americans have offered to assist the government in its efforts to bring to justice the alleged rogue ad-hoc task force of Operation Restore Confidence, why has our prime minister decided instead to seek the services of the previously unheard of IMPACS, a CARICOM group originally put together for the security purposes of World Cup Cricket, with no record to lean on, and certainly without the resources at the disposal of the U.S. authorities?
On August 20 the prime minister, in his ALBA circumstances, perplexingly admitted: “It is undeniable that it is in our vital interest to maintain close ties and cooperation with the United States in security matters.” So why haven’t we accepted their offer to help us bring to justice those allegedly involved in extra-judicial killings here?
As for the ‘what does the prime minister know and when did he know it’ question? This is what he said on August 20: “From its first few months in office the government has always understood the seriousness of this matter and its implications for the police force—and indeed the former UWP political directorate!”
Is that why the UWP seems hell-bent on concentrating on a chimerical ALBA connection while playing down the very real disaster centered on our current relationship with the U.S. as it relates to the local police? I am reliably informed that the force is a ticking time bomb, with officers pointing fingers at one another, altogether frustrated by the government’s foot-dragging on this vital issue involving our only security force.
Read again the preceding two above paragraphs, dear reader. Is the prime minister acknowledging he has known about the matter under discussion for two years, at least, yet has taken no discernible remedial action? Is he also suggesting his predecessor Stephenson King is somehow implicated in the extra-judicial killings? Is that why the prime minister started out his August 20 address with references to King’s words in relation to Operation Restore Confidence, a hit-list and the “potentially unlawful” police killing of some 17 “persons deemed to be criminals?”
Quite recently the Americans were in Saint Lucia to discuss with the prime minister their offer of assistance in bringing the alleged killers to justice, evidently to no avail. In the meantime police officers dare not try to board aircrafts to the United States. The SSU is in dire need of uniforms and other things vital to its operations, costly items that the government has no money for.
And that’s not all: I have it on good authority that unless something is done satisfactory to the U.S. authorities in the next two weeks, another high-ranking government official will most certainly be denied entry into the United States. Of course, the nightmarish part is to discover you’ve been denied entry only when you are in the process of checking in at Hewanorra—with scores of other Saint Lucian eyes and ears in attendance. The particular official recently undertook a tour of Cuba’s paramilitary facilities with his permanent secretary. (He assures me his visa is safe, which would be the first time my long-time source has proved unreliable!)
Meanwhile there is this in relation to the Leah Law: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to support any training program involving a unit of the security forces of a
foreign country if the Secretary of Defense has received credible information from the Department of State that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken.”
Footnote: Shortly before the last general elections I featured in this newspaper an article that referred to an item in the June 2, 2011 issue of the Economist entitled No Visa, Do Cry—An American Diplomatic Weapon. This was how the item started:
“In the Caribbean being barred from flying to Miami can spell social shame and political oblivion. The latest to be ostracized was James Robertson, who resigned as Jamaica’s energy and mining minister last month, four days after being told that his visa for the United States had been revoked. The reason, he said, was that a fellow Jamaican had told a Florida court that Mr. Robertson conspired with gangsters to have him killed (he denies the allegation . . . ).
“An American diplomatic cable from 2005, made public through Wikileaks, admitted that the potential loss of a visa is ‘a source of considerable leverage’ and suggested this could be used to press Jamaica’s then prime minister to act against corruption. Early last year, when Mr. Golding was still stalling on extraditing Christopher Coke, a drug trafficker, several prominent Jamaicans had their visas revoked. Many others feared they would be next and blamed their government. A year later Mr. Golding sent the security forces in to Mr. Coke’s stronghold; he was duly extradited after 73 people were killed.”
To think all of this may have started as a personal vendetta!