If I may be permitted a liberty or two with Virginia Woolf’s original line: On or about July 1979 the Saint Lucian character changed. Once abhorred by the society’s ostensible God-fearing majority, violence received a brand new face. The makeover artist was a regular churchgoer. He had also been a widely respected dispenser of justice, a high court judge that on occasion had dutifully dispatched felons to another dimension more deserving of their special company.
But that was state-sponsored violence, conceivably blessed. Methodically positioning a carefully-knotted rope around a man’s neck and then suddenly dropping him five to nine feet down a trapdoor, so that his spinal cord snapped like a spaghetti stick between a man’s thumb and forefinger, was altogether Christian. Justice as defined by the Old Testament.
Just desserts. What could be more natural and uplifting to the soul than doing to a fellow human being as he had done to another? The best part was knowing in your Christian heart that your actions in the name of the people were sanctioned by Scripture.
So cherished and revered—and generally trusted—was Allan Louisy that when it came time to choose a replacement for the almost-deity prime minister John Compton, the Oxford-educated radical and non-churchgoer George Odlum or Laborie’s most famous good guy, well, the now retired justice dispenser won hands down.
Not until much later would the people encounter the previously hidden truth: that their trust had been betrayed; that prior to the general elections there had been some dead-of-night bargaining, with Louisy agreeing to vacate the prime minister’s chair at some point in favor of the fearsome Big Brother—a devilish arrangement that would ultimately bring the nation to its knees, and not only in prayer.
But all of that had followed the earlier mentioned character change. The Louisy-fronted St. Lucia Labour Party had won by a landslide of 12-5 the Fourth of July general elections. Good reason to celebrate, to forgive and forget and embrace the losing side in the best interests of our beloved nation.
Alas, mischief would soon turn the house-party atmosphere into an unforgettable shit storm (if you’ll pardon the expression) that abruptly rendered the day’s prime minister near speechless. As he surveyed from the sidelines the transmogrification of William Peter Boulevard into a giant cesspool by programmed, red-eyed vengeance seekers determined to make John Compton pay for every sin conceivably committed during his terms as prime minister, Louisy was distracted by the amplified sound of an approaching George Odlum in U.S. Army fatigues and rubber galoshes, loudspeaker held to his face. From the back of an open pick-up truck his message reverberated around the defiled boulevard: “Brothers and sisters, protect your revolution . . .”
His mind doubtless unable to grasp the reality that threatened imminently to grow much worse, there was little the befuddled prime minister could do. “My God,” he prayed, “what is George up to now?”
It was a question Odlum himself might not have answered truthfully. For though he had promoted the night’s main activity, not even in his wildest moments could he have anticipated the consequences. Oh, but already enough has been written about the night all hell broke loose in William Peter Boulevard. In any event, the current prime minister, some 25 years later, recently promised soon to tell “the untold story!”
What particularly concerns me now is what had brought about the change in the Saint Lucian character; what had turned us from lovers of peace and harmony to lovers of violence most cruel. Was the William Peter Boulevard explosion the catalyst? Or was it the dove prime minister’s spoken endorsement that did us in?
Pressured by journalists and a self-serving opposition party to condemn the architects of destruction that had left William Peter Boulevard smelling for weeks like a village of uncovered pit latrines, the exasperated prime minister had famously defended the miscreants that had laid waste the city center. “There are times,” he bellowed, “when violence is justified!”
Was he thinking at the time with a Moses mindset? Or was his inspiration the combined works of Lenin, Eldridge Cleaver, Rap ‘Burn Baby, Burn’ Brown and Maurice Bishop? I doubt it. More likely, the suddenly radical Louisy was echoing (and doubtless seeking to impress) his deputy George Odlum, who was never what he seemed to be—who was a 24-7 actor playing self-written roles, often risibly.
No matter, violence and chaos had officially been licensed, afforded respectability, and by no less a personage than the nation’s new leader and former high court judge. Oh, but predictably, the sword that the young Allan Louisy had determinedly avoided, that he’d picked up only when he was near the end of his working life, would ultimately prove his downfall.
Without any advance notice, Louisy had journeyed to Grenada to hook up with two of his Cabinet revolutionaries and to bless with his widely respected establishment presence the now famous tragicomedy that would take several innocent lives, including that of not so much innocent as naïve Maurice Bishop. The same Louisy who, for most of his life, had at the highest level represented law and order and justice “though the heavens fall!” was now adding his own voice in support of what a short time earlier had occurred in Grenada: Vive la revolution!
As prime minister, Louisy had tacitly, at the very least, encouraged further illegalities at home, permitting his ministers every imaginable insanity. On his watch, members of his Cabinet had illicitly brought into Saint Lucia via Vigie Airport large cases of guns, without one expression of concern, let alone rebuke from their prime minister. After that, there would be no turning back. The Saint Lucian character had changed, perhaps irrevocably!
Meanwhile, the justice system was falling apart. In and out of parliament, once revered institutions were routinely ridiculed, from the church to Government House. Encouraged by the politics of division perpetuated by different administrations and their opposition, the public took turns hating and baiting our only security force. Not that the police were altogether undeserving of such wrath. Shooting after fatal police shooting were predictably dismissed by one-sided inquests as “death by misadventure.”
Faith in our courts consequently plummeted. Our lawyers, with an accommodating Bar Association, daily lost public respect; some were actually accused by clients of theft and worse. Finally the people started to turn on themselves—as do all abused people with nowhere to turn.
With the banana industry going down the toilet for several reasons, all political, more and more young Saint Lucians turned to drug trafficking, synonymous with murder and mayhem. Hardly a week passed without an attack on visiting tourists. Dissenters against government policy risked being shot without question. The names Julius and Randy Joseph soon were spoken in households island-wide, usually while cursing politicians and rogue policemen.
As far back as the late 80s the country had begun to experience weekly murders, sometimes more than one a day. Also rapes and robberies at gunpoint. Shortly after the Kenny Anthony administration replaced that of Vaughan Lewis in 1997, a riot exploded at the Bridge Street prison, followed by a fire reminiscent of another at the same location in 1979 during the ceremony that would climax with the declaration of the island’s independence from Britain.
Politicians continued to toss at one another allegation after shocking allegation, in the House and elsewhere. One senior MP actually acknowledged on radio that there were “criminals on both sides” of the political divide. There were also inquiries into alleged corruption, more often than not initiated by newly-elected governments in fulfillment of vindictive campaign promises based on thin air.
Scarce millions of dollars were frittered away on the pointless exercise. Regardless of how many irregularities the commissioners uncovered, the official reaction was always predictable. No follow-up investigations, no charges laid. All the people got for their money was more hot air and business as usual. More and more Saint Lucians came to see their government and its agents as nepotistic, accountable to no one, a law unto themselves.
The church had gradually lost its voice. Whenever a priest proved courageous enough to question suspect policy, the politicians and their mindless surrogates predictably turned on him from their privileged parliamentary perches and elsewhere.
Abortion was legalized “in certain circumstances.” Illegal gambling became legal for the entertainment of non-nationals initially, then for everyone with a buck to lose, including STEP workers and NICE single mothers seeking to stretch their incomes. Yes, and now we are reaping what we sowed. You can hardly move around our towns and villages without bumping into a den of iniquity by whatever name. When recently the commerce minister refused to accommodate further gambling in Saint Lucia, the prime minister simply took over her portfolio and did what in good conscience she would not do.
After more than 15 years the U.S. has decided no longer to finance special police operations here until there is a satisfactory resolution of what the State Department has referred to as “human rights violations” committed by local cops. The number of individuals remanded in custody exceeds the convicted. Some have been at Bordelais for ten years with no idea when they will appear before a judge. Recently, the DPP announced during a radio interview that her office was short on staff, underfunded and incapable of functioning according to public expectation. Her excuse for justice both denied and delayed? “We have just one criminal court judge.”
Meanwhile the people continue to pay for the state’s shortcomings, brought about by the long neglect of the justice system by several administrations.
As for the people’s watchdogs, most of them have turned into meowing pussies, their tongues ready to lap up anything resembling milk!
In the midst of all of the above, let us remember (as if we could possibly forget!) the economic times we’re living in. It takes money to operate the much neglected justice machinery, to maintain a functioning police department, our hospitals and our ever-enlarging and increasingly expensive public service. More money by far than can be squeezed out of the largely unemployed workforce.
For the most part, we allowed ourselves to be driven to this place of frustration and misery. Will we, for once, do something in our own interest? Or will we continue to depend for solutions on the same thinking that created our problems?
Even as we pray without faith for miracles, more of our institutions have lost their nerve and tuned out reality, preaching only to the converted desperate that make up their congregations. Our young sons and daughters, the ostensible leaders of an unimagined tomorrow, are in one way or another daily raped and otherwise ravaged, denied justice for no reason that makes any sense, while the nation’s best brains, compromised as are the majority, take shelter behind eyes that refuse to see.
Some prefer simply to be endlessly blind drunk. Anything is better than having to confront the reality they helped create with their lust for lucre and their cowardly complacency.
Some of us have been reduced even to seeking answers from an imagined spirit world. Count on us to engage in anything that demands no special effort, save getting down on our knees, our favorite position, quite possibly DNA-related. After all, how many times have we been reminded of our slave ancestry?
Is it just possible that we are genetically programmed to beg and to accept whatever comes our way—until such time as, oh happy day, a miracle-working messiah shows up, conceivably from Iran?