Will pineapples, hemp and slavery reparation save us?

Could it be the answer to our economic problems is pineapples?

Could it be the answer to our economic problems is pineapples?

They say necessity is the mother of invention. If that in itself is not cockeyed optimism beyond measure, then I dare to say the father of Baby Necessity is a deadbeat named Desperation.

It would appear more than a few of us have finally given up on the demented delusion that somehow Kenny Anthony—despite his countless contrary demonstrations—was capable of not only walking on water, but also of feeding countless insatiable parasites on loaves and fishes pulled out of thin air.

As if indeed two miracles in one lifetime were not enough of an accomplishment, even for a living saint, back in 2011 the campaigning genius had also thrown in such conditional bonuses as $100 million for the acknowledged comatose private sector and for everyone else jobs, jobs, jobs. He never asked for much in return. He said he would be more than satisfied with a little cross.

To be fair, Kenny Anthony has never sought credit for the year’s biggest miracle. We pulled that one off all by our ourselves when we took the bifacial, soon to be three times prime minister at his word—just as he always knew we would.

Somehow, he even persuaded us to embrace the killer snake he had earlier described as “oppressive, anti-poor, anti-worker.” Embrace? We made open love to it, and sang joyful jingles about its “inevitable” coming.

No one bothered to investigate the ordinary meaning of the word inevitable, let alone oppressive, anti-poor and anti-worker. Had we undertaken the smallest due diligence we have might well have discovered how to save ourselves before 2011 from the declared unavoidable, venomous VAT.

We might also have confronted the harsh reality that what the miracle worker had earlier warned us was deadly was being forced on us as a consequence of the way the recently returned prime minister and his predecessors had managed the nation’s affairs through the years—in effect encouraging us to dig our own graves while fantasizing about friends in Europe who would never let us down, or about newer ones from the Far and Middle East, and from Venezuela.

Well, we willingly went along for the ride and now find ourselves inevitably abandoned in the VAT desert. Some of us have even discovered the truth about miracles, that they occur only in the spirit world where evidence of things not seen is the only evidence that matters. And while we appear from time to time irrationally exuberant about an afterlife in Spiritland, few of us are demonstrably in any great hurry to go there—unless, of course, the balance of our mind has gone irreparably berserk.  And so, ever faithful to the insanity that what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger, some of us have decided to “tie our waists and pray,” to gird our fat and skinny loins for the worst, all the while pretending we never heard the promised miracles of 2011.

The new mantra is: “The private sector must stop relying on government!” Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone has bought into that gibberish. After all, most of us who toil at jobs and at maintaining private business have always known better than to rely on government. To do otherwise would be a little bit like a dog depending for its survival on ticks and fleas.

The public sector, including government ministers, elected and selected, have always been the nation’s greediest bloodsuckers—not its blood bank!

Without private business, comprising beleaguered owners and their trusting employees, who would pay for the lifestyles that talentless and earlier unemployable incumbent politicians have grown accustomed to?

Who would pay for the mansions in New York, London and elsewhere that we call missions—even though most of us are absolutely clueless of their missions?

Last I checked, taxpayers were forking out some $46 million annually for salaries and entertainment allowances related to our overseas embassies—with nothing in return—an unconscionable horror that dates back unchanged to the heyday of John Compton.

The depressing unemployment figures that finally have become a national concern are unrelated to public  sector workers. They are the nation’s most pampered and secure employees (as opposed to workers!). And the best paid.

Only this week the prime minister was casually acknowledging “public sector wages have grown at a much faster pace than the private sector [sic], to the point that private sector wages have decoupled from wage levels in the public sector.”

Moreover: “Public sector wages have increased steadily, to the point that the gap between rates in the public sector is significant . . . The rates in the public sector have grown at a much faster pace than the private sector but it has not yielded any significant growth in productivity . . . Even more alarming for Saint Lucia is a significant mismatch between unemployment and available skills.”

Surprise! Surprise!

Still think we should not expect better from our government and that we should be doing for ourselves the things we elected the government to do for us because we can’t do them for ourselves? Still wondering why the oppressive killer VAT was deemed “inevitable?”

Then let’s confront a couple more questions: Who is responsible for the increased public sector wages and the lack of productivity? Who pockets the wages that have “decoupled” from those of the private sector? Who recently forced a pay increase upon public servants—and in whose best interests? Who did similarly before 2011?

More questions: If we agree that government is primarily responsible for a local atmosphere conducive to local and foreign investment, then why are we reluctant to blame our politicians for our dysfunctional justice system, our in-over-their-heads police (sadly, now considered our worst human rights violators), the engrained suicidal divisiveness and so on? How do we help ourselves out of that sorry situation?

The vast majority of Saint Lucians are not criminals. Which is to say, most of us already contribute to the cause of a crime-free environment. Nevertheless, we are held to ransom by lawbreakers, some of them also lawmakers. How do we rescue ourselves from that hell?

I could go on endorsing the fact that Dwight Venner (admittedly a major flip-flopper) was right on the button when he said our economic problems throughout the OECS are daily exacerbated by poor leadership. But already the point is proved. And now I’m thinking about the truism that when the people can do nothing about their oppressors, they turn on themselves. They become cannibals.

Yes, perhaps afraid we might earn ourselves libel suits from the presumed most powerful in the land, we’ve taken to talking Tower of Babel talk about how we can extricate ourselves from the mess created for us by our elected leaders.

My friend and STAR columnist Earl Bousquet suggests (see Media Matters in this issue) we should report less about what is killing us and our helplessly neglected children (we’re now asking them to start their own businesses when all around us long established businesses are daily dying) and concentrate instead on crowing about one or two successful individuals elsewhere who were born in Saint Lucia but had been astute enough to ship out when they were still young and full of beans and ambition.

And then there are those suddenly hung-up on pineapples “as a replacement for bananas.” Of course, the agriculture minister is not among them. He is too busy talking the banana talk, as if this were 1980 and he’d never heard of the WTO; as if he was off-island when his own leader announced the abdication of King Banana, and advised farmers move as quickly as possible into the services industries.

Have the pineapple pushers any idea what they’re talking about? Or are we simply hearing the voice of Daddy Desperation? For the record, following are the top five exporters of pineapples, with whom we would do battle for market space, and without the now illegal “preferential treatment”: Costa Rica, the Philippines, Belgium, Netherlands and the United States. Since the 1960s pineapple production has quadrupled and export has tripled worldwide.

Dole and Del Monte, through their subsidiaries, compete as the largest global suppliers of both fresh and processed pineapple. Both operate plantations, distribution centers and processing facilities all over the world. The two companies have also been expanding their operations through purchasing and leasing of new land for pineapple production.

My research further reveals that Dole’s subsidiary, Dole Philippines, “dominates the pineapple industry in the Philippines while Fresh Del Monte’s subsidiary, PINDECO, dominates Costa Rican fresh pineapple production.”

Still wanna be a pineapple farmer? Of course nothing I’ve noted here should be construed as a discouragement to farmers wishing to produce pineapples, if only for local consumption. It’s another story if we’re talking about a replacement for bananas as an earner of foreign exchange. But would-be producers of pineapple for the local market should keep in mind their competition outside the region. By the way, does the name Dole strike a bell? Does Chiquita? They should!

And then there are the other pushers for the decriminalization of dope that they promise will be used strictly for the production of fabrics. Smoke on, guys, smoke on. Burn me at the stake if you will, but I suspect your only hope for changing our marijuana-related laws lies in the election of Andre DeCaires, aka Pancho— in our dire circumstances, not nearly as farfetched as it sounds.

Finally, there is underway much talk about the possibilities of investing in the dream of Reparation for Slavery. There are also wall-to-wall complaints that our own abruptly peripatetic prime minister, contrary to Ralph Gonsalves and other regional shepherds, has shown no great interest in the subject.

We could start the Reparation ball rolling by asking why!

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