The difference between the pessimist and the optimist is amusing, wrote the American poet McLandburgh Wilson. “The optimist sees the doughnut but the pessimist sees the hole.” Another source more prosaic described the optimist as “a crazy or foolish person,” and suggested pessimists are often more realistic “because they are more likely to consider risks.” From still another fount: “Although it is better to find a balance between the two, optimism is better for leadership.”
Whatever pejoratives have been tossed at this nation’s prime minister—and who would deny the number is close to countless!—not even his worst detractors would label him a pessimist. For Allen Chastanet, even in the darkest hours the sun shines. Who else but a supreme optimist would imagine himself, irrespective of the quantity of inherited salt in his genes, capable in five years of rescuing the good ship Helen when almost everyone else, if only secretly, is convinced it will take a miracle at least dimensionally equal to that of the loaves and the fishes to save her from Davy Jones’ locker?
Upon honest reflection ours turns out to be a sad, sad story. For as long as anyone alive can remember Saint Lucia has stayed afloat thanks in great measure to the generosity of strangers. If we must continue to trust the earliest recorders of our island’s history, when civilization’s representatives first came a-knocking they discovered our ancestors naked and at one another’s jugulars, which might explain our continuing propensity for self-destruction . . . but I am ahead of myself. The uninvited visitors quickly cottoned on that whatever seed fell to the ground soon blossomed into food-laden trees and vines. Everywhere there were songbirds, birds of countless varieties and colors, while the waters, sea and rivers, teemed with easily reached fish. Wildlife was abundant. But some would insist on improving even heaven. In time more visitors introduced items foreign to this land, including animals large and small and yes, certain diseases that took their toll on our unsuspecting forebears, on the young native girls in particular.
Conceivably the earliest Looshans saw in the strangers more good than evil. Or so the holy drunks sold it to our ancestors over coconut shells full of intoxicating strange brews. We learned to depend on adventurers who wrote in their journals about our natural disinclination to work. Henry Breen, for one; the French clergyman and botanist Pere Labat, for another. In later years we continued to cadge off their offspring for our needs, real and imagined, regardless of conditions. We still had not yet learned there is no such thing as a free lunch. The visitors from places only a few of us had heard of elevated themselves with our tacit permission to positions too lofty for the native born. And so we progressed from naked savages, to shackled slaves, to slavery by other names, until there wasn’t much left to hold the attention of our benefactors. Gradually they disentangled themselves from whatever had tied them to us. Then came the day we found ourselves on our own—independent, yet more than ever addicted to the presumed generosity of strangers.
The evidence suggests we were also addicted to acquired tastes not synonymous with life on a sea rock. We permitted without question more adventurers from overseas to seduce us into reshaping our psyches to resemble theirs. Under their baleful influence our natural island ambience began to metamorphose: our beaches were cleansed of fruit trees—sea grapes, fat poke—-to make room for vacation resorts designed to make big-city dwellers feel at home, whether at the imports-loaded dinner table or in their air-conditioned suites. We adjusted our topography, in some cases at great cost to our environment: avian and other animal species disappeared—some never to return—as did several beaches.
Much of our most fertile lands were mindlessly sacrificed to the mining of “green gold,” with the lion’s share going to foreign banks. Yes, there were small uprisings along the way but the more things changed the more massa remained the same. The dream of running our own affairs, packaged so irresistibly in the late 70s, remained just that: a dream.
Government after elected government took the easy way out of every nurtured problem, exacerbating the original. And then came this, from a report by Dr. Vaughan Lewis and others: “Although tourism replaced agriculture in the early 1990s as the country’s leading economic sector, it has not been able to have as transformative and widespread an effect as the banana industry did, due to the very nature of tourism with its greater import leakages and relatively tenuous linkages with domestic production . . . The world has obviously changed and Saint Lucia is now faced with the harsh reality of having to manage its development in the context of almost dried up aid flows, an increasing trend toward full reciprocity in international trade agreements and market-based interest rates for development financing. All this, with a considerable slowdown in economic growth since the global economic recession in 2008, widening fiscal deficits, low national savings and investment levels and unsustainable debt to GDP and debt service to current ratios.
“Saint Lucia has now to earn its way to prosperity and that requires vision, innovative purposeful policy formulation, and a skillfully executed national development agenda. Saint Lucia’s two most important attributes are its natural beauty, warmth and friendliness of its people. Those two attributes create a natural allure that underpin the offerings and promise of this island state.” (But to what avail that “natural allure” if Lewis was saying tourism was not quite the panacea successive governments had claimed? Leaks remain leaks until plugged. So why haven’t they been stopped?)
Lewis’ quoted lines amounted to the sugar on a pill to be known as “The Global Residence and Citizenship Industry”—a Pandora’s Box, as it has turned out, created by our insatiable addiction to the ostensible generosity of strangers—our way out of the hole that we’ve been digging for ourselves going back generations.
To borrow yet again from Lewis, “the world has changed” since he and his team of fellow intellectuals handed their earlier mentioned do-or-die report to then prime minister Kenny Anthony. For one, the U.S. is now in the famously tiny hands of Donald Trump, not especially noted for his generosity to people born outside America’s borders. Then there is his let them eat cake attitude to perceived tax havens that already is having negative impacts on American investment abroad. Yes, so who in his right mind would want to shoulder the immediate future of a country poor as ours, not to say as threatened by every imaginable nightmare?
Allen Chastanet did just that, having won an election on his promise it would no longer be business as usual. But can he even begin to take the first steps toward delivering on his promise when at every turn he is required by at least half the voting population, wittingly and otherwise, to stick to the same failed remedies responsible for our sorry situation?
Is he man enough to risk turning out to be a one-term or less prime minister because he prescribed the correct curatives, however bitter? One year after taking office the signs are fuzzy. Allen Chastanet still has not demanded from his immediate predecessor answers to several disturbing Grynberg questions. Some 83 million acres of seabed remain under the control of the Colorado oil speculator, some 17 years after signing a secret agreement with then prime minister Kenny Anthony. There is no end in sight to the IMPACS fiasco—even as crime threatens at every other corner.
Can Allen Chastanet summon up the courage to come clean with his supporters about what he is up against? Will he remind them, as he did so many times on the campaign trail, that without their unshakable loyalty, their patience, their understanding, it’ll be Davy Jones’ locker for all aboard the good ship Helen? Time is not on the prime minister’s side.
Neither on ours!