En-route to Soufriere via Canaries, with six miles to go, lies Bouton—the kind of coastal community our tourist-brochure Shakespeares love to describe as “quaint,” a word synonymous with picturesque, sweet, attractive.
Based on latest census, the Bouton population would now be approximately 137, most of whom are Roman Catholics who survive by farming and who worship at their all-purpose primary school.
The “behind-God’s-back” little village seldom makes news except at Budget time when its MP makes the ritual promise of coming better days. Ah, but that may be about to change: this week, Joseph Cadette, Colin Mercier and Paul J. Auguste, who describe themselves as “proud sons of Bouton”, visited the STAR on a special mission related to land they say was several years ago bequeathed to the people of their community.
“We would like to share our plight with the public,” Cadette told me this week during an interview. His research had revealed a man named Charles Hippolyte Boucher had left in his will, probated February 27, 1946, directives for his executors to divest 50 ‘carres’ of land to the people of Bouton.
According to “Clause 1” of the will, a copy of which was made available to the STAR, the land, “more or less at Anse Jambou, quarter of Soufriere, Saint Lucia,” was bequeathed “to the parish priest, for the time being, of Canaries, for the uses of the parish, the poorest on the island.”
The 50 carres of land accounts for about ninety percent of what is now Bouton. Two executors are mentioned in the will, one of them purported to be Boucher’s caretaker.
“When we discovered this it was 2006,” Cadette told me, “We immediately did a search at the land registry.” It emerged that the name of ownership had been changed from Charles Hippolyte Boucher to Kelvin Edward Felix, the archbishop, “on behalf of the church.” He provided documents supportive of his claim.
“We are now contending there was an error,” said Colin Mercier. “We are being conservative here, in terms of the change of ownership which was done through the courts. We hope it is an error, because individual’s will is supposed to be sacrosanct.”
“The will clearly states that the land was left to a particular set of people and we are now calling for this to be rectified,” Mercier added.
Cadette said: “The people of Bouton have been dealt a very bad card and have been victimized. “Just imagine what we could have done generations ago if only we’d had proper access to this land!”
The Bouton trio also allege that portions of the land have already been sold by the church. Cadette said his parents actually rented a portion of the land from the church. The residents of Bouton, who were referred to as “squatters” by a missionary, now occupy the majority of the land in dispute
“We are definitely not squatters,” said Pual Auguste. “But as it stands now, our hands are tied. We cannot embark on any investments involving this land which rightfully belongs to the people, since we do not have entitlement.”
He believes that this has hampered the progress of the community.
Since the discovery at the land registry, the threesome, who now represent the people of Bouton through a petition signed by a majority, have written to the church represented by Archbishop Kelvin Felix.
The first letter dated May of 2006, outlined their findings and called on the church to make an appropriate public pronouncement acknowledging the intent of the land through the will to the people. The group expressed their desire that the lands be placed in the hands of the people, who would then select from among themselves an executor.
Three months passed after the first letter was sent, with no response. After several calls that went unanswered, the group then sent a second letter in August 2002, via a legal representative. This time there was a response by letter bearing what appeared to be from the law firm of McNamara & Co. This letter acknowledges a meeting to discuss the matter was convened by the Archdiocese “whereupon it was felt that the Archdiocese, through the parish has and continues to maintain and administer the relevant lands for the benefit of the community.”
Moreover: “Our client points directly to the erection of a school and its continued development, the presence of a community center and other noticeable facilities all constructed and used for the benefit of the community as a whole.”
It should be pointed out here that the facilities mentioned by the legal counsel for the church were actually “erected” by the government and that there are no other “noticeable facilities.”
The letter ended: “As such our client is not willing to entertain any request for such a transfer of portion of the relevant lands, but is however amenable to discussing ways to further enhance and utilize the lands for the benefit of the community as a whole.”
The people of Bouton feel this response from the church is unsatisfactory and say they will continue to rally support for the lands to be put in their care. They have since made several calls to Archbishop Robert Revas seeking an audience, to no avail. They have also brought the matter to the attention of their parliamentary representative Harold Dalsun, and the prime minister, as well as leader of the United Workers Party.
Dalsun promised to seek the opinion of the attorney general. A year later, say the Bouton, no word from their MP on the matter. The prime minister has also been silent. As for Mr. Allen Chastanet . . .
“We simply are asking the church to do the right thing,” said Cadette. “Right now our hands are tied. There is nothing we can do as a community to advance our progress. There are old sugar mills on the lands. Bouton offers an amazing view of the bay and there are opportunities within the community for some kind of village tourism. But we cannot pursue them, because right now we do not own the lands. What a great Christmas gift it would be, what an act of compassion as we celebrate the birth of Christ, if the church would do the right thing and give us control of the land.”