The United Workers Party had not had what might be called a business meeting – as opposed to the usual post election celebrations – with the people since its stunning against-all-odds 11-6 victory last June. But the party’s supporters have been clamouring for public meetings, especially on the much publicized DSH (Desert Star Holdings) project, and if only because the ever-in-opposition mode St. Lucia Labour Party continues to see it as a way back to office. At least three TV shows seem to exist solely to keep DSH on the front burner of public attention. Even IMPACS – the fall-out from which continues to have devastating impact in many ways on the local police, crime-fighting and the justice system in general – has not received as much media attention as the proposed Vieux Fort project. Ditto Grynberg, a 16-years-old expensive catastrophe created by the previous administration, has not occupied the spotlight as has the issue of DSH. Then there is the proposed dolphinarium at Pigeon Point that the government’s opposition has managed to link to the proposed controversial DSH development at the island’s southern end.
After some three weeks of stirring the pot island-wide, the Saint Lucia Labour Party announced a mass protest on May 17. Among the party’s advertised reasons for taking to the streets, yes, you guessed right, the DSH project, the Pigeon dolphinarium. But there were also the side dishes, among them the “reckless budget” the prime minister presented a couple of weeks ago and which was hardly attended by the House opposition. Indeed, the related debate is scheduled to continue on June 20.
On board, according to the protest promoters, was the recently formed Concerned Citizens Group of Vieux Fort and a number of well known politicians in mufti who announced their participation had nothing to do with any move to resuscitate the SLP. Rather, they said, they had decided, if only this once, to put “country before party”. No surprise the number of protesters on Wednesday was election-time massive.
Meanwhile, Vieux Fort – the constituency represented in parliament by the former prime minister and ex-SLP leader Kenny Anthony – was hosting its own march, courtesy the UWP led by prime minister Allen Chastanet, also party leader. The event’s purpose was two-fold: to show southern support for the DSH project and to hear from the prime minister himself what was in it for residents in the island’s southern end. Naturally, it all kicked off with a march, music and bearers of placards with handwritten messages, more than a few insulting to the Vieux Fort south MP, as insulting as were the placards that featured in the Castries march.
I spoke with the prime minister shortly before he joined other members of his cabinet and some other prominent citizens from the south on a decorated makeshift stage that reminded of the weeks before June 6.
“We want to talk about the new projects that are coming off the ground, especially in the south, but also elsewhere on the island,” Chastanet told me. “We have OJO labs, the Black Bay project, and we expect soon to break ground in Sabwisha, Choiseul.”
Chastanet also indicated his government was looking to get the Hewanorra Airport project off the ground, as well as continuing work on the cruise ship facility in Vieux Fort.
“Tonight we want to talk about those things, talk about the young people in the south and the hope that we are bringing to the south,” he said. “Everybody knows Vieux Fort has been a ghost town for many years and the opportunities are very ripe. The dream of a new frontier is finally about to be realized. My government will deliver on that.”
Specific to the DSH project, the prime minister stated that there had been a lot of misconceptions that needed to be clarified.
“We know that change is never easy. But all we can do is keep explaining to people what the project entails. The only part of the project that we have approved so far, and the only phase that we have actually commenced, is the horse racing track. There has been no planning approval on Phase 2 or Phase 3 of the project,” Chastanet said.
Pressed about the controversial “alleged” leaked DSH agreement, the UWP leader stated that all the parties had before them was a framework agreement. “A framework agreement is not a final contract. If it were, we would have said so. There is talk of a document being circulated but we have never stated whether or not it is valid. When all details have been finalized, we will say so. We have been transparent all the way with this, which is more than can be said about the previous administration.
As for the platform speakers, several zeroed in on the neglect visited on Vieux Fort by previous MPs, in particular by its present parliamentary representative, former prime minister Kenny Anthony.
Indeed it seemed, whether by accident or not, that the night’s purpose was to paint the SLP and its former leader as being anti-development. The SLP’s history helped: project after appreciated project over the years was identified, all associated with SLP-created chaos.
The party had caused much division in Saint Lucia, one speaker observed, to prevent Independence. Micoud North MP Gale Rigobert, Southeast Castries’ Guy Joseph, Choiseul’s Bradley Felix, and former PM Stephenson King were among the speakers who addressed the audience that had started relatively small but grew as the evening went on. The crowd shakers, other than the party leader, were, as usual, King and the ever charismatic Guy Joseph.
By the time Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’ came blasting through the loudspeakers, indicating the party leader was about to be introduced, Clarke Street had turned into a sea of yellow.
Allen Chastanet began by acknowledging the obviously much appreciated presence of “my mentor, advisor and supporter”, former Micoud North MP, Arsene James. He also called for a moment’s silence in remembrance of Winston Trim who died tragically last month in a road accident.
“Winston Trim introduced me to Teo Ah Khing, of the China Horse Racing Club,” Chastanet revealed. “Winston believed in horse racing. He believed it could provide an honest living for the young, especially those in the south of our island.”
As far as concerns the DSH horse racing track being developed by Khing, the UWP leader repeated earlier promises that it would create many jobs, and that “it’s a technology-free industry”. But before going on further about DSH, Chastanet took his first swipe at those he described as “anti-development”.
“The Labour Party was in government for fifteen years,” he said. “They made all kinds of promises to the people. They offered every excuse in the world for not delivering. But the people had had enough of empty promises. At election time they made their choice.”
He shifted gears: “In 2000 he [Kenny Anthony] signed a contract with the oil speculator Jack Grynberg. He handed him 83 million acres of our seabed, all in secret. This was only discovered by the UWP in 2007. The government of Saint Lucia is still paying millions in legal fees in an effort to get back our seabed.”
He identified the undead Rochamel as still another “bad deal done behind a veil of secrecy”.
And of course there was the more recent matter of Walid Juffali. “Saint Lucians only discovered we had an ambassador after a newspaper article in England came out. Juffali had been made ambassador and given immunity that he attempted to use against his wife in their divorce case. He had been three years our ambassador and most of us had never heard of him. So much for transparency and accountability!”
In making a case for DSH and the development of Vieux Fort, Chastanet explained that the SLP, led by Dr. Anthony, could not see the sense of putting a cruise ship terminal in Vieux Fort within close proximity to Soufriere.
He told his audience that Teo ah Khing would be investing his own money in Phase 1 of the DSH project as part of the Pearl of the Caribbean.
Before bidding his audience good night the UWP leader shouted: “Do you want to be from the Pearl of the Caribbean or from the ghetto?”
He knew his answer was guaranteed: “We want Pearl of the Caribbean!”