From as far back as I can recall (okay, make that the early 70s) we’ve been racing to embrace national disaster. Let it also be acknowledged that I was not alone; others also had recognized the ominous truth. What separated us was how we reacted back in the day.
Some of us made a career of telling it as we saw it; others chose to believe things could not be nearly as bad as the newspapers were reporting; or that the cited problems were under control; or soon would be. And then there were those who chose to bury their heads in the sand—or got the hell out of Dodge!
The worst were those who knew the truth and chose to conceal it from the unsuspecting, ever-trusting, uninformed and most gullible sections of the populace. The latter-day Pharisees, whether from their ecclesiastical bully pulpits or from the then abattoir-scented steps of the Castries market, took turns declaring some of us enemies of the state, prophets of doom and gloom—at the same time reassuring the especially vulnerable (and hungry!) that our nation had reliable friends overseas who would forever stand by us, despite our demonstrated addiction to self-destruction.
It’ll come as no great surprise that the last-mentioned group comprised suited-up reptiles that but for the nature of small-island politics would be unemployable; predacious lawyers who made an easy living keeping the blind blind, the drunk drunk, and the irrationally exuberant crazy-happy and well stocked with chicken backs honey-fried in snake oil.
Hard to believe, but time was when the only guns in Saint Lucia were to be found at the police armory and in the manicured hands of the well heeled. Hardly a week went by without a supposed escaped convict getting shot in both legs or in the chest or in the head. Sometimes, the bleeding corpses were put on display for the edification of the particularly ghoulish, by the ratings-minded ghoulish with their TV mini-cams.
One unforgettable episode involved an unarmed and half-naked 18-year-old who in broad daylight, and with a large audience in attendance, was cut in half by SSU bullets, his pants shredded, as he tried to conceal himself under a bed in a temporarily unoccupied house. An autopsy later blamed the young man’s death on a police “misadventure.”
This is not to say the teenager Terry James had been a model citizen. Then again there was nothing on his rap sheet that indicated he was a rabid mad dog to be shot down at first sight. Nothing on his police record suggested he had been more than a bungling burglar who had kept bad company since childhood, never mind the armed-and-dangerous picture that the cops painted right after he had mysteriously walked out of his cell and could not substantiate after Terry’s minced meat had been fed to the worms.
Several other young citizens in the late 70s had invited on their own dreadlocked heads the deadly wrath of the police, simply by declaring themselves Rastafarians and therefore users of illegal marijuana. In 1979, while Saint Lucians celebrated National Day, police sharpshooters blew away another unarmed convict as he sat on a tombstone waiting for his lawyer to show up and safely return him to prison.
A squad of police executioners was treated by sections of the society as Charles Bronsons without whom Saint Lucia would be over-run by unconscionable criminals. True or not, the irreducible fact is that the trigger-happy acclaimed cops were a law unto themselves; guns for hire. At least two with their special crews were contracted by private-sector hotshots and vacationing residents of then exclusive Cap Estate as their own private security, with murderous consequences.
None of the rogue cops ever appeared before a court. There were no related autopsies. Not even the mentally challenged were safe from their shotguns!
Regardless of the circumstances the politicians were always on the side of the police. In the early 90s, minutes after they had opened fire on close to a hundred or so unarmed dissenting banana-plantation hands, leaving Julius and Randy Joseph (unrelated) dead where they fell and some sixty other citizens badly wounded, the irresponsible cops were lauded on TV by the day’s prime minister.
If you can believe it, the prime minister actually said, less than 30 minutes later: “They deserved what they got!” In due course, the deadly fiasco was officially declared a police “misadventure.” There was no compensation for the wounded bystanders.
Meanwhile opposing politicians were desperately seeking their own turn at the trough. The already angry and abused farmers, the persecuted Rastafarians and the nation’s young unemployed, unemployable and frustrated, were easily convinced their salvation depended on achange of parliamentary personnel.
The sordid details are recorded and accessible to citizens interested in discovering precisely how we got where we are today. The record also includes House episodes previously unimagined—all in the sweet-sounding name of “empowering the people.”
The first large consignment of not-for-the-police guns to arrive in Saint Lucia landed in plain sight of “revolutionary” customs and other officials. The hapless and doomed government of Grenada, headed by Maurice Bishop, was the source. (It made interesting TV this week, George Odlum speaking mere weeks before he passed to RSL’s Winston Springer—as if from the grave—about the imported rusty arsenal, what they were intended for and so on . . . as if contrary media reports by the day’s informed reporters had never existed.)
In more recent times murder has become as commonplace on our streets as has televised mayhem in the people’s parliament. Our lawmakers are themselves guilty of some of the worst lawlessness. But despite the shocking allegations of criminality casually flung across the table at nearly every House sitting; despite mind-boggling revelations by government agencies on the Internet; not one local politician has been required to answer charges before a court of law.
Meanwhile, dozens of young citizens languish at an over-populated Bordelais without the smallest hint of a trial date. Rapes are a daily occurrence, most of them never reported to the police—themselves under investigation for alleged egregious human rights violations. Murders are committed and quickly forgotten, no matter how heinous.
We are in over our heads in debt, with no relief in sight. Some of our traditional overseas friends now consider us allies of terrorist countries, locally referred to as “our non-traditional friends.”
Which is not to say the people who landed us in this mess don’t give a damn. Alas, they seem to believe that broke Saint Lucians must be the blood bank that keeps them in office.
Confusion abounds. Invest Saint Lucia, a government agency, boasts on its website that “investors keen on doing business in Saint Lucia will find a highly trainable work force with a wealth of well-qualified workers . . .”
On the other hand, the prime minister recently declared 72 percent of our work force not equipped for the available jobs.
Before our current prime minister there was Vaughan Lewis who had famously noted that the quality of a nation’s work force is directly linked with the quality of its education. That was back in 1996. Vaughan Lewis was then our nation’s prime minister. He had also declared the local work force “not up to what the rest of the world considers menial work.”
It is conjectural what useful changes have been made to our school curriculum since the mid-80s, bearing in mind the current prime minister’s earlier quoted statement about our increasingly unemployable work force.
Of course the man who had sacrificed his own position so that Lewis might be prime minister had earlier warned what would be the consequences of spending far more than we earned. He had talked incessantly about the “Micawber Principle,” and the ever-rising public payroll.
In his final budget address John Compton had said in effect that Saint Lucians are well acquainted with the mounting problems. But we’ve always avoided all attempts at discussing how we got where we are. In that regard, little has changed. While reluctantly acknowledging the obviously undeniable, that we’re in a very bad place, the question this and former administrations most avoid is: How did we get here?
The answer is as clear today, as indeed it had been in Compton’s heyday. We know damn well how we got here but any serious discussion of the all-important subject could result in popular demands most inconvenient for our elected leaders. What our politicians fail to realize is that nature will inevitably take its course.
Ask Walter Malthus, who insisted that the longer-term stability of the economy be placed above short-term expediency—which brings to mind that as far back as the early 90s public-sector salaries had been a major concern, to no avail crying out for appropriate action.
VAT was initially considered “oppressive and anti-worker” until “inevitability” made it the solution to all our economic problems (which makes sense only in a country off its rocker).
Several months ago, Sir Dwight Venner, the governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, discovered the courage to put into words what many had long suspected: the main problem with our region has less to do with the economy per se than with poor leadership, to which I might add—and our penchant for reelecting lesser evils to office!
As more and more VAT-bled businesses go under; as more unemployed fathers are sent to prison for their inability to pay child support; as more children die of hunger or because their parents could not afford the cheapest medication; as others continue to make sacrifices to no avail, so the reports of suicide have increased. Coincidence?
At a time when many are crying out for medical attention not locally available, or beyond their pockets, we seem abruptly to be inundated by afflictions and communicable diseases, some reportedly related to our all-important tourism industry, albeit officially denied. Another prophesy fulfilled?
Here’s another inconvenient truth worth pondering: While our police force has been rendered next to useless, bogged down by the consequences of mindless political decisions, criminal elements that have been linked with parliamentarians
by fellow parliamentarians flourish almost without resistance.
In the meantime it is hardly classified information that the bad guys are today far better armed and organized than our demoralized, under-manned and under-financed police force. How long before a police station or Bordelais comes under armed attack? It’s already happened in one of our neighboring islands.
Did someone say better days? Or did the man actually say Last Days?