On August 20, 2013 this was how the nation’s prime minister opened a televised speech: “A few days ago I promised I would issue a statement to address issues of concern and in particular the reasons for the actions of the United States to disallow the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force from participating in training programs arranged or financed by the United States. I address you tonight in fulfillment of that promise.”
He acknowledged his government’s relationship with the U.S. State Department had deteriorated. To blame was “an exceedingly delicate and complex matter involving several parties” but it would be of little value merely to confirm what for some time had been in the public domain without providing some indication of his government’s plan to resolve “the issues that confront us.”
Additionally: “A solution has to involve the officers of the Saint Lucia Police Force, the United States Government, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and, most importantly, the citizens of our country.” What the prime minister carefully referred to as “the current events” had started, he said shockingly, with the fatal shooting by police officers of “twelve individuals” between 2010 and 2011.
Ever the politician, the prime minister was careful to explain the fatalities had not occurred under his watch: “Those killings occurred after the government launched what was then described in the media and elsewhere as ‘Operation Restore Confidence.’ ” He recalled that the particular initiative had started with a speech on May 30, 2010 by the former prime minister Stephenson King, when he warned the nation’s criminals “there will be no refuge, no stone will be left unturned and there will be no hiding place for anyone.”
By the prime minister’s recall, his predecessor had on 13 February, 2011 issued a second deadly threat to the island’s criminal community: “They will be hunted down; they will be found; they will be prosecuted; they will be judged and will be made to pay the consequences for their crimes committed against our peace-loving, law-abiding people.” Only the prime minister knows for certain why he had described King’s speeches as “dramatic” and suggestive of a theatrical performance.
He had himself delivered in March 1998 a televised address that began on a religious note: “As a community, Lent should be a period when we rededicate ourselves to finding the means whereby we can more properly live together as one people.” (Lent, a community?) “It should be a time for building,” the prime minister continued, “a time for strengthening our common bonds as a people. But there are those among us who instead see the Lenten season as a time to kill; a time to terrorize our peace-loving community and to play out their internal quarrels in our streets.”
He cited the killings on 4 March, 1998 and a short time earlier of Michael ‘Gaboo’ Alexander and Adolphus ‘Bonnie’ Clarke as “cold-blood assassinations,” suspected to have been committed by certain individuals, one of whom allegedly had also shot Eustace Phillip in 1997. The prime minister did not “wish to exaggerate the situation.” The people engaged in the murderous acts were small in number, he said, and their activities were “directed against each other.” He spoke of “hit lists” but assured his audience the police were on top of the situation. “In short,” he went, “I want you to rest assured that this is not some widespread national crime wave assaulting any and every person in our community. In its essence this is a struggle among rival gangs, each determined to wipe out the other, either as an act of revenge or in order to secure control of the illegal drugs trade.”
The prime minister did not reveal the source of such reassuring information but he blamed the rampant deadly violence on “the leadership of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force”—which he said was “weak.” Under the Vaughan Lewis administration “the police was allowed to wither,” he said. “They were denied adequate numbers of vehicles; they were prevented from responding to calls from the public. Starved of adequate manpower, there was often nobody to detail to deal with crucial situations. As a result the force grew demoralized, dispirited and ineffective—and the drug barons knew that.”
He promised “medium to short-term measures that will strengthen law enforcement in this country and put those who would wish to commit serious crime under severe pressure.” His government had resolved, “after discussions with the relevant ministers and the police leadership, to take the fight to the gangs who seem bent on disrupting our daily lives with their shootings.” Besides, his government would “stand firmly behind the police in all lawful actions in this matter.”
He appealed to the populace “for the sake of peace in our country,” to be understanding if the police activities should “cause some of us some inconvenience and discomfort.”
He ended his address with words similar to those Stephenson King had spoken in his own identical circumstances some twelve years later, at the launching of Operation Restore Confidence: “To those of you criminals who have inflicted the pain of the last few days on the people of this country, I promise you a tougher time than you ever imagined possible. The net will be stretched around you, slowly but surely closed in to trap you and terminate once and for all your unlawful activities. I promise you can run but you surely cannot hide. In the coming days . . . you will find no hiding place in this our beloved country.” He promised “the criminals may have started the battle” but law and order would “surely end the war.” And with that he launched Operation Restore Peace.
Did the “current events” cited by Prime Minister Kenny Anthony in 2013 have their genesis in events going back four years or did the debacle begin with the current prime minister’s own “dramatic” launching of Operation Restore Peace?
In his 2013 speech entitled “An Unhappy Episode,” the prime minister—as he had in 1998—referenced a “hit list” of targeted persons deemed to be criminals. He had seen the deadly list with his own eyes while his party was in opposition, he said. In any event, “in the aftermath of the launch of Operation Restore Confidence some twelve persons met their deaths.” Moreover: “When the killings occurred, a few in our midst protested; some applauded and welcomed the seeming reduction of homicides; while others remained silent.” He did not identify who had done what.
“These killings,” the prime minister revealed, were described by some as “extra-judicial killings.” Indeed it is common knowledge that in the weeks leading up to the 2011 general elections, several callers to RCI’s Newsspin had not-so-subtly implied a connection between the day’s government and killers in police uniforms. It was hardly a surprise, therefore, when the prime minister revealed in his televised 2013 address that the rumors “attracted the attention of the United States, in particular the State Department whose Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011 cited twelve potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year,” some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad-hoc task force within the police department. It was also bruited about that at least one government minister held sway over the “ad-hoc task force.” The US embassy’s revocation of visas held by a government minister and at least one police officer added more fuel to the rumor flames.
The prime minister went on: “It is this issue which has preoccupied the United States and has led to the actions against the Royal Saint Lucia Police force.” Moreover: “The United States believes it has credible evidence that officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights.”
The prime minister referred to an earlier delivered statement: “It is undeniable that it is in our vital interest to maintain close ties of cooperation with the United States in security matters.” Shockingly, he said: “From our first few months in office the government has always understood the seriousness of this matter and its implications for the police force—and indeed the former political directorate.”
So what did the prime minister now propose to do, not only to normalize government relations with the U.S. State Department but also to restore public faith in the police? He said his government had invited the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security—IMPACS—“to identify three senior investigators from the region to investigate the so-called extra-judicial killings.” He promised “the findings, if adverse, will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions who has ultimate jurisdiction in criminal matters. There can be no other way.”
Pointedly, the prime minister added: “We now reap the harvest of rash decisions, particularly by policy makers anxious to gain quick resolutions.” Obviously by “policy makers” he did not refer to his own administration!
The government later announced that it expected to have the result of the IMPACS investigation six months later, in February 2014. Alas, February came and went without word of the promised report. Last month, toward the end of his New Year address, almost as an afterthought, the prime minister confirmed what earlier this newspaper had reported, and his justice minister
denied: the government had received the IMPACS report.
He also confirmed that “the Cabinet of Ministers is deliberating on the contents and implications of the report” but this was “not the occasion to share the findings with you. I intend to do so in a separate address in early February.”
In a recent interview with the prime minister’s press secretary, the former police commissioner Ausbert Regis advised that the government “must find the courage to do the right thing” about the allegations against the police. “Otherwise the government might as well close shop!”
Last Saturday, in the nation’s best interests, this newspaper started a countdown with a short item headed: “Two weeks to IMPACS Day!” On Monday, as we had anticipated, the prime minister announced his third postponement of his promise to come clean on the all-important report. He said he would now share it with the people on March 8.
In the meantime the national rumor mill is working overtime, speculating about the reason for the postponements, among them that some government officials are implicated; the report is bad news that could cast dark clouds over the Independence celebrations; that the investigation itself represents another illegality.
We shall see—even as we begin a new countdown!