Oh, the irony! At a price local taxpayers can ill afford, Saint Lucia advertises itself to the outside world as “Simply Beautiful.” The planet’s favorite honeymoon destination—paradise! Madison Avenue hyperbole, you say? Only last Thursday I had TALK-ed at length about our gorgeous beaches and irresistible pristine waters, a magnet for divers and other lovers of all things marine. Alas, lured by countless photo-shopped glossy brochures, super-slick TV commercials and high-priced silver-tongued sirens, the curious visitor will soon discover all his credit card had bought him was a mirage.
As countless environment detectives have lamented, for close to a century, and at ever increasing speed, we have been turning our once glorious waters, sea and rivers, into superficially inviting cesspools daily topped up with untold thousands of gallons of untreated sewerage—with attendant consequences to the population and to their invited paying guests.
Indeed an outbreak of vaginal disorders in the mid-90s had been attributed to bathing in highly contaminated Choc Bay. Earlier, the day’s government had declared swimming in the Castries harbor verboten. The rust-crusted sign with its now barely readable understated warning a few yards from the government’s whitewashed office buildings might just as well not be there. Vendors in the sun-baked vicinity keep their fish looking fresh by soaking them every few minutes in buckets of water from the feces-and-oil-laden harbor. That most city residents nevertheless prefer to purchase their tuna at the illegal but convenient open-air market on John Compton Highway, not that operated by the Castries City Council on Jeremie Street, speaks volumes about the nation’s health education. Which brings to mind a Saudi billionaire, recently departed: Sheik Walid Juffali.
I have no idea whether the gentleman had spent several hours fishing off the coast of Gros Islet when allegedly he visited Saint Lucia aboard his luxury yacht in 2013 (or was it 2014?). Or whether he had consumed mass quantities of red snapper purchased at the earlier cited waterfront market.
The little we do know about the Saudi’s connection with our country was contributed either by online foreign newspapers or by the famously tight-lipped former prime minister Kenny Anthony under duress. Since the diplomat’s widely publicized passing, however, little has been said about him locally. There were no official condolences, save from Ernest Hilaire. But then he went out of his way to say he was speaking for himself, not for his party colleagues, and certainly not for the government of Allen Chastanet who, when his United Workers Party was in opposition, had questioned the multi-billionaire’s secret appointment as Saint Lucia’s diplomatic representative on the board of the International Maritime Organization. Indeed, one of Chastanet’s promises to the electorate was that if his party was successful on June 6 Juffali would be sacked!
But regular citizens have quietly been asking questions about the status of the diabetes research center that Juffali had promised to establish here, at any rate, according to then prime minister Kenny Anthony. I, too, have been asking related questions. Alas, I was unprepared for what my queries have uncovered. Contrary to what Kenny Anthony had bellowed from the steps of the Castries market shortly before the 2016 general elections; and never mind Ernest Hilaire’s recent revelation that “the money for the center is there . . . it all depends on what the government decides,” I’ve seen no evidence that Walid Juffali had promised Saint Lucians a research center for diabetes—never mind he may indeed have fallen madly in love at first sight of our Pitons.
Which is not to say what the then prime minister had emotionally delivered from the steps of the Castries market at election time was all smoke, no fire. Although Kenny Anthony never mentioned it, there exists a private company called W Science, whose stated raison d’être is “to provide resources and leadership skills, and bring together interdisciplinary teams to support medical and scientific research partnerships.” W Science was founded, by all I’ve read, in Zurich, in 2015. Its chairman is—better to say was—Walid Juffali.
According to documents I’ve seen, in 2015 W Science had expressed an interest in “collaborating” with governmental, non-governmental, medical, scientific and educational organizations in Saint Lucia, “to strengthen, unite and expand efforts to understand and combat diabetes.” The company had learned from a report by the International Diabetes Federation that in 2014 there were 10,200 cases of diabetes in Saint Lucia. W Science recognized “this huge burden on all levels” and hoped to advance clinical research in the country and position Saint Lucia as “an ideal partner for international collaborative projects.”
It further hoped this would lead to improved management and understanding of diabetes in Saint Lucia, the Caribbean community and the world in general. On that basis W Science had initiated “a feasibility study to gather perspectives, explore the interest and capacity for a collaboration and learn how W Science could work with the people to have a positive and meaningful impact on their well-being.”
The published result of this study which kicked off in August 2015 shook me to the marrow and underscored for me how lackadaisical, not to say self-serving and callous, have been our policy makers, especially when it comes to health matters—regardless of their platform rantings. Alas, space does not permit me on this occasion to divulge the horrifying details of what W Science uncovered. That must wait until next Saturday.