Lately, by which I mean this week, the prime minister and his now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t-justice minister have been getting down on their knees to convince concerned citizens that “not every member of the RSLPF is corrupt.” Whether the refocused perspective is related to upcoming general elections or merely a desperate attempt at securing police forgiveness for a multiplicity of bad political moves over the last four years is anyone’s guess.
Among the more pressing problems facing the government, the loose-tongued prime minister in particular, is how to placate the flesh-demanding U.S. State Department and the accused killer police at the same time. On Monday this week, the prime minister repeated to his paid interviewer on TV what sounded like a shot at explaining why Vernon Francois had to go—and why other leading members of the force may have to follow their former commissioner into early retirement.
Several hours later, as if reacting to belated special advice, the prime minister instructed the acting police commissioner to “detail” his officers to attend two meetings in the north and south of the island, one on Tuesday, the other on Wednesday. The press was not invited.
It turned out, in the ominous absence of his highly unpopular justice minister, that what the prime minister had in store for his more or less captive audience in Vieux Fort and at the Cultural Centre in Castries, was for the most part stale red snapper. No big surprise. The officers had received fair warning that the day’s sermon would concentrate on “the implications of the imposition of the Leahy Law on Saint Lucia by the United States, and matters relating to the IMPACS Report.” For dessert, the prime minister offered “to respond to other issues of concern to the police.”
Let it be said at this early point that the prime minister never broached the matter of Operation Remove Kenny, now humorously referred to as ORK. Instead, he acknowledged at both meetings that the force saw itself as a tightly-knit family that naturally felt the pain whenever a member was hurt. The particular statement, covered as it was with the goo of convenient pre-election empathy, came a little late. By now it is common knowledge the prime minister had told more than one foreign correspondent that the Saint Lucia police had “a corruption problem.” He had repeated the allegation to overseas reporters days after the Gobat homicide—evidently already a cold case, as are some 500 other killings.
He also had said in an address on 20 August 2013 that “the exceedingly delicate and complex” matter that on his orders was investigated by IMPACS “involves several parties: the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force” among them. Deliberately or otherwise, he had chosen on the occasion not to separate the wheat from the chaff, perhaps because his investigators had not yet fingered any cops for “willful blindness.”
He revealed in Vieux Fort and in Castries that the Americans effectively had him over a barrel, with his most sensitive zones in the castrating grip of the Leahy Law. In his best I-feel-your-pain voice, the prime minister confessed that the Americans, including President Obama himself, were determined that the question marks over the “potentially unlawful fatal shootings” of twelve citizens in 2010-11 must be resolved “judicially.” Imagine the thinking of the attendant officers at this point, bearing in mind they had been cleared by local inquests of wrongdoing in the matter under discussion.
The prime minister also talked about the humiliation he felt every time local police officers were barred from training activities arranged for the RSS by the U.S. State Department. And then there was the DPP, on whose office the prime minister seemed to lay blame for the sixth-month delay in dealing with the IMPACS Report.
By all he told the cops the Americans were unconcerned about the report, that their only interest was in the prosecution of police officers whose participation in Operation Restore Confidence was “potentially unlawful.” The prime minister said he planned to hire American lawyers to deal with the matter. He referenced the local chief justice, although what he said lived close to gobbledygook.
He addressed the evidently vital question of ammunition for the American weapons issued our police officers. Until the allegations of “gross human rights violations” have been settled to the satisfaction of the American Congress, the prime minister revealed, “we will not be able to purchase ammunition from the U.S.” He added that the UK authorites, though quiet on the matter, were on board with the U.S. State Department.
At one point the prime minister appealed to the cops for advice: “Put yourself in my shoes,” he said. The whole matter had spun out of his control, said the prime minister.
At question time the recurring question (it sounded more like an ultimatum!) was: “Are you prepared to apologize for saying the police had a hit list?” Finally, on the particular matter, the prime minister sought to weasel his way out with the following: “I never said it was a police death list.” He challenged anyone to provide evidence that he had made the statement during the 2011 elections campaign. “I never did.”
His denial inspired much grumbling but the prime minister had told nothing but the truth. What he did say was this: “Many would recall that there was in circulation a hit list of targeted persons deemed to be criminals. I recall that in opposition I had seen such list.”
The above quote is taken from the prime minister’s address to the nation on 20 August 2013, as is this, that immediately followed it: “In the aftermath of the launch of Operation Restore Confidence, some twelve persons met their deaths . . . . . the killings attracted the attention of the United States, in particular, that country’s State Department.
In its Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011, the State Department noted that “there were 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.”
So far unanswered questions: What does ‘potentially unlawful’ mean? How are such matters normally determined? Who reported the killings “reportedly committed by officers” of the cited ad hoc task force? Did anyone stand to gain from the reports? If so, whom and what?
The prime minister revealed that since his government was dead broke, and with no U.S. millions available for police work, he would seek assistance from new friends. Did he count among them Saudi Arabia?
In all events, when several cops asked if he would handle the so-called IMPACS controversy differently today, his answer was a definite no. One might daresay that had he handled the matter differently back in 2011, he might not today be in his present position. Confucius he say: “He who rides a tiger cannot dismount!”