Poorly written as too often they are, official media invitations to cover local government activities adhere to a particular format.
An example, issued Wednesday afternoon: “Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Port Services and Transport, Hon. Philip J. Pierre, will host a press conference tomorrow, Thursday, March 6, 2014 to address claims and respond to allegations made by Hon. Guy Joseph on Wednesday. The press conference will be held at the Ministry of Infrastructure at 10.30 am. Your presence will be welcomed. Warm regards.”
Another example: “The Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony will host a press conference in the Cabinet Room of the Office of the Prime Minister, on Monday, December 30, 2013, at 10.30 am. Your presence will be deeply appreciated. Warm regards.”
The March 4, 2014 release “from the desk of Mrs. Jadia Jn. Pierre-Emmanuel, Press Secretary to the Prime Minister,” was markedly different. It suggested the prime minister’s ever-reliable dispenser of “warm regards” had bent over backwards to accommodate the media, in particular, its especially inept.
Ready to serve, it seemed to say, no need for adjustments.
Headed “ALBA Bridge is Underway,” the communiqué opened this way: “Work on the Grande Riviere Bridge in the Dennery Valley will commence in the coming days. Yesterday, Monday, March 03, 2014, Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony, Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Philip J. Pierre, Her Excellency Leiff Escalona, Venezuela’s ambassador, and other officials, joined Hon. Shawn Edward and the people of Dennery North, for a sod-turning ceremony for the new bridge.”
Oh, that Jadia! You’d have to rise especially early to catch her with her pants down!
Remember her last appearance on Newsmaker Live, when the show’s one- expression robotic host invited her to say when her government would start delivering on its promised “better days” with “jobs-jobs-jobs?”
The honeyed-eyes and split-toothed smile that preceded her response must’ve had her stuffed interlocutor—and every red-blooded DBS viewer, regardless of gender—dreaming dreams not the least bit related to broken campaign promises—and totally in conflict with the Commandment that forbids the coveting of thy neighbor’s ass!
Small wonder that not a single caller saw the need to question Mrs. Jn. Pierre-Emmanuel’s personal interpretation of what in 2011 her then campaigning boss had meant by “better days.”
Besides, she’d added in effect, only the most jaundiced among the nation’s sheep would’ve failed to recognize the huge number of previously unemployable now NICE-ly working.
Let no one refer to this lady as a one-trick pony. Notice how carefully chosen were the words of her opening line to Tuesday’s press release: Work on the Grande Riviere Bridge . . . will commence in the coming days.
If such jobs should, for whatever reason, not start tomorrow, or the day after, or a year from now, who would dare blame Jadia—or her boss—or even the government’s hardest working actor?
Coming is coming and, let’s face it, for some people coming can take forever!
But enough of my favorite official pin cushion. Better to consider that part of Tuesday’s release that underscored the prime minister’s acknowledgement that the construction zone of the Grande Riviere bridge is sacred to the people of the Mabouya Valley and Saint Lucia because of its history:
“This area has been the focal point of unrest especially by the farmers because of what happened in the banana industry several years ago.
“Today, I remember Randy and Julius because they lost their lives here. That is why, when this bridge is being reconstructed, it has to be understood that the memory of those who lost their lives must always remain in our minds and that memory must remain sacred.
“The construction activity therefore, must pay respect to this kiosk that is erected in honour of the two who lost their lives here.”
A sacred memory? As for “kiosk,” the word is defined as “a small structure open at one or more sides, used as a newsstand, bandstand, entrance to a subway etc.”
For crying out loud, our prime minister was once a school principal. By all accounts, a good one. He remains, evidently, UWI’s favorite lecturer. Nobody’s fool is he.
Why, then, does this most educated of OECS HOGs consistently permit such gibberish, such disinformation, as quoted immediately above, to fall out of his mouth?
But let us look past the egregious syntax, the poor punctuation and the nutty professor non-sequiturs. Let’s instead consider the choice of words and his personal motivations. Did the prime minister deliberately set out to rewrite history? Might he have good reason to do so?
Contrary to what the prime minister said while standing on “sacred” ground before the people of the Mabouya Valley on Monday, young Randy and Julius Joseph (unrelated farmhands) did not lose their lives.
You correctly say people “lost their lives” trying to save others in distress, as did the officially unremembered Kenneth John back in 1998. You correctly say six people “lost their lives” in last December’s trough without warning. And yes, you say, 19 individuals lost their lives when the vehicle they were traveling in inexplicably plunged over a Choiseul cliff into the sea.
When someone picks up a machine gun and opens fire on an unarmed crowd of over 500 men, women and children, whatever the reason, you don’t say the result was that two people “lost their lives.” The least you can do is admit they were killed . . . fatally shot . . . murdered . . .
If you are going to say “Julius and Randy lost their lives,” then for crying out loud say how they had managed to be so reckless.
But then, also conspicuously attending Monday’s sod turning was the honored Venezuelan ambassador, Her Excellency Leiff Escalona. With the scores of protesting Venezuelans having already “lost their lives” as a consequence of being shot at by their government’s agents, it would’ve been hardly diplomatic to say in a complaining tone that Julius and Randy Joseph had been similarly treated.
Indeed, some might consider what happened on 7 October 1993 our country’s first extra-judicial execution!
For those unborn before 1993, I offer the following from Lapses & Infelicities (available from STAR Publishing). The John Compton government was at war with the island’s broke banana farmers, at one time among its staunchest supporters. Lead among the farmers’ concerns was how the Banana Growers Association, financed and effectively controlled by the government, conducted their affairs. Already the buck-passing prime minister had fired one board, on the basis its chairman was a closet supporter of the opposition party. Compton publicly denounced Rupert Gajadhar and his board as “termites and vultures” voraciously feeding on the flesh of trusting banana farmers.
The controversial dismissal further fired up the island’s more radical farmers. They formed the Banana Salvation Committee, with a farmer and church leader named Abel Wilson as its chairman and the dismissed former BGA board chairman as secretary.
At the BSC’s first annual general meeting on 12 March 1995 a new executive was elected. Wilson was made president. Patrick Joseph, a reputed Vietnam veteran recently returned home, was voted secretary. By Gajadhar’s account, the BSC replaced him because he was not as prepared as the former US Marine to wrest control of the industry by whatever means necessary.
On the evidence, such necessary means included the refusal by farmers to harvest their fruit—so-called no-cut strikes that resulted in ships returning empty to the UK, the main buyer of Saint Lucia’s bananas—and civil disobedience that often involved the Saint Lucia Labour Party and the police department’s dreaded Special Services Unit!
In July 1994 the prime minister cited “a savage attack on the government” by the new president of the Chamber of Commerce, Ingrid Skerritt. He said the Chamber’s criticism of the government and its apparent support for the Banana Salvation Committee was really just an enormous smokescreen to conceal the real issue, which was that the government was at the time considering whether or not to permit the American company K-Mart to set up shop in Saint Lucia, an idea to which the local business community was strongly opposed.
The prime minister accused the Chamber of “associating with criminals” he claimed had seriously damaged the banana industry and were directly responsible for at least two deaths. They had also blown up bridges, said Compton, and even tried to murder the prime minister.
The dead that Compton referred to were Julius and Randy Joseph, two unrelated banana-plantation workers barely twenty-one years old. They were among some six hundred demonstrators at a place called Grand Riviere, where protesting BSC farmers had set up roadblocks to prevent unsympathetic colleagues from getting their bananas to a ship in the Castries harbor.
The date was 7 October 1993, for most Saint Lucians, older banana producers in particular, an unforgettable Thursday.
Around three in the afternoon, with angry protesters and curious onlookers, including women and children, filling the road, the hated Special Services Unit slowly approached the scene, some aboard their truck, others walking alongside. At first sight of the armed and notoriously trigger-happy contingent, all attired like US Army soldiers on the battlefield, the crowd quickly dispersed, then regrouped a few hundred yards from the main road. Stones were thrown at the SSU vehicle. Suddenly, the rat-tat-tat of sustained automatic gunfire mixed with the desperate screams of the panicked crowd. Some sixty people took bullets in their thighs, their buttocks, and their arms.
Julius was shot in the neck, Randy in the back. Both died where they fell.
Patrons at a nearby shop were also hit. The mini-mart was riddled with bullets that left in its concrete front wall holes three inches wide. An inner wall provided further evidence of the SSU’s indiscriminate shooting.
Shattered glass and merchandise littered the floor. The proprietor later told the press she and her three young children barely escaped getting killed by the SSU, and only because they had retreated to an upstairs floor
and taken refuge under a large bed. There were many similar horror stories from the woman’s neighbors.
Less than three hours after the shooting, and without a reliable account of what had transpired at Grand Riviere, the prime minister addressed the nation via TV.
Referring to the deceased farm workers, he said, “The hooligans got what they deserved.”
He added that the police were “totally justified in defending themselves,”
and reminded the nation that just two days earlier supporters of the Banana Salvation Committee had attacked him with sticks and stones as he drove from his plantation home on his way to work in Castries.
“The same people called me Daddy Compton because of all that I did for them,” he recalled. “These ungrateful people are now calling me a murderer and a thief.”
Knee-jerk defenders of the SSU said they believed the unit acted on orders from the prime minister, relayed to them via the Minister for Sports, Desmond Brathwaite.
Said one police source, Brathwaite insisted that the prime minister wanted the road cleared “by any means necessary!”
An official inquiry into the Grand Riviere incident several months later uncovered a somewhat different picture. According to the officer in charge of the SSU contingent that blew away the young farmhands, before they opened fire one of his men was hit in the head by a rock. It was only then that the SSU officer contacted his superior at police headquarters in Castries and informed him by walkie-talkie that the platoon was under heavy attack by a large group of protesters determined to maintain their roadblock. He sought permission to use force, as the law required, and was granted permission to open fire on the protesters.
The evidence given under oath by the particular SSU leader hinted at the unit’s haphazard modus operandi, if not its murderous disregard for human life. Instead of opening fire on a large crowd comprising innocent children and other harmless onlookers, the SSU might have called for backup and retreated to the safety of a nearby police station. Apart from their roadblock that slowed down traffic, the BSC demonstrators had indicated no further illegal intentions.
While drivers on the Grand Riviere road were inconvenienced, they were never assaulted. There was no discernible danger to life and property. The presence of the notorious SSU had triggered the commotion that turned deadly. Witness after witness testified to that effect.
It also emerged at the inquest that the prime minister never instructed Desmond Brathwaite to order the removal of roadblocks “by any means necessary.” Brathwaite was simply being Brathwaite when he said whatever he said in the name of the prime minister to the police. The MP used the prime minister to get the police to do what he could not do on his own authority.
As with most other inquiries into fatal police shootings on the island, the Julius and Randy inquest concluded that no one was blameworthy. The official verdict was hardly unexpected: “Death by misadventure.”
The funeral services for Julius and Randy Joseph drew weeping hundreds from all over the island, among them as many farmers as citizens disgusted by the circumstances of the police shooting.
Also in conspicuous attendance were the suitably grief-stricken leaders of the Saint Lucia Labour Party, by now closely linked with the BSC, and not only from the government’s perspective.
Shortly after the burial services, for which Julian Hunte reportedly paid (see story on Page 9), the Banana Salvation Committee erected a marble monument to the memory of the dead and wounded at Grand Riviere, also financed by the Labour Party. Engraved on the
front is a message (recently removed) that lays full blame at the feet of Prime Minister John Compton!
Meanwhile, the BSC was growing from strength to strength, with Patrick Joseph and Julian Hunte as the political equivalent of Frank and Jesse James. If conservative Saint Lucians considered them outlaws, there could be no denying their popularity—and influence—especially among the main contributors to the island’s economy.
Basking in the legitimacy now afforded them by the Chamber’s support, the BSC convened several highly publicized meetings with government and commerce representatives, as well as individuals considered neutral who served as mediators.
Sometimes scheduled strikes were postponed, sometimes not. There were get-togethers at the Coubaril Mount of Prayer, presided over by religious leaders, the prime minister and some of the more radical elements of the Banana Salvation Committee. Little changed. The no-cut strikes continued, as did the not-so-mysterious destruction of property owned by banana farmers not sympathetic to the BSC-Labour Party cause, including arson.
There was never a guarantee that the Geest boats would return to the UK with regular loads of bananas.
No surprise that with general elections due in 1997 John Compton was made to symbolize everything evil about the banana industry that sustained the island’s economy!