It Was a Beautiful Thing.
By Dr. Anderson Reynolds
WHEN the details of the DSH agreement came out, Vieux Fortians’ joy turned to vexation. Allen Chastanet, Rick Wayne, Nicole McDonald, Invest St. Lucia, and Teo Ah Khingwere telling them that it was rain pouring over their heads and burning their eyes, but it didn’t look like rain, smell like rain, taste like rain, feel like rain, therefore it couldn’t be rain. Their anger turned into action. Suddenly Vieux Fortians who have been accused of not supporting each other, of lacking leadership and togetherness, of being apathetic toward their community, banded together to say loud and clear that the days of slavery were long gone, that there can be no DSH development or any other development without consultation, that their lovely Pointe Sable Beach must remain forever in the possession and use of St. Lucians, that their green spaces and recreation parks are sacred, that their sovereignty and patrimony are not for sale, that people come before thoroughbred horses, that their local developers, investors and entrepreneurs come first and their foreign counterparts a distant second, that St. Lucia is for St. Lucians and not for foreigners, even if they have no objections to sharing their beautiful district and country with them, that Shantytown residents may be poor, landless, squatters, but they are St. Lucians, this is their country, they are human beings with unalienable rights therefore deserving of utmost consideration.
Overnight the Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition for Change (VFCCCC) sprang up. The youth of the country often accused of mindlessness, self-centeredness, don’t carishness, possessing a blocko mentality, instant gratification at the expense of long term development, defied such expectations and formed a national organization—I Will Stand, with the mission: Will stand for my country, for my people, for my land, and for my future—to not just add their voices to the protest, but to lead it. For example, armed with placards, flyers, and T-Shirts that read: For my land; Save our Sandy Beach; I will Stand; 100% St. Lucian; Stop Destruction, No DSH, and joined by concerned citizens of the South, hundreds converged at the grounds of the house of parliament during the Tuesday 20 December to deliver a letter of protest against the DSH deal to all parliamentarians (previously presented to the Prime Minister).
Following in their footsteps, the VFCCCC put out a press release and presented the Prime Minister and all parliamentarians with its letter of concern. The Roman Catholic Church hasn’t always come down on the right side of history. But not this time. The protest march on the house of parliament was joined by a Roman Catholic priest from the Vieux Fort parish, and he was one of the protestors interviewed by the media. His televised interview prompted talk show hosts and other not so public citizens to press on authorities to revoke his work permit because as a foreigner and a priest he had no business to be meddling in such matters. Unperturbed the priest initiated on Saturday 7 January a Solidarity March in which about a hundred residents from all works of life and from various southern communities walked in pairs from the Philip-Marcellin grounds along the Vieux Fort-Castries Highway to Pointe Sable Beach, and then back to the grounds through Bruceville, the community likely to be most affected by the DSH project.
Spontaneously, concerned citizens are printing T-shirts and the DSH supplementary agreement for distribution in their communities. At a VFCCCC strategy meeting, two participants became so impassioned that they promised to put their bodies between DSH tractors, and to even go as far as firebombing such equipment. It took the priest and other high profile attendants to caution against such violence and to emphasize that the VFCCCC is a peaceful, non-violent movement. The outburst of the impassioned concerned citizens brought to mind Shanty Town turned Bruceville when back in the 1980s residents had placed their bodies between their homes and the tractor the government had send to dismantle their residences.
Then at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday 11 January 2017 the VFCCCC held a town hall meeting at the Vieux Fort Primary School that may well become the defining moment of the protest, the point when the protest became a movement, threatening to become a revolution; the point where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean gather up strength and fury, threatening to become a tsunami, in preparation to sweep across the nation.
The assembly hall, the length of a soccer field, was packed with people. All seats taken, all standing room taken, outside, a third as many people as inside. It was a three hour meeting, but no one left until the very end. It was something that probably has never happened before, so many people coming together in Vieux Fort in a non-political forum to combat a common cause. The air was saturated with expectation and anticipation, but it was a disciplined, no joking audience; few spoke out of turn, all listened diligently.
Persons from all works of life were there. From unemployed residents of Bruceville to District Reps, lawyers, doctors, community leaders, school principals, business owners, writers, poets, musicians. All works of life. They came from all corners of the country and beyond. Vieux Fort, Soufriere, Castries, and in between. They came from Canada, the UK, the US. Normally it’s as difficult to get the media to Vieux Fort as pulling teeth, but on Wednesday most of them were there. HTS, Calabash, Choice, DBS, etc. Audience count: three to four hundred. It was a beautiful thing.
Richard Frederick was the star; masterful, full of controlled passion, fury and indignation. He was to the point, explaining the salient features of the agreements in a language all could understand, delighting the audience with humour, wit, and eloquence. It was a beautiful thing.
By the time it came to question and answers, it was clear the audience had heard enough, all the questions had a common theme: what can be done to stop DSH in its current form, legal or otherwise. A few in the audience offered to put their bodies between DSH tractors and their beautiful Vieux Fort. Opting for nonviolent means, the VFCCCC circulated a petition which most, if not all, of the audience signed.
What else? Island-wide motorcades, synchronized weekly marches in every major community in the country, weekly town hall meetings in every nook and cranny of the island, spamming the email boxes, Facebook pages, twitter accounts, and cell phones of all parliamentarians with messages of “no deal without representation.”
What else? Island-wide strikes. The protest has become a movement, threatening to become a revolution. It’s a beautiful thing.
The movement proves that Allen Chastanent and Teo Ah Khing are dead wrong if they think DSH is just a Vieux Fort issue, that only Vieux Fortians are against the Pearl of the Caribbean as presented in ink. Dead wrong if they think they can pit north against south, east against west; Vieux Fort against Castries, Vieux Fort against Soufriere. The message that our sovereignty and patrimony are not for sale, that there will be no development deals without consultation, that the sale and loss of use of Pointe Sable Beach and Recreation Park is unconscionable, has swept the country, so the whole nation is now joining their voices to that of Vieux Fortians, and saying loud and clear: NO DEAL UNTILL WE GET BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD. NO SUPPER WILL BE SERVED UNLESS WE ARE SEATED AT THE DINNER TABLE. The protest has turned into a movement that is threatening to become a revolution, and that is a beautiful thing.
Of course, notwithstanding the excitement, passion, solidarity, and communion, one couldn’t help muse whether DSH will be Richard Frederick’s saving grace, his return ticket to politics, to carving a lasting political niche for himself, a phenomenon that may have started with the hosting of his own talk show? Only time will tell. But for now the controversial and charismatic lawyer turned politician turned talk show host, whom, though a minister of a sovereign and friendly state, the US, for reasons undisclosed to the public, had revoked his visa, for how long I don’t know, thus dulling his political coinage, is riding the waves of a hero, liberating his people from the jaws of calamity, and for this Vieux Fort and the nation need to be thankful. This proves that the epics are not mere myths; heroes do come from unlikely sources.
If DSH becomes Richard Frederick’s saving grace, one wonders whether it will become his nemesis’s (Allen Chastanent), downfall, aborting his political career in its infancy. However, given the DSH counter movement that is threatening to become a revolution, Chastanent is not the only one who should be worried about his political career. It may well come to pass, that, in the absence of the mythical and mystical Sir John Compton, UWP is destined to remain a one-term government party.
The movement is national, however most UWP supporters are not adding their audible voices. And the voices of those among them who are lending support are subdued and circumspect. So the movement is not totally devoid of politics. For example, I was surprised of some of the people leading the movement, for rarely have I seen them at community events. I never knew that they cared so much about their Vieux Fort. So I suspect their colours partly explain their impassioned participation. And I also suspect that if it was Kenny Anthony who had signed the agreement, the roles would be reversed, it would be those in yellow leading the protest, while those in red would have kept their silence.
Obviously not all Vieux Fortians are opposed to the DSH agreements. Some are apprehensive about missing out on the DSH deal. They may feel that they can’t afford to let this one pass them by. And who could blame them? Vieux Fort is in dire need of economic restitution. However, the letter by Kenny Anthony dated 9 February 2016, just months before the general elections, in which the then prime minister was responding in the positive to a proposal by Equator Lands, an European developer, suggests that Vieux Fortians need not worry. It is Vieux Fort’s time. The north is congested. Gros Islet aside, no other district has the development favourables of Vieux Fort. Like it or not developers have to come to Vieux Fort. In this development proposal, the developer promised to not only take over the ill-fated El Paradis and turn it into a world class resort, but to also establish factory plants in the South, which collectively would utilize a 1000 acres. The developer promised that initially the venture will employ 4000 to 5000 workers, and more as the projects unfold.
The letter was leaked, probably by proponents of the DSH agreements to show detractors that Chastanet wasn’t the only one negotiating development deals without consultation and giving developers plenty of land and an array of concessions. But it would appear the letter had the opposite effect. It said two things. First, thanks to the CIP, the Vieux Fort area is becoming a development magnet, so Vieux Fort and St. Lucia should not feel pressured into entering into any given agreement. Second, it partly explains why Kenny Anthony didn’t jump headlong into the DSH deal. There were other deals on the table, and likely more on the way. At the very least the Equator Lands’ proposal would leave the Mankótè Mangrove, Pointe Sable Beach, and other recreation spaces intact. Of course, nothing to prevent the two developments from taking place concurrently.
Allen Chastanet prides himself as a businessman, a deal maker, so he should understand this better than most. Businesses weigh investment options, and select the one most advantageous to them, based on such measures as the rate of return. If so, why doesn’t Chastanet follow this concept in running the country? Why doesn’t the government put out a call for development proposals, and based on a set of preset criteria choose those most beneficial to the country? Ok, a call for proposals maybe going too far, but at the very least take a long, hard look at all the options on the table. If a deal is too good to be true, then it probably is.
Notwithstanding political persuasions or apprehensions about the future, the time has come to paint the whole island, not red, not yellow, not even green, but the blue of the national flag, for too much is at stake. What good will it do for one’s party to be ruling over a country whose sovereignty and patrimony is in the hands of a foreign dominion? What is the joy of being a puppet government, where the strings are being pulled by the likes of Teo Ah Khing, who before his search for somewhere to plant his billionaire enclave probably never heard of St. Lucia, much less could locate it on a map? What long-term joy is there in prostitution? Yes, it can start well. Yes, it may initially enable an affluent lifestyle, but is invariably like a sugar-coated, poison pill that taste sweet in the mouth, but turns bitter and poisonous in the stomach. What joy is there ending up with fatherless children and with more diseases than you can count? So St. Lucians should paint their island blue, and transform it into an even more beautiful place.
Life is so full of ironies. It was the Socialist/Marxist Kenny Anthony who, as a teacher at the Vieux Fort Secondary School, was allegedly indoctrinating students in the ways of communism, and who was the protégé of George Odlum—the bigger than life, lifelong militant socialist, a direct replica of Fidel Castro, credited to have raised the St. Lucian political, social, nationalistic consciousness like none other before and none after, and who had amended the country’s constitution back in 1979 to allow Kenny Anthony to become the youngest person to ever hold a ministership—had moved the country decisively away from agriculture to tourism and introduced CIP, both of which spells loss of sovereignty and patrimony.
The pasture is always greener on the other side of the fence. St. Lucians probably envy the standard of living enjoyed by say Martiniquans and their access to the world, yet speaking to some of them, leaves one with the impression that they envy St. Lucians’ nationhood, their independence, their sovereignty, their freedom to run their country as they see fit. Again the good Book says man shall not live by bread alone, meaning living involves both tangibles and intangibles.
Life is so strange. In 1979 John Compton of the UWP won St. Lucia’s Independence from Great Britain; now, 38 years later, his protégé, Allen Chastanent of the same UWP is about to hand over St. Lucia’s Independence to a Chinese developer!
Be careful what you start. Kenny Anthony cracked Pandora’s CIP box, Allen Chastanent dynamite it wide open.
The Pearl of the Caribbean is a ten part article on the DSH agreements. Born and raised in Vieux Fort, Dr. Anderson Reynolds is an economist and an award-winning author. His third book, The Stall Keeper, a novel set in Vieux Fort using the American World War II occupation of the town as backdrop, will be published first quarter of 2017.