When George Odlum and I were at the height of our political activities our friends and supporters used to encourage us to take a break at Christmas. ‘The festive season is a time to relax and take life easy, give politics a break,’ they said. We retorted that poverty and want never takes a holiday, that struggle and sacrifice was the centre ethos of the message of Christmas. There are many good people, businesses and organizations that reach out to the poor and indigent at this festive time of year, proving they understand the message. Still the diabolical plotting and deceit of politicians continues unchecked, never taking a holiday. As the people are lulled into careless celebrations, political opportunists plan more mischief aiming to steal elections while they defraud the treasury. But a new day beckons.
The struggle for mass education need not take the form of public political meetings as Messer’s Odlum, Deterville, Josie and others of the St. Lucia Forum did forty plus years ago, even at Christmas. But Saint Lucians must discuss the cost of the newly opened Bois d’ Orange Bridge or the run-away cost of other capital works such as that of ‘low-income’ houses recently built at Monchy, for example. Besides the massive re-endorsement of Allen Chastanet as political leader in early November, the clearest sign of a new dawning in the UWP (and Saint Lucia) is the appointment of Mary Isaac, president of the CSA, as Senator. This will be a talking point this Christmas – more profound and hopefully longer lasting than last Christmas weather incident. Some smart aleck has predicted a shortage of sleeping pills as the news of Mary Isaac’s appointment sinks into the heads of the shady characters on stage.
This Christmas politics cannot afford a holiday. It should however, be conducted with a little more class and civility. The discourse ought to focus on the celebrated birth with its new message of hope and redemption. One ought also to note that politics then had exposed the efforts of the rulers of Israel to hoodwink its publics. In Saint Lucia more desperate lies and deceptions are churned out by paid agents every day. More people are becoming poorer as a result of the misguided policies of the government. The number of young people that are falling through the proverbial cracks in the social network has grown in the recent years. Among that number are those who are no longer prepared to wait for annual gifts from Santa or for the government’s demeaning temporary jobs programme. More young people are less able to afford school books, school uniforms and transportation to and from school.
The decline should surprise no one. It was the SLP with the full support of its leaders and parliamentarians who hastened the destruction of the valuable banana industry. That industry was the largest in the Windward and Leeward Islands for over forty years. The challenges of the World Trade Organization (WTO) opened-up protected markets to global competitive trade. But a way was being negotiated with England that would aid in marketing Saint Lucia (and Windward Islands) bananas. At that time banana farmers in Saint Lucia were being encouraged to take ‘no-cut’ strikes, shooting themselves in the foot. The SLP politicians and their cohorts benefitted from the farmers’ misery.
Negotiations on behalf of banana farmers proceeded nonetheless. New arrangements demanded higher standards of field sanitation and packaging which many Saint Lucia farmers willingly undertook. A new day was dawning. The difficulty for opportunistic politicians and their friends was that the success of the new banana regime meant there would be less disgruntled farmers to exploit. Those who could not meet the new standards of the industry were encouraged to diversify their agriculture. By then however, certain persons had made the word ‘diversification’ a curse word in the lexicon of a local agriculture. How to educate an unschooled rural community to accept change and diversification was the mountain SLP politicians refused to climb. It was easier for the SLP to spread conflict and chaos urging farmers to rise-up against the Vaughan Lewis and John Compton, forgetting WTO open competition ruling.
As a result, the new SLP won power in 1997 and immediately handed the most important banana industry to one of the least qualified and equipped persons on island to handle it. But that was not all! The SLP had by then also created so much distrust against the still tender tourism industry that it was difficult for the new SLP administration to swallow their pride and turn meaningfully towards tourism as the new engine of economic growth. Today, the impression lingers that the SLP government and new Labour only pay only lip service to the tourism industry. ‘It’s a white man’s industry with which the SLP’s slave mentality cannot abide,’ according to some observers.
The conclusion is inescapable that the new SLP politicians have weaved a tangled web of deceit and have no place to turn. Their backs are against the wall and so they have resorted to attacking the very people who facilitated their entry into politics. They vilified Compton and Lewis but bananas survived! Some of the better, more determined farmers are still in production. They have struggled and persevered, often without much help from their associations, or from government or elsewhere.
At its height the banana industry under a UWP government exported around one hundred and thirty thousand tons (130,000.000) of bananas a year. Today, the shameless SLP Government is busy crowing about their miserly export of five thousand tonnes of bananas for 2014. Shame on them! But a new day is dawning! The appointment of Mary Isaac to the Senate marks a turning point in the island’s politics. Others of her calibre are bound to follow in her footsteps and help brighten the prospects for a transformed Saint Lucia under the re-organized UWP. The UWP has finally returned to its roots in the trade union movement. Saint Lucian workers must thank the vision of Allen Chastanet and his new executive committee for such a move. A new day is dawning, there is hope, hallelujah!