It’s Culture, Not Race.
DURING the 2016 general election campaign, some in the Labour Party tried to make political fodder of the fact that Allen Chastanet was a white man (or an almost white man) seeking to be Prime Minister of a predominantly black country (85.3% Black, 10.9% Mixed, 2.2% Indian, 1.7% Other), and to add insult to injury, that he wasn’t conversant in Kwéyòl, the people’s mother tongue, signalling he wasn’t “okouwan” with the country’s culture.
One suspects that out of desperation the Labour Party was trying to make the campaign a race issue. Political and social scientists were probably intrigued as to how receptive St. Lucians would be to having a white or almost white Prime Minister. Likely almost as intrigued as the prospect of America, purported to be the most democratic of nations, electing a Black President, back in 2008 after Barack Obama had won the Democratic presidential nomination, or of electing a woman, in the person of Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the recently concluded presidential elections.
Apparently, the Labour Party got it all wrong. They were no more successful using the race issue against Chastanet as they were some decades ago using the country of birth issue against Sir John Compton, whom they claimed was either born in St. Vincent or on the Caribbean channel between St. Vincent and St. Lucia. First, they should have realized that since Sir George F.L. Charles served as Chief Minister (1960-1964), the only persons who have run an election as leader of his party and in the process headed the government are those regarded as either half white or almost white. It’s a short list. Sir John Compton, Dr. Kenny Anthony, and now Allen Chastanet. It would appear that being light on melanin is a good start to becoming the Prime Minister of St. Lucia. If so, the Labour Party might be on the right track grooming Dr Ernest Hilaire for the Party leadership and hence the prime ministership.
Of course, with regard to the last elections, there is the perception that people were just fed-up with Kenny Anthony, who had apparently overstayed his welcome. But in fairness to him, VAT didn’t help (any Party that had implemented VAT would have stood a good chance of losing the elections), the St. Jude debacle, for which both parties should share blame, didn’t help either. In fact, some are of the view that, from the imposition of VAT, to buying back the Black Bay lands lost under the UWP administration, Dr. Anthony did all the heavy lifting for the UWP government, allowing Chastanet who had glibly promised to eradicate VAT to look pretty, to be the hero who reduced VAT by a mere 2.5 percentage points, his promise of radical surgery seemingly going unnoticed.
Off course, to be more accurate, Chastanet’s promise was that he would reduce VAT immediately and eliminate it eventually. But in light of St. Lucia’s growing debt to GDP ratio, currently at about 79% and projected to balloon to 105% by 2030 if current borrowing trends continue, and the CDB report that VAT reduction won’t be an effective means of reducing cost of living and stimulating economic activity because the gains from such reduction will not completely offset the loss in revenue, it is very unlikely (and probably imprudent) that the Prime Minister will introduce further reductions in VAT. Moreover, he must now be coming to grips with the dilemma most CARICOM governments face—keeping their countries afloat and their economies growing in the midst of perennial financial straits.
It should also be noted that Anthony may have gotten a raw deal with VAT. As part of VAT implementation, businesses received decreases in custom duties that they were supposed to pass on to consumers in the form of lower retail prices before the application of VAT, so when VAT was added on, the net retail price increase would be insignificant or definitely less than the full 15% VAT. But it seems many retailers didn’t pass on this reduction in custom duties to consumers thus forcing them to bear the full brunt of the VAT.
The Labour Party got it wrong, for the substantive issue isn’t race or even country of birth. The substantive issue is culture, passion for and dedication to country, affinity with the people and the land, the feeling of this is my country and these are my people. Culture is a people’s way of life and it says a lot about a people. It is no wonder that the French, I’m told, have always opted to discriminate on the basis of culture than on the basis of race. Apparently, once one can embrace their culture, then regardless of one’s skin tone, one is welcome into the camp. To accept and embrace a people’s culture is to have an affinity with them and the land they occupy. During the 2016 general election campaign, St. Lucian UWI political scientist, Dr. Tennyson Joseph, wrote the following in Nation News, “The son of a wealthy businessman, he (Allen Chastanet) does not speak the native vernacular, and his political involvement has coincided with a hurried crash course in being Lucian.” According to this statement, Chastanet was so out of step with the St. Lucian way of life, St. Lucian culture, that he needed a crash course on how to be St. Lucian. If so, it is fair to question the St. Lucianness of Allen Chastanet, not on the basis of race, but on the basis of his affinity with the culture, the people and the land. So how does that relate to DSH and St. Lucia’s sovereignty and patrimony? Well, to the extent that one doesn’t have much of an affinity with the culture, the people and the land, is the extent to which one is likely to sell out.
As a perfect example that it is culture, not race, not nationality, and sometimes not even species that may matter most, consider the movie, Instinct, in which Ethan Powell, played by Anthony Hopkins, who, living in the African jungle for several years with a band of gorillas had gone native, had become so integrated into the way of life of the apes, so accepting of their culture, that when the band came under the attack of Wilderness Park Rangers, he rose up in defence of his band, his people, and killed several park rangers, members of his own specie, if not his own race.
Besides an inability to speak the country’s mother tongue, there are other reasons to question Chastanet’s familiarity with and integration into St. Lucian culture. In the slavery and colonial era, not bothering to develop a credible educational system, the plantation class sent their offspring overseas to boarding schools. Well, apparently, it seems Michael Chastanet followed in their footsteps. His son, Allen Chastanet, completed his secondary school education at Stanstead College, a Quebec boarding high school catering for grades 7 through 12. He stayed in Quebec for his undergraduate degree and then pursued his Master’s degree in development banking in Washington DC. This suggests that the Prime Minister spent most of his teenage and young adult years outside St. Lucia. And when you consider he worked a while at Air Jamaica and his primary occupation has been tourism, he likely has not had much time and opportunity to enmesh himself in St. Lucian culture and way of life. St. Lucia may seem to him more like his second home than his first.
So St. Lucians may be on to something, when they complain about Chastanet’s seemingly excessive overseas travelling, giving the impression that he spends more time overseas than in St. Lucia. Of course, their concerns are the cost involved and the possible neglect of the urgent problems facing the country. But given that Allen Chastanet didn’t come of age in St. Lucia, his frequent trips may suggest that he is more at home overseas than in St. Lucia, particularly since being the Prime Minister of St. Lucia comes with plenty of unpleasantness, not least being people constantly in your face spouting advice, criticism and abuse.
The Prime Minister is not the only one Vieux Fortians have to worry about. There is Invest St. Lucia, an organization specifically set up to bring investments to St. Lucia, but whose only apparent accomplishment is the selling of St. Lucian assets. To date, even with the advent of the CIP, I’m not aware they have initiated the flow of any investment that has taken root. Clearly, notwithstanding its highbrow symposiums, and glossy promotional packs, the organization hasn’t delivered on its mandate. This means that there is tremendous pressure on Invest St. Lucia to show slate, after all their very existence is at stake. So, like in the case of the Prime Minister, no matter the cost to Vieux Fort and St. Lucia, the DSH development may be too tempting a deal for Invest St. Lucia not to encourage.
So we have an ambitious, non-distinguished Prime Minister who is under a lot of pressure to show slate and to prove himself, who is facing silent opposition from within his administration, who is given to rash statements and possibly hasty actions, whose past stewardships few would regard as stellar, and whose affinity with the culture, the land and the people is questionable. And we have Invest St. Lucia an organization that may be in a position to plead caution, but whose very existence, given Chastanet’s propensity to dismantle projects and organizations, may be linked to the DSH deal coming to fruition. Clearly, St. Lucians, Vieux Fortians especially, have every reason to be apprehensive about this Prime Minister brokering (with the encouragement and support of Invest St. Lucia) what may well turn out to be the deal of the century, a Prime Minister with plenty of incentives or pressing temptations to sell them out but lacking the internal restraints, such as affinity with the people and the land, that would make him circumspect.