STATEMENT BY HON ALVA BAPTISTE, SLP 1ST DEPUTY POLITICAL LEADER AND SPOKESMAN FOR EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, FOREIGN TRADE, CIVIL AVIATION INFORMATION & DIASPORA AFFAIRS
THE Opposition, Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) views the imposition of visa facilities on Venezuelan nationals and the simultaneous granting of visa free access to Chinese nationals with suspicion, as this scenario presents a disturbing dichotomy.
First, the Prime Minister’s rationale for imposing visa facilities on Venezuelan nationals is seriously flawed. Mr Chastanet argues that it was for security reasons. He insinuated that the 60 homicides in 2017 as well as most of the guns coming into Saint Lucia had to do with the mass movement of the said nationals towards the Caribbean. The fact is, we do not have a problem with Venezuelan nationals at our ports of entry. Hence the imposition of Visa facilities on Venezuelan nationals has nothing to do with the security interests of Saint Lucia and Saint Lucians. Therefore, the Prime Minister needs to clarify this allegation as he seems clueless on issues of National Security. It was this seeming deplorable ignorance, which led him to further state that no Coast Guard boats were operational when he came into office in 2011. The truth is all except two boats were operational. The only two boats that were inoperative at the time were PO4 and PO6, which remain so to this day. Consequently, the Opposition dismisses Mr Allen Chastanet’s comments on the aforementioned national security issues as mere propaganda. The Saint Lucia Labour Party would like to make it abundantly clear, that it rejects the arbitrary withdrawal of this privilege to our long-time friend and ally, and upon our return to office, we will immediately restore the mutual respect and friendship with Venezuela by reinstating the previous visa protocol. The SLP also condemns, in the strongest possible terms, assassination attempts on democratically elected leaders in our hemisphere or any other part of the world.
Second, Mr Chastanet’s stated rationale for granting visa free access to Chinese nationals was that China is now a major global player and is the second largest economy in the world. This was the prevailing scenario under the former SLP Administration and visa free access was not granted on this basis. In fact, visa free access is not granted to a country on the basis of GDP per capita, the size of its economy or how affluent its citizens are.
While Visa free access is not always based on reciprocity, Visa free travel to countries depends on the basis of main factors:
1. Principle of reciprocity/privilege status; this is predicated upon foreign relationships and policies between the countries based on trade, culture and partnership, for example.
2. Historical factors and trends about the pattern of migration between the countries. We do not share this with China.
While the Opposition readily appreciates that there is no mystery to the granting of visa free access to foreign nationals, the abrupt and unilateral granting of the facility of visa free access to Chinese nationals has cast a shadow of doubt and cynicism on the true intentions of the Government.
For example, the reckless handling and sabotage of our health care sector by Mr. Allen Chastanet and his spineless Cabinet are symptomatic of their commitment to the heartless neo-liberal market model. The health needs and security interests of Saint Lucians and Saint Lucia are of no consequence to them, as the overriding objective of the neo-liberal market model is to serve the interests of greedy property owners and shareholders and it views regulation, trade unions, taxation, public ownerships, etc. as mere impediments, which are unjustified and should be removed.
‘It’s ideology is that shareholder value must be maximized, that labour markets should be “flexible” and that capital should be free to invest or disinvest in industries and countries at will. The trend is away from certainty of tenure to uncertainty. The effect is to transfer all risks from employers to employees. It is being done in the unashamed interests of companies and shareholders’; so Chinese nationals could replace Saint Lucia workers if it serves to minimize labour costs and maximize profits for property owners and shareholders. And at the same time the country is denied of vital work permit fees so as to increase the profits of private companies – friends, family and foreigners.
The real victims are going to be the workers, who will lose not only their jobs but their pensions as well – in Mr Chastanet’s quest to privatize the Public Service. A significant percentage of our Saint Lucian nurses are at risk of being left destitute after a lifetime of service to their country. Mr Allen Chastanet is unenthusiastic about protecting the rights of our workers in Saint Lucia.
Another example is the controversial signing of the DSH deal, which is pregnant with controversial clauses that are in the interest of foreigners and to the detriment of Saint Lucians and Saint Lucia. DSH is an ideologically driven, vicious corporate model – of how corporate power subverts the political process in our country. The real victims are our fellow Saint Lucians who will not be able to get work as Mr Chastanet is more interested in allowing foreign nationals unbridled access to the labour market in Saint Lucia. It also robs our country of its vital land and revenue which have simply been given away to foreign interests and corrupt friends and family.
At no other time has Saint Lucian workers been more exposed to those harsh realities in the labour market. The Saint Lucia Labour Party is vehemently opposed to those types of cruel and inhumane business models and arrangements. Consequently, the Opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party, being born out of organised labour is calling upon our Trade Unions to further strengthen themselves on the basis of the threats and opportunities that exist. For as long as this UWP government is in power it would be unduly optimistic to expect any relief in the form of legislation that decisively tilts bargaining power back to workers. In fact, the Allen Chastanet Government is more inclined to pass anti-union legislation. Therefore, only a healthy system of Labour relations could stem the tide of unbridled neoliberal market models in Saint Lucia.