The Changing of Saint Lucia’s Guards

By Cedric George - Special for The Voice
Image of Cedrick George
Cedrick George

Cedrick George is an acclaimed local artist of long standing. His paintings are well known, but what’s still largely unknown is that his dexterity with the pen can nearly equal that with the brush. In this feature article, he traces his homeland’s evolution over Time – and from a very artistic global perspective.

Animal Kingdom
HISTORY is replete with records of horrific acts – cultural, religious, political and economic – all in the name of civilisation and change, but usually with bitter consequences. This behaviour sets the human race apart from other primates in the Animal Kingdom, in that insatiable thirst for superiority and dominance. It is a battle of strength, not weakness, all civilisations at one point or another having suffered indignity at the hand of their oppressors until they themselves were able to muster-up the courage to be liberated, only to repeat this vicious cycle where there are usually no real winners.

Let us begin, for example, with the Roman Empire with its history of conquests, triumphs and defeats. In Rome, a bitter civil war for control of the Government and the Military raged between the supporters of two of its most influential politicians – Julius Caesar and General Pompeii. The latter, incompetent in battle and sensing defeat, sought refuge in Egypt where, to Caesar’s chagrin, his head was greeted by the blade of an Egyptian executioner. Caesar would have preferred to settle the dispute on the field of battle. Pompeii’s execution brought an end to the civil war and Caesar took over the reins of Government, ruling with absolute authority.

Across the Mediterranean, in the Roman province of Egypt, Queen Cleopatra was unseated from her throne and replaced by her brother Ptolemy. But this move ran counter to their father’s wishes. His covenant with Caesar to have Cleopatra on the throne was thwarted by Ptolemy’s accession. For this act of betrayal, Ptolemy, like Pompeii before him, came under the Egyptian executioner’s blade. However, Caesar’s meteoric rise fuelled the hatred of some of Rome’s Senators, who felt their stars were no less important than his. The so-called ‘honourable men’ plotted to do away with the too-confident Caesar. With steely daggers in their hands, they lunged themselves at his weary body, every blade reaching its target.

Caesar, a colossus in life but terrible in battle, a conqueror of conquerors, a friend of the stars of Heaven, the man who made the confident boast ‘Veni, Vini, Vinci!’(‘I came, I saw, I conquered!) lay bathed in his own innocent blood. By this cowardly act, he who had laid the foundation for the rise of the Roman Empire was denied his rightful place of honour to become Rome’s first king. That honour would be passed on to his nephew, Augustus Caesar.

With the nation’s trust placed in its new Emperor and his mentor, Mark Anthony, Rome flourished and continued its quest for world dominance — a mission which would be taken up by successive kings for centuries, as they established footholds on continents and in nations, with little resistance. After all: When you are in Rome, you do as the Romans do!

Over time, the old order kept on changing, yielding place to new ones – as Sir Arthur of the Round Table had explained to his Knights. New world powers rose and dominated the world stage. Each played its part, having been given an appointed time to do so. While some brought honour and glory to their name, others went down in regret and disgrace.

Britannia rules the waves?
The British Empire was one of those that understood the rites of passage. She took every opportunity presented to her to assert herself. Mistakes were made, as was to be expected, but in the end, she secured a respectable position for the Empire and her citizens. Having ended Napoleon’s dream of world conquest, Britain pursued her ambition with formidable fire-power and purpose. Her provinces were many – a fourth of the earth’s mass – a position which many of the old world powers, with the possible exception of the Persian Empire, would have envied.

The British Empire was colourful, regal and elegant, her songs sang throughout the realms. Stories were told with a great sense of pride of an Empire which never slept, on which the sun never set; of a Britannia that ‘Rules the Waves’, as smiling children across the realm proudly waved their Union Jacks as they enacted their own Empire Day parades.

As she faces her twilight years, another Britannia prepares for the task ahead. In her glory days she had done well to spread her English culture through the colonisation of America. Many nationals left their homes in search of a better life in this ‘Land of milk, honey and adventure’, in the ‘Home of the Free and Land of the Brave’.

This new world of Christopher Columbus is a melting pot, an amalgam of many things, which gives its people the opportunity to explore, to invent and to be the best they can be.

From the beginning of time, every successive society has aspired to upward mobility in strength, influence and knowledge, perfecting in the process what had been done before, taking what they inherited one or two notches up.

In this current age, the United States of America (USA) is the one that is in the favoured position to effect change on a global scale.

Like her predecessor, she is colourful, confident, boastful, wealthy and strong. No one dares question her legitimacy. She has the eyes and ears of all who want to be in her Reference Book. Like many before her, she too has been given this position of authority by the Almighty Creator, God the Father. The Heavens is the Lord’s, but the earth is given to man, until the Lord’s appointed time.

Helen – Raped by Two Titans
Here on the home front, we have had our own changing of the guards. Like many other small islands all over the Caribbean and the world, Saint Lucia has at one time or another experienced some uncomfortable moments: enslaved, colonised, damaged by landslides, burnt by fires, devastated by hurricanes and storms. Whether or not these were blessings in disguise, Helen has pulled through with amazing confidence and purpose, signalling to all neighbours that only the Helen of the West, which she is, could have attracted two colonial Titans to her shores.

France and England, who were vying for control of the Caribbean, were at war for possession of this 238 square-mile island which each considered his legitimate right to colonise. Equally matched and purposeful they showed Helen no mercy. Every inch of her was for the taking as they slowly nibbled at her delicate frame fourteen (14) times before satisfying themselves with her alone, seven times each.

Stanley French, one of Saint Lucia’s renowned playwrights (now deceased) called this assault on the island “The Rape of Fair Helen”.

Saint Lucia was finally able to exhale when the Paris Peace Treaty of 1814, which ceded the island to Britain, ended Helen’s nightmare of the Two Titans.

Beneficial Colonial Apprenticeship
Saint Lucia’s apprenticeship under the Crown colonial system was in many ways beneficial to her sons and daughters who were able to receive higher education certification at many of its prestigious institutions – Oxford, Bristol, London School of Economics, among others – and who made their country proud by distinguishing themselves in their chosen fields.

The list of achievers is phenomenal and reads like an encyclopaedia. Such accomplishments prepared them for higher office in the land with the advent of adult suffrage in the 1950’s when the majority of Saint Lucians who could now vote gave them the opportunity to have a say in the governance of their place of birth.

Like many of the Caribbean islands that had found their voice in their political parties, Saint Lucia found her voice in the powerful Labour movement that gave birth to the Saint Lucia Labour Party under the able leadership of Sir George Charles.

He held the reins of government from 1950 to 1964 until some members of his party — including the then political firebrand John Compton, a lawyer and economist – defected and joined the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to form the United Workers’ Party.

The new United Workers’ Party attracted many of the island’s intellectuals of the day. They had different approaches to things, brought new ideas, were energetic and young. This excited the electorate who lent their support to the party and gave them the mandate to govern for thirty years – from 1964 to 1979 and again from 1982 to 1997 – with Sir John Compton at the helm, first as Premier and later as Prime Minister. He returned to active politics as Leader of the Party to contest the 2006 general elections, regaining his position as Prime Minister at the age of 82. He would however spend only a few months in office before he succumbed to illness.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party’s 30-year sojourn in the desert ended with the arrival on the scene of another firebrand politician, lawyer and educator, Dr. Kenny Anthony.

Dr. Anthony rekindled the flame of the Saint Lucia Labour Party which had long been put out. His entrance was welcomed by many who wanted to erase the memories of the past, to embrace the new-age knowledge that the new leadership brought.

The Saint Lucia Labour Party went on to win the next two general elections in 1997 and in 2001.

What has happened over time since was no great feat, since contesting political parties have always found a way of getting back with time — Time to focus on what they have done wrong, to correct their mistakes, perhaps even studying the incumbent’s strategy to arrive at ways of gaining grassroots support.

And so, one firebrand was replaced by another.

In 2016, the United Workers’ Party was returned to the helm of Government under the leadership of Hon. Allen Chastanet, an economist, businessman and politician. With a slate of competent politicians the party was now able to exhale and focus on its agenda.

Political parties do understand that in order to gain the upper hand they must continue to evolve, lest they are left behind in this rapidly-changing world. The wheels of politics continue to turn, ensuring that no party can claim complete dominance, which is a good thing for democracy in disguise.

Saint Lucia gained its independence from Britain in 1979 — and with it came the Prime Ministership. This island state has come a long way, but still finds itself ‘in transit’, with a Governor General and not a President.

We were hoping for a more radical change of the guards. But Britain is facing its own problems on the Brexit issue both from within and without. There seems to be no clear way out of this issue. She is faced with a mammoth divorce bill for her own freedom, while she does not know what to make of Gibraltar, Scotland and Northern Ireland. She could do herself a favour by releasing Saint Lucia completely.

Much to be thankful for
Meanwhile, Saint Lucians have much to be thankful for. We are indebted to those who have gone before us, who have paved the way for us and on whose shoulders we stand.

Twentieth century knowledge has evolved and its progress in the twenty-first century is nothing short of phenomenal. What mankind was not able to accomplish in almost two thousand years has been done in little over a century with the advent of the computer, man’s greatest achievement to date.

The technology has stamped its influence on everything. It is the first time that we are witnessing machine power threatening the course of human history, as we are most likely to have machines with increasing capabilities as our new set of guards.

But fortunately, the Creator has not ordained that this man-like machine should have control of His Earth. The politics of change remains in His hands. It is He who exalts and He who abases. He will keep the human race going until He Himself returns to govern this planet.
Notwithstanding this evolutionary progress, one wonders what has gone wrong with those individuals who used to dominate the local commercial environment and create incentives for others to follow.

For reasons which no one truly understands, these mega entrepreneurs who once monopolised the local sector have vanished like the rabbit in the magician’s hat. A little bird whispered softly to me that “It is about working smart and not working hard, about acquiring paper wealth in a short space of time and becoming landlords, rather than entrepreneurs.”

The recent Asian invasion has done well for local consumers who claim that they are getting their money’s worth for the high-end commodities that used to be beyond their reach; that our new friends are catering to their needs, spreading their humanitarianism throughout the length and breadth of Saint Lucia. Collectively they employ a considerable percentage of the work force: quite commendable from a humanitarian perspective.

Saint Lucia’s one-time big business companies had neither the financial nor the man-power resources to effect the changes needed for growth and replacements were therefore needed. Our mega local businesses may have folded-up and assumed a less demanding role in the sector, but an energetic, purposeful and brave middle-class group has emerged and they are spreading like a big bay tree with the potential to become Saint Lucia’s main food basket because of the number involved.
Saint Lucia’s colourful cake…

We may feel a sense of loss at the demise of the old guard, but we should restrain ourselves from crying “Wolf”, since we have found solace in the new breed of Saint Lucian middle-class entrepreneurs.

Our Asian friends command a formidable presence, but Saint Lucia’s colourful cake is too large to be consumed by only one group; we all can get a slice of Helen’s black, white, yellow and blue cake.

Had the preferential treatment which our Asian friends received from Government been extended to our local entrepreneurs, it would have made it easier for them to compete against these multi-amalgamated companies which now completely overshadow the industry.

I grew up in Castries hearing about established names like Barnard and Sons, Gidharry and Sons, Peter and Company, Renwick and Company, Elwin’s, St. Jour, Lafayette, Williams’ Bakery, Clarke and Company, Minvielle and Chastanet, Adjodha and Sons, Cox and Company, Freddie’s Garage, J.Q. Charles, Eudoxie’s Bakery, A.F Valmont and Company, Carasco and Son, Lera’s Enterprises; and some Ti Boutiques like Ma Branch, Ma Bledman, Cosmopolitan Bar, Blaize, Mauricette, Brandford and One-Man Shop kept the tradition going as long as they could.

Today’s small businesses have taken things up a few notches. Think of Coletta’s Boutique, Dax Supermarkets, Anthony’s Jewellers, Total Auto, Brice and Company, Shoe Circus, Cathy’s Boutique, Harris Paints, Paints Plus, Caribbean Metals, Cell Rack, Dr Freezers, Spectra, Builders Choice, Renee’s Construction, Atwell Dalgliesh Co and Rasco, Mauricette’s Auto who are creating employment for the many who wish to remain home, building a life for themselves and their families. These know that not all have the fortitude to seek greener pastures abroad.

Another group of esteemed Saint Lucians have also come on board to boost the country’s economy in the hotel and financial services sectors.
I salute the brilliance of Mr. and Mrs. George Theophilus for the visionary undertaking that established Financial Investment and Consultancy Services Limited (FICS) (the first privately-owned local financial institution) and Mr. and Mrs. Desmond Destang for the Bay Gardens hotel chain that has given Saint Lucians the assurance that all is not lost. Their establishments continue to provide good services to all, at home and abroad, as we witness once again The Changing of the Guards.

The business sector has now taken up residence in the quarter of Gros Islet, where development befitting the 21st Century is now growing apace. There, wide spaces can accommodate infrastructural growth. And though Gros Islet has not yet replaced the city of Castries as the major commercial centre, it is certainly posing a threat as it seems set to become the big new guard on the block.

But that is left to be seen.

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