The talk around SVG is about the Prime Minister being hit by a stone. One understands why this is so! The act should be condemned fully. I do not know the extent of the investigation carried out and the evidence the police has, but there is a strong feeling, based on evidence from camera footage that the lady in question Annamay Lewis of Layou was not the person responsible. Who ever was responsible, even if the stone was not aimed at the PM must feel the effect of the law for it is the height of irresponsibility in a protest with thousands of people to throw a stone. Having said that, it has to be noted that other persons were victims of police action, one person having had to go to the hospital on more than one occasion despite his bleeding before he could secure medical attention. In situations as happened on Thursday, there is need for cool heads. The reaction of some politicians, angered no doubt by what happened to the PM, left a lot to be desired. To make matters worse talk of an attempted assassination of the PM bordered on the absurd. This most likely led to police raids on homes of persons connected with the oppostion New Democratic Party, looking for ammunition, seizing cell phones and computers. I understand that one person whose only ‘crime’ was to sell food to the protestors, had his licensed firearms seized. How did this idea of an assassination attempt arise? A serious question!
Let us put things in context. The demonstration involved the opposition New Democratic Party, the Public Service and Teachers Unions, the Nurses Association and Police Welfare Association, all having urged their members to join the protest. There was also the group ‘Rise Hairouna.’ We must remember, too, that Thursday’s protest was only one of a number of protests that had been carried out. It was the largest of the protests, made so no doubt by the fact that Parliament was supposed to be debating a bill that was to make Covid vaccines mandatory. It was said that it was supposed to be for front line workers but apparently this was not specified in the legislation. Let us remember too that the other protests, probably about five were all peaceful.
The issue of mandatory vaccinations is a serious one. While efforts are made to describe the Vincentian population and the ‘anti-vaxers’ in the worst possible way, we must not forget that protests and dissatisfaction with the use of the vaccines and the efforts to make them mandatory have become virtually worldwide. In recent days we have seen protests in Barbados and Antigua over that issue. Some governments, including that of St. Lucia which has a higher number of cases than us, have stated their refusal to make the vaccines mandatory. I have made the point already that we went about the matter of vaccinations in the wrong way. In the beginning our government paid scant regard to the pandemic. Our PM was among other things, against the use of masks, claiming that they made people hot. Opposition Leader Friday stated that when he urged the use of masks and actually wore one in Parliament, he was mocked by the other side. Before our PM took his vaccine, he said he was giving it ‘prayerful consideration.’ What message did that send? I raise these to suggest that we are now feeling the effects of the light -hearted manner in which we dealt at first with the pandemic. I have also argued that we failed to have adequate consultations and that our education about the pandemic and the use of vaccines was totally inadequate. Let us also put into this discussion that many of the persons who attended the protest on Thursday have been vaccinated but were objecting to making them mandatory.
We had a golden opportunity before the volcanic eruption to organise sessions particularly with people who were to be evacuated, on the vaccination issue. It was my view too that there should have been a united approach; that the Opposition should have been invited to dialogue at first with the government on the issue and then to work along with the government. I say this because there is widespread distrust of authorities and the government on many of these issues.
I have singled out the vaccine issue but let us not forget that protests started with the Cornelius John affair and dissatisfaction with a number of other issues. There is a lot to talk about that have to be brought into understanding what happened last week Thursday. One that needs more discussion, is that of the PM leaving his vehicle and walking through an agitated crowd. Why did that happen? Who bears responsibility?
(to be continued).
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian