I WISH I could have said like Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
In my many moons in this once blessed land I don’t think I have ever experienced a time like this. As I reflect, the period around the time of Statehood and just after Independence was perhaps a more repressive period but directed particularly at persons whom the regime deemed to be associated with the Black Power Movement. We had the dismissal of Kerwin Morris, PR Campbell and John Cato. Shortly after the 1968 Walter Rodney affair in Jamaica, Ralph Gonsalves, then the president of the Student Council delivered a lecture at the UWI School of Continuing Studies. He was during his visit shadowed by two members of the security forces, so much so that Hudson Soso a staunch member of the Labour Party was forced to protest through the Vincentian newspaper. Then under the same Labour regime the home of Renwick Rose was searched. As the newspaper of the UPM ‘Justice’ stated, police armed with ‘sophisticated weapons’ raided his premises, thoroughly searched his house, and dug up his parents’ yard. He was detained for two hours and eventually charged for being in possession of prohibited literature.
”Unity” the organ of Ralph Gonsalves’ MNU condemned it. In its editorial it stated, “the irrationality of it all ought to disturb law abiding citizens who well understand the trademarks of fascism which include irrationality, anti-intellectualism, militarism and undemocratic rule.” Today Gonsalves is head of a government that is being accused of undemocratic, militaristic, and irrational tendencies. At that period the targets were proponents of ‘black Power’ and by 1984 following the invasion of Grenada, persons suspected of being adherents of the communist ideology. I guess then some persons never bothered because they might not have been advocates of black power or supporters of communism. Today neither Black Power nor Communism is an issue but threats to democracy, accusations of the misuse of the justice system, use of police and security force personnel, the searching of homes of persons and efforts to prevent peaceful protest, have forcefully emerged.
The country is divided like it has never been before.
The raging pandemic and the way to deal with it and the economic fallout have become serious issues.
The coming to the fore of the Public Order Act as a means to stifle protest is a dangerous development and seems to be infringing on a democratic right that is enshrined in our constitution and in international conventions to which we are signatories. One of the matters that has created major divisions is the issue of what appears to be attempts to make mandatory the taking of vaccines to combat the spread of the Covid virus. It is my view that the majority of people objecting to being vaccinated are not antivaxxers. Many to whom I have spoken are not opposed to taking the vaccines but are monitoring the situation and waiting. It is because of this that I have been constantly suggesting more dialogue and education but in an environment that will allow people to ask questions that have been nagging them.
What makes this period so worrying is that a variety of issues have brought different people together to protest what is happening.
The treatment of Cornelius John, the searching of homes of supposed organisers of protests, seizing their mobile phones and other digital devices, the reintroduction of the Public Order Act, have created an atmosphere where it is felt that democracy is under threat. More divisions are being created in the society. As I write, today Wednesday September 8, protests are planned for Thursday, and one cannot be sure how this will play itself out given the atmosphere that has developed. What exists at the moment are two opposing forces. Could the Christian Council play a pro-active role or is it prepared to wait until things get out of hand and make statements after the fact? What is the best way forward? For those depending on prayers, let us remember the words of the late Reverend Drexel Gomes, Anglican Bishop of the West Indies, “Prayers cannot solve the economic and social problems of the Caribbean.” What can?
● Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian