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February 21, 2014
Charmaine Bailey remembers day she lost her eye: election clash of 1994

February 21st, 1994 will forever be etched in the mind of Charmaine Bailey.{{more}}

20 years ago today, the Dauphine resident and former student of the Emmanuel High School Kingstown lost her left eye as a result of the 1994 election violence, which also claimed the life of Elizabeth Keane. Bailey sat down with us in a very candid conversation and took us back some 20 years. Instead of what was supposed to be a day of usual Sunday morning worship at the Faith Word Ministries, she decided to attend an election motorcade with her mom Joan Foster Bailey.

The ever smiling Charmaine remembered the carnival like atmosphere at the Peace Memorial Hall where supporters of the New Democratic Party (NDP), which was led by former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, assembled before heading to a rally to take place at the Georgetown playing field. As she hopped onto a truck which was sponsored by P.H. Veira, she said one couldn’t have asked for a better day, as party supporters had a grand time.

“It was some time after 5 p.m; we were making our way back from Georgetown; the truck that I was on was stopped outside the Calliaqua Police Station, with my “nestum pan” making sweet music. I remember a police officer telling me “u love politics, eh”.

Bailey vividly remembers police officer Noel Thomas frantically running out of the station pointing North and asking supporters to leave.

“Our truck left, but not too long after this, imminent danger started raising its ugly head. We got to the college gap outside the Aquatic Club area, where a commotion was taking place between party supporters of the Mitchell-led NDP and the then St Vincent Labour Party, now ULP, which was led by Sir Vincent Beache. This is where Elizabeth Keane met her untimely death after she was struck.

“After seeing this, I remember mommy saying to the driver “leave me here” at the roundabout, but the truck driver insisted that we be taken back to Peace Memorial Hall.

“Violence once again presented itself, this time within the vicinity of the Public Works area.”

She recalled stones being thrown at them by persons she believed were SVLP supporters.

“Mommy once again asked for us to get off here, but the driver said it was too dangerous.

“The turn for the worst took place just as we approached Casson Hill. There we met a St Vincent Labour Party truck waiting.

“I remember being struck by what I thought was a stone, but was later told that it was a bottle.”

With the tears trickling down her face, Charmaine remembered that it felt as though her chest was about to explode. “My last words before losing consciousness were ‘oh gard, I don’t wanna die’.”

The lover of politics stated that “it was hours after I woke up and realized that I was in the hospital, only to be told the severity of being struck.

“Not only was my eye damaged, I also had a broken nose and face. Surgery and election were held on the same day – February 22nd.

“I woke up in the presence of my parents and Sir James and signalled to them that I want to vote, with Mitchell telling me

no, not in that condition. “Though I couldn’t speak, I wrote on a piece of paper ‘if I don’t vote I will die’.”

With a chuckle, she observed “that’s how hard I took my politics”.

“Arrangements were then made for me to go and vote.

“It was on the next day I found out that we (NDP) had won the election again.

The NDP won 12 seats, down from 15; and the election alliance of the SVLP and the Movement for National Unity (MNU), which had contested nine and six seats respectively, won three. The

two parties formalized the arrangement after the elections and created the Unity Labour Party (ULP).

“In trying to celebrate from my hospital bed my damaged eye started to bleed profusely.

“In an attempt to save my eye I was taken to Barbados for another surgery. Then to Trinidad for a follow up surgery. It was while in Trindad I was told that I will no longer see from the eye.”

In describing the feeling on hearing this, she used one word – “despondent”.

Charmaine said at this time she really wanted to die. She recalled “weeks turned into months’’ without her speaking to anyone, including her family. Anger, she noted, was her strongest defense.

“Looking back, I owe utmost respect to Dr Kenneth Onu, for his constant care and support.”

Asked at what stage she accepted the fact she had one eye, she noted that it wasn’t until 2000, while pregnant with her soon to be 13-year-old son, she admitted to carrying 10 years of anger and 20 years of pain.

“I am now at a stage where I have forgiven the perpetrator/s.”

Her son Abbay, when asked how he feels about his mom, smiled and said “my mom is very angelic. My love for her is unconditional, but if I were to meet the person/s who did this I will ask one question. Why?”

Charmaine is of the opinion that politics in SVG is at its worst and would like to see the day when Vincentians can get back to a semblance of normalcy after the election results. Charmaine Bailey has been living in New York for almost 17 years and has returned to SVG twice.