The Caribbean today faces major threats to its quest for development- in the economic, political, social, cultural and environmental fields to name the major ones.
Our St. Vincent and the Grenadines for instance is still battling the COVID -19 pandemic which after two years, has significantly worsened and deepened the economic challenges confronting us. That came hot on the heels of the dengue fever threat which is still with us, and to compound there was the eruption of La Soufriere volcano followed by negative effects of a tropical storm especially felt in the volcano-affected regions.
All these alone waould have been enough to significantly diminish the enjoyment of any person about to celebrate his/her 75th birthday. When that person happens to be the head of the government, in the context mentioned above, and that birth date is but two days away, when that head has to prepare to go to Parliament to reshape legislation so as to try and ensure the safety of the more than 100,000 persons in his care and safeguard and kickstart a damaged economy, all in the face of increasingly hostile and misled demonstrators, then the best wishes could only be for a robust engagement in Parliament, smooth passage of legislation, and a weekend with enough time with wife and family.
Unfortunately Prime Minister Gonsalves did not get even the minimum benefit of such a scenario. How could we wish him belated birthday greetings in the face of the DAY OF SHAME visited upon our country at the instigation of increasingly desperate women and men? Still, let me offer my belated wishes for a speedy recovery for the P.M. after what can only be deemed a possible attack on his life and another in a series of what can be interpreted in some quarters as a series of planned insurrectionist events, perhaps inspired by the demented supporters of the defeated former President of the USA. If my conclusions may appear extreme to some, I have made it on the basis of our country’s history and my own, not inconsiderable involvement in political struggle and protest dating back to 1972.
During that time we had the protests against the sister of the British monarch, Princess Margaret, when she visited here a half of a century ago. While police engaged in rough tactics against demonstrators, who were referred to by one politician as being from “the lunatic fringe”, no so-called “lunatic’ threatened life or person of the royal entourage and their frightened local hosts.
We had the tied election one month later and in spite of the usual tribal political skirmishes, the worst that emerged was the political uncertainty of the next two and a half years. For the last quarter of the 20th century, I found myself in the frontline of countless demonstrations, political and social protests on a range of issues, not confined to the thrust for political hegemony by any party. Not once was the life or limb of any politician threatened, nor did the organisers actively encourage such threatening political behaviour.
Unfortunately this seemed to escape the attention of the politically desperate and the Bad-Johns and Bad-Jeans who seemed obsessed by what they repeatedly refer to, (in admiring terms?) as the “Roadblock Revolution”. Hence their apparent commitment to use unconventional and now even violent tactics to bulldoze their way to power. It has not yet dawned on them that though the protest movement of 1999/2000 eventually forced then Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell to cut short his term of office, no “Roadblock Revolution” could guarantee political victory by the ULP. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves led his party to victory because the people voted for them in 2001 and in each successive election since. Sir James himself has repeatedly warned his erstwhile colleagues to understand this, to stop poking at windmills and to engage in serious preparation to win and maintain political power. Sadly, instead we had the shameful debacle of August 5 outside Parliament. Our Prime Minister was nearly killed but the Opposition never offered condemnation in Parliament until challenged by the Government bench, and one Parliamentarian even referred to the attempt at political assassination as being a “sideshow” when calling for the resumption of debate in Parliament.
It is the same Opposition which wished Parliament to divert from its agreed agenda to discuss what has become known as the “Ashelle Morgan affair”. Reprehensible as any attack on a sitting Prime Minister may be, the comments of leading activists in the NDP protest movement is even worse, and the failure of the Opposition to not only disassociate itself in word but in practice from such behaviour represents a frightening escalation of a most unnecessary political conflict in our country. Where are we heading, to open physical confrontation and violence? Who will win, since it is SVG as a whole and its people in particular who will be losers?
The call for protest has been flitting about like a germ looking for a host while SVG needs a coming together of national will to solve its myriad problems. Opportunists of all types and self-seekers are hitching on to the bandwagon taking our country nearer and nearer to civil conflict. We are encouraging not only a disregard for law and order, the Police confirming that notification of protests and demonstration is not even given, but gross disrespect for opinions not of our liking. The tension can be felt in the atmosphere and it is to the credit of the political leadership of the country that we have had restraint so far.
We are tethering on dangerous grounds. Let us recall the immortal words of one of our leading exponents of social commentary in calypso, De Man Age, “We got a country to build”, and not go down the road of irresponsibility, conflict and insurrectionism. I will have more to say on this.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.