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The march to Independence

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The politricks of Independence

One of the saddest features of our quarter century as an independent nation is the entrenchment of political division in our society. Political partisanship is one of the legacies of British Westminster-style “democracy” and the sixties and early seventies were characterized by political rivalry between Joshua’s PPP and Cato’s Labour Party. {{more}}The historic 6-6 election tie of 1972 best demonstrates how equally divided the country was at the time, but the wheeling and dealing which saw Mitchell ascend to the political leadership of the country and then Joshua’s 1974 capitulation to Cato, brought about a realignment of the political forces.

By 1979, not only was the PPP a spent force and Joshua an historical object, but James Mitchell’s NDP had not yet been firmly entrenched to the point where one could describe the political situation as a two-party contest. Into the breach stepped those political forces associated with anti-colonial, black consciousness, and socialist policies, forces which were to coalesce as the United People’s Movement (UPM) in 1979. For the first time since adult suffrage, one could talk of a genuine “pluralist democracy,” at least where party politics was concerned.

This then was the political backdrop to Independence in October 1979. I have already traced the conflict over the constitutional process and the virtual exclusion of the views of civil society. Interestingly, the Labour Government of the time had opted for the ridiculous date of January 22 for the achievement of independence. The date of our false “discovery” by Europeans was the one originally chosen for the rebirth of the nation. Fortunately that same conflict over the process of the march to independence made the January 22 date irrelevant and thus saved our country eternal shame.

Another significant factor of influence in 1979 was the eruption of the LaSoufriere volcano, throwing the entire country into a state of emergency. With agriculture (then the backbone of the economy) almost totally destroyed, thousands in emergency shelters, the debate and arguments over independence at times seemed to be incongruous. However, in addition to the quest for independent status, the date for new general elections was drawing nigh. The people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines faced a complicated situation which, in more ways than one, demanded national cohesion and a unity of purpose.

Instead, what we got was an opportunistic approach to take advantage of the situation. The volcanic eruption evoked international response in the form of aid-supplies of food, building materials etc. Those in power saw this as political largesse to be used to increase their leverage in society and to boost their flagging influence. The success in getting the British Government to agree on a pre-election date for independence, in spite of the strident opposition of Joshua and Mitchell, provided the ideal connecting point between misuse of emergency aid, abuse of the opportunities offered by political independence and the election campaign.

What emerged was perhaps the most inglorious period of our political history. Rather than national mobilization for independence, we had partisan preparation for elections, in place of national unity on an independence platform we had serious political division, instead of fostering patriotism and a sense of nationhood, we ended up with vitriolic campaigning, election violence, a Union Island uprising, a state of emergency and the rape of the Constitution. Thus was our nation born.

Today, we are reaping what we had sown 25 years ago. Never has our country been so bitterly divided, never a greater sense of drift, a refusal to bridge the perceived political divide, an atmosphere in which one is seen not as a fellow Vincentian but as an “NDP” or “ULP” to be ostracized, ridiculed and pulled down. That, in today’s world, just cannot be a platform for our own advancement.

Next Week: Building a Nation