R. Rose
January 31, 2014

Maturity in the face of national crisis

The 1979 eruption of the La Soufriere volcano, like the floods of one month ago, caught us all by surprise.Coincidentally, that eruption also took place amidst a holy Christian festival, the Good Friday-Easter weekend. The more reflective or superstitious among us may wish to dwell on this.{{more}}

As indicated in the first part of this column, on Tuesday of this week, it met a country very much divided, on the independence issue. In fact, independence was to be achieved a mere six months after, and, the general elections just two months following the independence celebrations. It was therefore a divided nation that had to come to grips with the severe dislocation and destruction caused by the volcano.

Not all were able to meet the crisis with fortitude or to display the political maturity which such a challenge demanded. Even the Government of the day and its Central Emergency Relief Committee (CERC), packed with supporters of the governing Labour party, were not quite up to the task. The then Premier Cato appeared rattled in his radio addresses and was the butt of unkind jokes by members of the public.

It was not an easy task to steer the ship of state in such troubled waters and in retrospect many of his critics did not quite appreciate the gravity of the challenge before the country. This situation lent itself to a high degree of political opportunism by some in the Opposition, causing Premier Cato in one of his public addresses to condemn “…..politically inspired people who were going from camp (for those evacuated from the affected areas) to camp spreading malicious rumours.”

This was certainly true of one political party, caught red-handed at one of the camps in Carapan, telling evacuees that the Government had gotten “plenty money” from abroad and could therefore afford to give them “a raise”. To his credit, Sir James Mitchell, then in Opposition, graciously donated his salary to the relief effort.

But by far the best example of patriotism was demonstrated by the non-parliamentary political organisation, YULIMO, later to become the fulcrum of the United People’s Movement (UPM). Immediately after the first eruption, YULIMO summoned an emergency meeting of its leadership on Good Friday, (held at my humble residence at Lowmans Ld) to discuss the crisis and our response to it. The conclusions of this meeting could serve as a guide to those currently in political opposition.

In spite of YULIMO’s characterisation of the Cato government as “dictatorial” and undemocratic, the leadership of YULIMO had the maturity to see that the volcanic eruption had created a “national crisis” which demanded “national unity”. We pledged our full support for the national effort. Even when the Government stubbornly refused to heed our pleas for the inclusion of all political and social forces in the relief effort, we did not go our own way, did not sink to mobilizing resources for our own distribution but put them at the service of the central organization.

Three examples of these were our soliciting of assistance from the local government body of the capital city of Guadeloupe, Pointe à Pitre, then controlled by the Communist Party. Yulimo’s urgent request for assistance was met by the sending of a plane load of supplies from Guadeloupe, not for us to distribute, but towards the CERC, NEMO’s forerunner. YULIMO also succeeded in getting the Government of Cuba, reviled as communist by the Labour administration, to send a shipload of 20 tons of milk to our country, again to the Government. Thirdly, one of YULIMO’s leaders, Mike Browne, went on a fund-raising tour to the UK where he and Mr Parnel Campbell, a future top executive of the UPM, put in herculean efforts soliciting support for the relief effort.

These were done in spite of our continuing strong criticism of the manner in which the relief distribution was handled, in spite of clear evidence of corruption and waste , in spite of the Government being churlish to the Guadeloupean donors, and initially refusing the Cuban assistance, and in spite of their libellous allegations against Mike Browne.

In 1979, we as young revolutionaries could put country before all else. Why can’t the same obtain in 2014?