We should never for­get that devel­op­ment is a means to an end—the eman­ci­pa­tion of our­selves from the chains of ig­no­rance and su­per­sti­tion, poverty and penury, dis­ease and de­pen­dence. What we seek is a finer qual­ity of life for ev­ery­one; and this oc­ca­sion e

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

wip­ing out one an­other, at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity shame­lessly declar­ing them­selves mur­der­ers, thieves, rapists and child mo­lesters!

The war ca­su­al­ties had never mat­tered. Not in 1979 and most cer­tainly not now. Only win­ners-take-all ever did. The same car­ing cit­i­zens who had in­spired anti-In­de­pen­dence chaos in­clud­ing the near burning down of the is­land’s only pri­son in its ear­lier lo­ca­tion, and set off bombs in the night; who had not-so-sub­tly threat­ened the safety of the royal vis­i­tors and res­i­dents on the big oc­ca­sion, yes, th­ese same cos­tumed char­ac­ters could barely wait to shed their sec­ond­hand US Army fa­tigues in fa­vor of ex­pen­sive Sav­ile Row suits, the bet­ter to im­press Kurt Wald­heim (later to be de­clared a Nazi sym­pa­thizer!) at the UN cer­e­mony to mark Saint Lu­cia’s newly be­stowed in­de­pen­dent-na­tion sta­tus.

This was in­de­pen­dent Saint Lu­cia’s for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter (ear­lier leader of the is­land’s anti-In­de­pen­dence move­ment) ad­dress­ing for the first time the Gen­eral As­sem­bly of the United Na­tions: “My del­e­ga­tion wishes to ex­tend the sin­cer­est thanks of the peo­ple and gov­ern­ment of Saint Lu­cia to all those who were so in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing it pos­si­ble for Saint Lu­cia to take its seat within the por­tals of this au­gust body. We are aware of the obligations and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that are at­ten­dant on membership and are fully com­mit­ted to up­hold­ing the ideals of the United Na­tions and pledge to con­tin­u­ing to foster the spirit of good- neigh­bor­li­ness and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion in a peace­ful world for the bet­ter­ment of the peo­ples of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

Free at last! Free at last! Free to de­liver hol­low speeches be­fore con­de­scend­ing white au­di­ences; free to bor­row till the chick­ens came home to roost; free to pur­chase ex­pen­sive real es­tate in the world’s most ex­pen­sive cities; free to main­tain use­less armies of vul­tures at over­seas mis­sions be­yond our means; free to pre­tend we are what we know we are not and can never be; free to party non­stop, all of it paid for with bor­rowed money, the bor­row­ers obliv­i­ous of that in­evitable day of reckoning.

We were also free to come to­gether as never be­fore, free to unite our ef­forts at mak­ing some­thing of our newly in­de­pen­dent na­tion. We chose in­stead to ex­er­cise our free­dom to be drunk and dis­or­derly; to mis­lead the ma­neu­ver­able un­e­d­u­cated and de­prived and hun­gry; to per­mit ev­ery once revered in­sti­tu­tion to wither and die from the ef­fects of of­fi­cial de­nun­ci­a­tions. Not even church lead­ers were safe from our na­tion’s post-In­de­pen­dence lead­ers.

Re­cently I re­dis­cov­ered among my pa­pers a doc­u­ment in the form of an ex­er­cise book, con­ceiv­ably pub­lished in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 1971 equiv­a­lent of In­de­pen­dence Day—a gift from a gen­er­ous some­one long forgotten but now more than ever ap­pre­ci­ated. Its front page fea­tured against a green back­drop what to­day is an ama­teur­ish ren­der­ing of the pre-In­de­pen­dence flag of Saint Lu­cia, un­der the cap­i­tal­ized word: DEVEL­OP­MENT. At the bot­tom of the page, in deep red and also in caps, ST. LU­CIA! The in­tro­duc­tory mes­sage was by none other than the re­cently de­parted Hunter J. Fran­cois, Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion & Health in John Comp­ton’s UWP gov­ern­ment.

It be­gan this way: “Devel­op­ment Day! Mighty high­ways, mod­ern bridges, har­bour and air­port ex­pan­sion, huge luxury ho­tels, nu­mer­ous fac­to­ries, ris­ing trade, new hous­ing es­tates, in­creased agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion . . . are all im­me­di­ate images con­jured up by the term devel­op­ment. It may be timely to re­mind fel­low St. Lu­cians that the ul­ti­mate goal, and that which gives le­git­i­macy to the sac­ri­fices made in the in­ter­est of devel­op­ment, is hu­man wel­fare.

“It is the wel­fare of the peo­ple that gives mean­ing, pur­pose and point to th­ese. They are mere in­dices, the mea­sure of whose worth is to be found in hu­man hap­pi­ness and the ex­tent to which they help to al­le­vi­ate mis­ery and suf­fer­ing and to min­is­ter the ful­fill­ment of the as­pi­ra­tions of our peo­ple.

“If Devel­op­ment Day is a mark of our in­creas­ing ma­tu­rity and greater self-con­fi­dence, we should never for­get that devel­op­ment is a means to an end—the eman­ci­pa­tion of our­selves from the chains of ig­no­rance and su­per­sti­tion, poverty and penury, dis­ease and de­pen­dence. What we seek is a finer qual­ity of life for ev­ery­one; and this oc­ca­sion em­pha­sizes that the ground­work has been laid; that the op­por­tu­ni­ties are here, and he who fails to grasp them must not be heard to grum­ble.

“When the hus­tle and bus­tle, ex­cite­ment and hi­lar­ity of Devel­op­ment Day shall have long been forgotten, when the many booths de­pict­ing St. Lu­cian ef­forts in the field of agri­cul­ture, in­dus­try, ed­u­ca­tion and health have been de­mol­ished, one lit­tle gem will re­main to re­mind us of this mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion: this Devel­op­ment Day book­let . . . The ar­ti­cles that fol­low tell a tale, not only of eco­nomic growth, but also of a cul­ture rich in folk­lore, po­etry, mu­sic, paint­ing and drama, a ver­nac­u­lar with a wealth of id­iomatic forms and us­ages.

“To have pro­duced a Sessene to give new life to our folk­songs, a Wal­cott to give in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion to our po­etry, a Sim­mons and St. Omer to re­mind us of the beauty of na­ture and our home­land is an achieve­ment wor­thy of the He­len of the West Indies.”

Fel­low con­trib­u­tors to the Devel­op­ment Day book­let of 1971 in­cluded the leg­endary lo­cal (white, by the way!) his­to­rian B. H. Easter; news­pa­per edi­tor J. H. Pil­grim; mu­sic teacher and folk singer Joyce Au­guste; Jones Mon­de­sir; the Bishop of Cas­tries Charles Ga­chet; Archdea­con Harold Stead; the Rev. Er­rol C. Wilt­shire; Fa­ther Charles Jesse—who penned the lyrics to our na­tional an­them—and Dun­stan St. Omer who needs no in­tro­duc­tion. As for the is­land’s econ­omy in May 1971: “St. Lu­cia has ex­pe­ri­enced an av­er­age an­nual growth rate of 10 per­cent,” (yes! yes!) ac­cord­ing to the Devel­op­ment Day book­let of 1 May

1971.

Fast-for­ward to six­teen years later, to the 1987 bud­get pre­sented in the House by Prime Min­is­ter John Comp­ton. (The Labour Party had re­turned to its op­po­si­tion home 1982—a dis­gust­ing story of de­ceit and self-de­struc­tion and be­trayal of trust!) The is­land had reg­is­tered a growth of 6 per­cent, “the high­est since 1979 and one of the high­est in the en­tire CARICOM re­gion.”

There were also the storm clouds: Ob­served the prime min­is­ter with ob­vi­ous great con­cern: “Hon­or­able Mem­bers will note the al­ready high cost of ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues unchecked, and de­mands com­pletely un­re­lated to this coun­try’s abil­ity to pay con­tinue to be made. Since 1981 the cost of ad­min­is­ter­ing the public ser­vices has risen from $39 mil­lion to $97 mil­lion, an in­crease of $57.7 mil­lion, or 145 per­cent over a six-year pe­riod, this at time when all other coun­tries are re­duc­ing cost . . . Since 1979 the gov­ern­ments of both par­ties have been at­tempt­ing to buy industrial peace by bor­row­ing our­selves into bank­ruptcy, the con­se­quences of which we will suf­fer.”

He of­fered a break­down: monthly-paid em­ploy­ees: $3.5 mil­lion. Daily-paid em­ploy­ees: $3.486 mil­lion.

“Loans have to be re­paid,” said the prime min­is­ter. “We have now a sit­u­a­tion in which two of our CARICOM coun­tries are un­able to bor­row from the Caribbean Devel­op­ment Bank of which they are mem­bers. I am sure no Hon­or­able Mem­ber, in­deed no one in Saint Lu­cia, how­ever ill-dis­posed to­ward this gov­ern­ment, will wish this mis­for­tune upon our coun­try. But this can hap­pen un­less firm ac­tion is taken to re­strain public ex­pen­di­ture. The cost of ser­vic­ing the public debt has risen by $8 mil­lion in one year from $15 mil­lion in 1986/87 to $23 mil­lion in 1987/88.”

Say no more. I need not re­mind of the night­mar­ish in­sa­tiable fis­cal preda­tor that long ago broke away from Comp­ton’s chains to prey on the de­fense­less pop­u­lace. Al­ready we are only too familiar with the de­tails. So what does our prime min­is­ter tell us over the gen­er­ated ir­ra­tional ex­u­ber­ance at the heart of the re­cent In­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions? I warn you, dear sen­si­tive reader, hold your nose.

He be­gins with a long drawn-out ac­count of our blood­line: “Dutch, English, French, Ir­ish,” [which makes us all white to some de­gree] Yoruba, Fang” blah-blah-blah. “We are a fine blend of global her­itage and to­day we hold hands proudly as one peo­ple, one Saint Lu­cia. On this day, let us to­gether with one mighty voice shout Happy Birth­day Saint Lu­cia.”

For a while I got the feel­ing our prime min­is­ter was read­ing from a script writ­ten for Ezi Hall. “To­day Saint Lu­cians around the world, in ev­ery city, in ev­ery state, can join us and pro­claim with good rea­son: ‘I love the land that gave me birth, I love the land that gave my par­ents birth [not all of us, some of us had par­ents who came from Sus­sex to op­er­ate lo­cal plan­ta­tions!], I love each vil­lage . . .”

Yes, a silly con­de­scend­ing speech, more ap­pro­pri­ate to Eman­ci­pa­tion Day, that was about to take a vi­cious turn: “And so our sons can say it with song and our daugh­ters can cel­e­brate with dance and all of us can show it in our bright­est and most el­e­gant of na­tional colors, all can salute our flag and say Saint Lu­cia is truly love.”

On the other hand: “Some of us may wish to re­main stuck in the neg­a­tives; in the di­vi­sions. But we can­not and must not be a na­tion of de­spair and de­pres­sion, as a few would want us to be.” It would not do sim­ply to say, in the name of na­tional unity, that although we may have our dif­fer­ences we share a com­mon goal that we should all strive for. Oh, no. Not with gen­eral elec­tions in the air . . . at any rate, the sound of gen­eral elec­tions. Not with the na­tion over-run by “the eco­nomic class.”

Em­brac­ing the high­school lec­turer in his soul, the prime min­is­ter went on: “Man was built for walk­ing; built to jour­ney. We walked out of Africa and con­quered the world.” And all this time we’ve been telling our kids how their an­ces­tors were dragged in chains aboard slave ships to work like mules on massa’s plan­ta­tions, whether in Alabama or in River Doree or Den­nery.

He went on: “To­day is a spe­cial day and many of you have made the jour­ney here this af­ter­noon to cel­e­brate Saint Lu­cia and many more will flock to th­ese grounds to party.” Of course, some of us were in­ex­pli­ca­bly los­ing their young lives in the nearby ocean but with the party mood dom­i­nat­ing the at­mos­phere, who knew? Oth­ers in places with­out wa­ter, places with roads built only for walk­ing and for bikes—not fire trucks— were soon to lose their homes to mys­tery fires des­tined never to be re­solved.

But about such “de­spair and de­pres­sion” the prime min­is­ter knew noth­ing. So in re­la­tion to the drowned four-year-old the prime min­is­ter had noth­ing to say: Not a word, not a word, not a word! (By Wed­nes­day he had once again got­ten the hell out of Dodge, and left Sher­iff Emma in charge. Chances are he had no idea how many at Las­tic Hill had sud­denly been ren­dered home­less.)

He ad­dressed in­stead In­de­pen­dent Saint Lu­cia’s de­pen­dence on Bo­livia and Venezuela and Iran. “For those who have come to Vieux Fort along the East Coast Road,” he went on, “you would have crossed the newly com­pleted ALBA bridge built by the gen­eros­ity of the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment . . . We re­ceived 7,000 lap­tops for our chil­dren and it was a joy and an honor to wit­ness” the hand­ing of the hand­out to stu­dents at a Grand Riviere school.

Yes, a joy and an honor! But enough. Al­ready you must’ve com­pared our prime min­is­ter’s In­de­pen­dence Day ad­dress with that de­liv­ered by Hunter Fran­cois on the re­called Devel­op­ment Day. And doubt­less you’ve ar­rived at your own con­clu­sion about how far we’ve moved since 1971— for­ward or back­ward!

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