Pi­geon Is­land and the Na­ture of Saint Lu­cian Democ­racy

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

“I dis­ap­prove of what you say but I will de­fend to the death your right to say it.” Beatrice Hall

The ru­ins on Pi­geon Is­land speak of an era when em­pires shaped the world and coun­tries knelt at the feet of mon­archs. They re­mind us of “times when na­tions bat­tled”, of blood spilled over the own­er­ship of land, of mil­lions of souls dis­pos­sessed and ren­dered chat­tel, and of revo­lu­tions that were the black race’s gate­way into the mod­ern world. In the mid-1970s Pi­geon Is­land rose to the fore­front of na­tional con­scious­ness. Dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the cause­way, wealthy de­vel­op­ers lusted over the is­land and sought to pri­va­tize its use. Our lead­ers at the time, most no­tably John Comp­ton, Ju­lian Hunte and Robert De­vaux, were in­spired to take ac­tion. The coun­try came to­gether - red, yel­low, black, white - and made one of our ear­li­est demo­cratic de­ci­sions as a na­tion: to form the Na­tional Trust as the pro­tec­tor of Pi­geon Is­land and our pat­ri­mony.

Pi­geon Is­land is far more than a tourist at­trac­tion or a recre­ational park. It is a sym­bol of Saint Lu­cian democ­racy. What is democ­racy? The open­ing quote by Beatrice Hall says it all. No man has om­nipo­tent power to de­sign a coun­try in their im­age with­out the checks and bal­ances of op­pos­ing voices.

Now we have come full cir­cle in our his­tory, where Pi­geon Is­land is once again seen as a po­ten­tial site for tourism de­vel­op­ment. And once again our democ­racy is put to the test. The Na­tional Trust is at the fore­front of that is­sue. At the op­po­site end of the spec­trum ap­pears to be our Prime Minister who, by his ad­mis­sion, in­vited Dol­phin Dis­cov­ery to our na­tional land­mark and who, seem­ingly in re­tal­i­a­tion against the Trust for its op­po­si­tion to his plans, at­tempts to fi­nan­cially crip­ple the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The Prime Minister’s ap­par­ent at­tack on the Na­tional Trust is not an at­tack on con­ser­va­tion­ists. Nor is it an at­tack on the cur­rent lead­er­ship of the Na­tional Trust. It is an at­tack on all Saint Lu­cians who love our pat­ri­mony. It is an at­tack on the very foun­da­tion of our demo­cratic so­ci­ety and it threat­ens to un­ravel an in­sti­tu­tion of democ­racy that has ex­isted for the past 42 years. It is a bla­tant, bold and trans­par­ent act of vic­tim­iza­tion and despo­tism.

Are we to be­lieve that re­duc­ing govern­ment fund­ing to the Na­tional Trust from $700,000 to zero is a cost­cut­ting mea­sure? If such dras­tic steps are in or­der, cer­tainly we should ex­pect to see sim­i­lar 100% cuts to costly for­eign con­sulates and to min­is­ters' travelling and liv­ing ex­penses. What about cuts to salaries and con­sul­tants or is it just the Na­tional Trust that is cost­ing the coun­try money? We all know the coun­try needs to cut costs but the govern­ment also has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect ar­eas of eco­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance. The value of these ar­eas can­not be mea­sured in any phys­i­cal cur­rency.

The use of Pi­geon Is­land re­mains a very pow­er­ful trig­ger point for Saint Lu­cians. Just as this is­sue led to the cre­ation of the Na­tional Trust in the 1970s, to­day it will lead to a strength­en­ing of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Trust meet­ings have been packed and there has ap­par­ently been an in­crease in mem­ber­ship. Peo­ple from all walks of life, who would not nor­mally speak out on is­sues that may be painted as “po­lit­i­cal”, are stand­ing up to say they have had sleep­less nights over the govern­ment’s plans. Artists, busi­ness­peo­ple, jour­nal­ists, the av­er­age man and even mem­bers of the clergy have been in­spired to con­trib­ute their voices to this is­sue. The govern­ment may re­voke the Na­tional Trust’s fund­ing but the peo­ple of Saint Lu­cia will not be si­lenced. I be­lieve the govern­ment will find that in try­ing to si­lence the Trust, it has cre­ated a mon­ster. - An­dray Vol­ney

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