Pierre: Op­po­si­tion just get­ting started!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kayra Wil­liams

It had been in the mak­ing for weeks, months even. And on Wed­nes­day, traf­fic in the city came al­most to a stand­still as plac­ard-car­ry­ing pro­test­ers took over the busiest streets. Ear­lier they had gath­ered at the Vigie play­ing field with heav­ily armed po­lice of­fi­cers on hand. As I made my way to the field I en­coun­tered a woman who told me that she was headed for home. She was all for a good protest, she said, but po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated ral­lies and guns were not quite her thing.

I wan­dered past plac­ards that screamed 'Saint Lu­cia Not For Sale'. I bumped into peo­ple who com­plained that the demon­stra­tion route had not yet been closed to ve­hic­u­lar ac­tiv­ity. If it had been a UWP rally, some­one else as­sured me, “the roads would have been closed from morn­ing".

I asked an­other woman who was stand­ing near a pile of plac­ards why she had de­cided to par­tic­i­pate in the day's protest. Her re­sponse was not im­me­di­ate. First she con­sulted with her companion. Then she said she was demon­strat­ing against “DSH, ed­u­ca­tion, lap­tops, bur­saries for stu­dents, and the in­crease in fuel prices". Be­fore I had a chance to prod fur­ther, the skies erupted and peo­ple scram­bled for cover from the rain. I grabbed my um­brella and made my way onto the Vigie field where scores of red-shirted in­di­vid­u­als were gath­ered around a truck loaded with speak­ers, ob­vi­ously wait­ing for the march co­or­di­na­tors to give the green light.

Mean­while gospel mu­sic and a song about Saint Lu­cian pa­tri­o­tism ran on a loop. The rain had stopped by then, and the thick crowd, plac­ards held aloft, started to dance. The at­mos­phere re­minded of the re­cently past silly sea­son, car­ni­val and a holy cru­sade. I scanned the crowd for the SLP hon­chos. Shawn Ed­ward, Harold Dal­son, Ernest Hi­laire . . . but I spied no sign of Kenny An­thony, un­til last June leader of the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party. The hype girl armed with her mi­cro­phone an­nounced it was time to start march­ing. But be­fore set­ting out many of the demon­stra­tors held hands in sol­i­dar­ity and prayed. With mu­sic drown­ing all other street sounds the crowd started march­ing down John Comp­ton High­way, in the direction of Cas­tries. If the aim of the or­ga­niz­ers was solely to at­tract large num­bers, they cer­tainly achieved their goal.

“We stand as Saint Lu­cians and get easy to re­claim,” a voice bel­lowed from the loud­speak­ers. “We stand up as a pa­tri­otic peo­ple! We stand up against bad gov­er­nance. This is not about party. This is about the peo­ple of Saint Lu­cia. Let us not al­low colours to di­vide us.”

I picked up whiffs of con­ver­sa­tions: “But is it re­ally a protest if it's led by the op­po­si­tion?” one man asked, seem­ingly ques­tion­ing him­self. “I thought elec­tions was over,” said an­other.

“We are march­ing for Maria Is­lands,” trum­peted Speaker Girl. “We are march­ing for fish­eries. We are march­ing for the govern­ment print­ery. We are march­ing for the post of­fice, for NICE, for the rene­go­ti­a­tion of DSH. We want a new deal!”

As the crowd wormed its way past the wa­ter­front govern­ment of­fices the names most of­ten ref­er­enced were Guy Joseph and Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet. As a Bob Mar­ley track blared, the hype squad on the truck cre­ated their own remix: “No Chas­tanet no cry, No Guy no cry!”

The crowd seemed to grower thicker the closer it got to the city cen­tre, with Speaker Girl invit­ing ob­servers to “join us and stand up for Saint Lu­cia". A few heeded her call. Oth­ers stood trans­fixed on the side­lines, or poked their heads out of govern­ment build­ing of­fice win­dows to take in the late af­ter­noon spec­ta­cle.

At the Cas­tries mar­ket the for­mer UWP govern­ment min­is­ter turned show host Richard Fred­er­ick emerged from the crowd and grabbed a mi­cro­phone: “To­day is a Saint Lu­cia day,” he yelled, “and if we don't do it to­day, who is go­ing to do it for our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren? We need to stand up, we need to fight, and we need to en­sure that Saint Lu­cia is re­served for the gen­er­a­tions to come. Saint Lu­cia is not for sale!”

His ap­pear­ance, ev­i­dently un­planned, was greeted with loud cheers. But as quickly as he had ap­peared, so he dis­ap­peared from view. The truck came to a stand­still.

Mean­while Speaker Girl di­rected the pro­test­ers to get be­hind the “lead­er­ship of the party". Con­ceiv­ably she meant the only party openly rep­re­sented: the Saint Lu­cia Labour Party. “We have a struc­ture,” she re­minded the huge gath­er­ing, to no avail.

At the next stop, just past the Cen­tral Li­brary, So­riah Joseph picked up the mic. “We are here with a pur­pose,” she said. “If we did not have a pur­pose, we would not have been here. I am here be­cause I look at this as a per­sonal is­sue for me, and also a na­tional is­sue. Our coun­try is not re­ally for sale. Our coun­try is be­ing given away for free. When you sell, you make a profit, you break even, or you make a loss. We are mak­ing noth­ing. I am here to stand on be­half of my chil­dren; I am pass­ing on this earth, and I will be leav­ing shortly, but they are there to carry on the man­tle.”

The crowd was sur­pris­ingly si­lent as she spoke: “I want ev­ery­one here to take a mo­ment. it's good we are all hyped up about what is hap­pen­ing, but be­ing hyped up and not know­ing what ex­actly is the DSH deal, you're fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle. That is the only way peo­ple will join us. You need to have the facts and in­for­ma­tion for your­selves.

“Em­power your­selves with the in­for­ma­tion,” she went on. “Your pass­port should not be for sale. Your coun­try should not be for sale. We should not have to pay back any de­vel­oper money if he feels he does not want to stay in our coun­try Saint Lu­cia. We are look­ing for ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency.”

With that she urged: “Each one reach one, each one tell one.”

She ac­cused the govern­ment of not be­ing trans­par­ent: “If what is on the in­ter­net is in­cor­rect, why hasn't the prime min­is­ter given us the right agree­ment for us to know what is in it?”

When I had the op­por­tu­nity to talk with party leader Philip J. Pierre about the Labour Party's post-protest plans he stated: “Well, I don't think you can say that our protest is over. This is the first stage of our protest. I want to make it clear that the Labour Party does not want to cre­ate any dis­tur­bance of the pub­lic in Saint Lu­cia. All the Labour Party is say­ing is that the govern­ment was elected by the peo­ple, and the govern­ment must lis­ten to the peo­ple. What we're also say­ing is the govern­ment can­not take 900 acres of land, and give it to one man, some of it at $1 an acre, and refuse to dis­cuss with the peo­ple how their land is go­ing to be used, how it's go­ing to be uti­lized, and what is hap­pen­ing to them.”

Pierre re­it­er­ated that the op­po­si­tion's view was that the govern­ment should make the DSH agree­ment a doc­u­ment of the House.

“Let the peo­ple's rep­re­sen­ta­tives dis­cuss what the prime min­is­ter says is the au­then­tic agree­ment. Let us come to a con­clu­sion of what's good, and what's bad. We are not against the de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try, we are not against in­vest­ment.”

He ref­er­enced the re­cently inked Range agree­ment, ne­go­ti­ated by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion. “At the time the prime min­is­ter said we did it in haste. All we're say­ing is, 'lis­ten to the peo­ple, stop vic­tim­iz­ing peo­ple.' We're say­ing to the govern­ment, to the prime min­is­ter, he must dis­con­nect him­self from state­ments like ‘You just start to cry,' and stop the vic­tim­iza­tion. Let us work to­gether to de­velop the coun­try.”

On Thurs­day evening the prime min­is­ter made a guest ap­pear­ance on Rick Wayne's

on DBS. No sur­prise that the host fished a com­ment on what he called the du­el­ing marches.

Chas­tanet's re­sponse: “They were to­tally dif­fer­ent. Theirs was a protest meet­ing for which they had been pre­par­ing for weeks, maybe months. Ours was a meet­ing, mainly for peo­ple in the south, which is where the DSH project will be lo­cated. We did not bus any­one in for the march. In fact, the march was the idea of our sup­port­ers, not ours. If you no­tice, other than Stephen­son King and Guy Joseph, the speak­ers were res­i­dents from the south. It gave us an op­por­tu­nity to hear the dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and to ex­plain to the peo­ple of the south the agenda of this govern­ment. We knew we were go­ing to be sign­ing the Black Bay deal, so on the heels of my bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion, it seemed a good time to go down to Vieux Fort, Kenny An­thony's con­stituency, and feel the peo­ple's pulse. Our meet­ing in Vieux Fort was a cel­e­bra­tory meet­ing, not a protest march against what only they know.”

The prime min­is­ter promised that his govern­ment would un­der­take a se­ries of town hall meet­ings “once the DSH agree­ment has been fi­nal­ized".

Wed­nes­day’s protest led demon­stra­tors around the city of Cas­tries and back to the mar­ket steps for a Labour Party meet­ing.

Pro­test­ers came out to show their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with a num­ber of govern­ment de­ci­sions.

Left to right: Moses Jn Bap­tiste, Ernest Hi­larie and Op­po­si­tion leader Philip J Pierre at the head of the march with other party rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

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