Did Government Make Illegal Payments To Victims of Morne Panache Police Shooting?
At last week’s House sitting the Dennery North MP Shawn Edward dismissed his colleague from Southeast Castries, Guy Joseph, as history obsessed. Earlier the last mentioned had referenced Rochamel, Frenwell, Juffali, Grynberg and other unresolved branded scandals that by Edward’s measure were dead stories undeserving of resurrection. Conceivably he also considered forgettable George Santayana’s Reason In
Common Sense, first published in 1905, with its warning about those who choose not to recall the past. Then again, among Guy Joseph’s remembrances of things past was a so-called “minister’s account” created in 2009 that he suggested Shawn Edwards may have abused in his own time as minister with responsibility for sports—a blast from the past that the Dennery North MP clearly did not consider “passé."
To judge by his fulminations and atypical temper flare-ups during the House meeting on Tuesday and later that day from the steps of the Castries market, not forgetting his related follow-up press releases and his personally endorsed televised advertisements for his unimpeachable reputation— (his latest announcement to the cowered media includes a threat of possible legal action)—Edward left no doubt that he too can be as obsessed as the Southeast Castries MP with digging up skeletons; it all depended on who stood to profit from the particular exhumation. More than once the House cameras captured him furiously consulting brow to brow with the MP seated nearest him: the once upon a time school principal, former prime minister and party leader Kenny Anthony.
On Sunday afternoon Tuesday’s exchanges by Guy Joseph and Shawn Edward— the House Speaker’s at times discombobulating interventions too—came to mind as I revisited STAR stories from our nation’s past, where the seeds of today’s most inconvenient truths were sowed. Headline after headline made me smile, made me sit up in mindblowing amazement, or slap my forehead almost in disbelief of what I know only too well is indisputable truth! Once or twice I took my eyes off a page, the better to concentrate on mental images from years gone by. And then I came upon a story written by Christine Larbey, entitled: Compensation for Randy and Julius Joseph! Accompanying the full-page article was a picture of Shawn Edward’s all but forgotten, always dapper, predecessor Tony Torrence, at the time Larbey wrote her story, MP for Dennery North!
Larbey’s report opens at the point siblings Andrea and Matthew Joseph, accompanied by Patrick Joseph (secretary of the legendary, long defunct, Banana Salvation Committee), on a Monday morning in April 2001 are ushered into the boardroom of the law firm Larcher, Oswald, Wilkinson & Associates. On the afternoon of October 14, 1993, Andrea and Matthew’s brother Julius and another young man named Randy Joseph were shot dead by riot police at Denier Riviere. The two young unrelated farmhands, both 21, were among a group of protesters 60 of whom were also shot but survived.
Throughout the day they had blocked the road at the foot of Morne Panache with their bodies, rocks and tree branches, effectively bringing to a standstill all vehicular traffic en route to Castries, including trucks on their way to deliver bananas to a waiting Geest boat. Finally, a contingent from the Special Services Unit that had been keeping tabs on the protesters from a nearby police station entered the picture, some on foot, some aboard a slow-moving SSU truck, all of them attired in riot gear and armed to the teeth with American-made artillery. (Those were the glory days before the Leahy Law sanctions!)
According to police testimony at an inquest several months after the shooting, as they approached the congregation at Morne Panache the police had found themselves open targets for stone throwers. One officer was struck in the head after his plastic shield was shattered by a missile fired from several yards away. It was shortly afterward that the officer in charge of the unit telephoned headquarters for instructions. That officer testified at the inquest that based only on his assessment of the situation he had received long-distance permission to retaliate with weapons of war. Julius and Randy Joseph were the first casualties; they died where they fell. Others were hit as they ran for cover at a nearby grocery store or as they tried to run further up the Morne Panache road. Some 60 men, women and kids barely sixteen years old suffered serious bullet wounds. A few showed up at the inquest with detailed recollections that were not at all in harmony with testimony given by the police.
Pat Joseph’s Banana Salvation Committee was generally considered the militant arm of the St. Lucia Labour Party, then led by Julian Hunte. He it was who had hired lawyers Clarence Rambally and Evans Caldron to represent the interests of the deceased as well as the half dozen or so farmhands who had bothered to show up at the inquest despite that they were convinced it would end as other inquests involving the police had always ended. Indeed few showed up to hear the magistrate issue his verdict of death by misadventure in relation to Julius and Randy Joseph; that the police believed their own lives were on the line when they opened fire with M16s and other automatic weapons on an unarmed crowd that might easily have been dispersed by a round or two of tear gas!
Less than two hours after the Morne Panache shooting an angry Prime Minister John Compton had told TV reporters “the police acted in self defense . . . the shooting was completely justified.” For his part, the Labour Party leader equated the police action with the 1984 massacre of demonstrators by Grenada’s Revolutionary Guard. “Saint Lucian blood has been spilt,” an angry Julian Hunte told reporters, “and every drop must be accounted for.” He described the prime minister’s reaction as “absolutely irresponsible.”
To return to that April morning in 2001 a few months before that year’s general elections: After the sister and brother of Julius Joseph, Pat Joseph and lawyer Wilkie Larcher had taken their seats in the law firm’s boardroom, Tony Torrence, the parliamentary secretary attached to the agriculture ministry, addressed the gathering.
Reading from his script, Torrence said: “The government of Saint Lucia is happy to bring an end to a sad chapter in the island’s recent history. What we are doing here today will bring a measure of correction to a grave historical wrong. The families and fellow workers who faced the bullets that fateful day have been calling for some form of compensation. No positive response came until October 4, 2000 when the Cabinet considered a memorandum submitted by the attorney general’s chambers that agreed in principle to the
establishment of a compensation fund for the benefit of persons, or their estates, in cases of permanent disability or death. Compensation should be considered only if the death or permanent disability occurred in the course of exercising their constitutional freedoms of expression, assembly or association, provided that such persons were not involved in criminal activity.” (Writer’s emphasis.)
Wilkie Larcher in his turn explained that “the very handsome and considerate contribution was from the government. $80,000 would go to the family of Julius Joseph and $56,000 to Randy Joseph’s.” He added that a special formula had been used, based on the age of the deceased and whether they had children. “It was not a figure that came out of the air,” Larcher assured his audience. “It came with a precedent agreed to by the court.”
The idea was not to go to court, he added confusingly. “Rather the idea was to arrive at a decision. There was no need to go to court; the government was receptive.” When the STAR’s Christine Larbey asked about the several other individuals also shot in 1993, the lawyer and wellknown Labour Party stalwart said compensation was considered for only Julius and Randy Joseph. He added that he had “no brief or instructions to pursue any demands on behalf of anyone else.”
Pat Joseph offered a word of warning: “Regardless of how much is paid out, that will not bring back the dead. The killers of Julius and Randy are still at large and they will kill again. Saint Lucians need to be assured that when police officers kill citizens they will be brought to justice.”
He considered the inquest as “fake as a three-dollar bill.” He had expected the Labour Party to reopen the inquest, as promised during its 1997 campaign, but was told after the party took office that “what was promised before the elections could not be done after all.”
Matthew Joseph said: “There has been a lot of frustration and yes, it has been a long time since my brother was killed. We are a poor family. We appreciate very much the money given us. But we were expecting more.” His sister Andrea had the final word: “This has brought back all the pain we felt when Julius was killed. All the memories have come flooding back. I miss Julius so much.”
Randy’s father, Thompson Joseph, was not present at the check presentation. He collected his son’s award of $56,000 later in the day!
Christine Larbey’s story brought back to me details of the months following the Morne Panache incident: the chaos that had accompanied the burial of Julius and Randy Joseph; the hollow promises from Labour Party election candidates; the betrayal of Saint Lucia’s banana farmers by those for whom some had died. The article also brought to mind Julian Hunte’s resignation as leader of his party and the rise and fall of his replacement Kenny Anthony; the rise and fall of Pat Joseph too, as well as others for whom the farmers were mere tickets to ride.
And yes, I marvel even now at how little has changed since October 14, 1993. I think about IMPACS, its association with the 2010 police killing of “citizens deemed to be criminals,” according to Prime Minister Kenny Anthony. A troublesome matter still unresolved. Pat Joseph’s somewhat dramatic statement at the government’s check presentation in 2001 had proved prophetic after all. Before I moved to another bound volume of the STAR of 1993, I made a mental note to investigate whether Cabinet was authorized to issue those compensation checks to the relatives of Julius and Randy Joseph without parliamentary approval— considering the earlier cited memorandum from the 2000 attorney general’s chambers had allegedly exempted from compensation persons killed while “engaged in criminal activity.”
According to the verdict handed down by the Julius and Randy inquest, the young farmhands were a long way from their workplace when they and others threatened the lives of on-duty police officers and were fatally shot!
Another coincidence: during the exchanges at the last House meeting when references were made to the rise and fall of banana figures over the years, Guy Joseph hinted at nefarious activities in the banana valleys involving Labour Party supporters. Despite his own connections with the organization at the time, he said, he had adamantly refused to do anything potentially harmful to his fellow planters and to the banana industry. Then again, for some the period referenced by Guy Joseph is history, old news, not worthy of resurrection; forgettable. Perhaps they should be reminded in the national interest that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
How interested are the pictured parliamentarians in our nation’s political history and other stories from Saint Lucia’s past that brought us to where we are today? Left to right: Kenny Anthony, former prime minister and leader of the St. Lucia Labour Party; Guy Joseph, one-time banana farmer and transit operator, now Southeast Castries MP; and Dennery North MP Shawn Edward.
Flashback to the funeral of one of the farmhands shot by police in 1993. In the photo, his coffin is surrounded by others who survived the riot.