Did Gov­ern­ment Make Il­le­gal Pay­ments To Vic­tims of Morne Panache Po­lice Shoot­ing?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

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.

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