OUR LEADERS SOLD US OUT!
Aaron Alexander on Emancipation Day!
These new plantations by the sea; a slavery without chains, with no blood spilt—just chain-link fences and signs, the new degradations.” In his poem, ‘The Acacia Trees’, Derek Walcott’s rhythmic words prefaced his opinion on tourism in Saint Lucia, that it is synonymous with slavery. The poet’s view is strongly supported by activist Aaron Alexander, who is the chairman of the Culture and Mobilization committee of the Iyanola Council for the Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR). He is no glee-ridden, happy sap who puts his dreadlocks up in a bow and kicks it back on Emancipation Day with a Piton, dreaming of having every Wednesday off. For Aaron Alexander, Emancipation Day is an incomplete junction of past and present; as well as being a time to acknowledge and pay tribute to his ancestors. It is important to honour this day, Alexander points out, “but it should be a reminder to be resilient and reflect on the modern state.” The liberation of slaves and the achievement of gaining semi-autonomy is unfinished business, according to the Rastaman.
According to Alexander, abolishing slavery and the establishing of Saint Lucia’s independence from Britain in 1979 was not done with proper insight. Saint Lucia, along with the wider Caribbean and most of Africa, were left hollowed, unfulfilled and entrenched in their heritage and lack of identity. “Our ridiculous and stupid leaders at the time, Sir John and so on, who was called the father of the nation—not my father—accepted this thing without any sort of compensation. They didn’t see the need for that. If Sir John was the father of the nation, then he sold us out big time.” Not that Alexander was ever against Independence. He believes Saint Lucia was shortchanged. “It’s like you are weaning us from the breast but at the same time you are not giving us any milk to go with.
“We are often told that England is our Mother Country, that we come from the bosom of England. So isn’t the mother supposed to help her children? It goes without saying, a mother has to nurture her children. But yet we got Independence without reparations; we got no kind of compensation after hundreds of years of brutalization, abuse and oppression and all the atrocities committed against us. And our government, after independence, is supposed to start an economy? With what?”
In 2013, leaders of government from different Caribbean states rose together to create the CARICOM Reparations Committee (CRC), an organisation founded on the history of the enslaved, and the basic principles of human rights. The CRC claims that of the countries subjected to colonialism, their modern struggle is a direct consequence of just that. Since the CRC’s launch, a number of other reparations committees have sprung up in Europe, Great Britain and Canada. And in 2015, the International Reparations Conference was held in New York City, featuring advocates for the cause from around 22 countries, according to the CRC’s website.
Although there has been progress from this movement, the United Nations has not formally requested any reparations from any colonial power. Nevertheless, the organisation has deemed 2015 to 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent. Their objectives for the decade are to promote respect and knowledge, and strengthen legal frameworks regarding racial discrimination.
Alexander says reparations can manifest in monetary value or with the placement of institutions in Saint Lucia. “We need universities in Saint Lucia. We need the British, the colonial powers, our former slave masters, to build proper institutions in Saint Lucia,” Alexander says, with the idea of post-secondary schools, a revamped educational system and proper healthcare in mind. Supplementary to education that will surely better the distant future of Saint Lucia, he wants institutions that can help the economy sooner, rather than later.
The activist would like to see a refined agricultural industry among other industries that could spawn diversified opportunities. “Give us these industries so that we can take our raw, natural resources and create things out of them. So our people will feel a sense of empowerment; so they create things, instead of seeking work in hotels, hotels, hotels where they serve, serve, serve. This is 21st century slavery.”
Essentially, he wants to keep everything in-house; the biodiversity, the natural resources, all of it. According to Aaron Alexander, former and current government administrations don’t hold the obligatory value he believes agriculture should have. He says: “We need more autonomy for our country. We are capable of handling our affairs, if only the politicians realize the resources we have.” Besides, “it’s unsafe to build an economy solely off tourism; let alone the underlying demoralizing aspects of serving rich citizens of wealthy countries.”
He is concerned about the country’s education system. He believes Saint Lucia’s young people must learn about their heritage so as to be empowered through identity and opportunity. ICAR has allegedly had a number of meetings with government asking it to introduce African-heritage studies into curricula across the country, but so far to no avail.
“All children will tell you about Christopher Columbus,” Alexander assured me. “They know the history of the Europeans. But how much do they know about their own history? And that is the power that the children need. Give them a sense of identity as to who they are.” He says this will help solve problems such as youth violence and delinquency. “We need people to know that there are opportunities out there for them. When the people feel that there are no opportunities and no hope, what do they do? We need to repair the damage to our culture, our religion being ripped from us and replaced by a foreign religion, a foreign culture.”
The activist would like to see Emancipation Day being operated by a specific committee, such as ICAR, so that it can be celebrated with more dignity. “Every Emancipation, it would be fitting for the government to meet with the Rastafari because they know that this is something dear to our hearts,” he says while condemning the government’s $3 million investment into Carnival when the day that represents the end of slavery received nothing.
“It has often been said by men before our time that a people with no knowledge of their history is like a tree with no roots,” Alexander tells me, for the second time. He believes that Emancipation Day should include an accumulation of events leading up to August 1.
“In the spirit of Emancipation, all these things we need to look at, my brother. Or else Saint Lucia is going to be a lost cause.”
Aaron Alexander: The cultural activist is selfconvinced that our leaders sold us out, that the wool was pulled over their eyes when they agreed to Independence without compensation for what their people suffered at the hands of their former colonial masters and earlier enslavers. He believes the nation needs to reconsider which is more important: Carnival or Emancipation?
Aaron Alexander embodies the Caribbean’s perennial warcry: We want it back!