40th Anniversary of 1981 battles
I began this series last week based on the knowledge that we cannot afford to forget, or worse not know of, critical periods in our history, especially those which had a significant bearing on our continuing fight to preserve our sovereignty, democracy and fundamental human rights.
It was nice to get some positive feedback on the initiative especially as it relates to getting our people not just to be aware of our historical circumstances but also our own role in it and in determining both our destiny and quality of life. Very often history is portrayed as made by the deeds of men and if we look at 1981 there was no shortage of deeds, some of them evil but in turn giving rise to the noble deeds of resistance and sacrifice which ensured the preservation of some fundamental rights that we continue to have up to today.
Yet, these did not just arise out of the heads of people. There were concrete circumstances which helped to shape the battles of mid-year 1981 in SVG. We can go back to 1979 for instance, the year that our country regained its independence. That constitutional advance came after a bitter two-year struggle which was as complex as it was intense. While it is true that most Caribbean countries, at least the English-speaking ones, did not have to engage in armed struggle to achieve their independence, as many countries in Africa and Asia had to do, it did not mean that there was no conflict.
The conflict was mainly local and revolved around the content of Independence and what type of constitution we should adopt, with particularly the role of our people in determining the content and in ensuring that independence would be a tool to expand our freedoms and provide greater benefits for the mass of our people.
It was complex in that there were also political battles both in fighting off the negative anti-independence positions adopted by the parliamentary opposition of the day as well as the selfish and opportunist tendencies of the Labour government, both of whom had their eyes on impending elections and how they could benefit from it.
The most significant development to emerge was that of the broad mobilisation of a wide cross-section of people under the umbrella of what was called the National Independence Committee (NIC) led by respected local barrister the late Henry Williams, based on the workers and farmers movements and fuelled by the energy and foresight of the progressive forces. That experience was to prove critical in the battles of 1981 and, more than two decades later, in the constitutional reform process.
The Economic background
In spite of all the euphoria over independence celebrations and the repeat election victory of the Labour party at the polls in December 1979, life was difficult for the vast majority of Vincentians in the two years preceding 1981. Independence came in the wake of the volcanic eruption of April 1979 which severely ruptured economic life. Just as the country was slowly recovering, another natural disaster struck in the form of hurricane Allen, in August of 1980, negatively impacting on the agricultural sector on which the country was heavily dependent.
The economic difficulties caused widespread dissatisfaction with unemployment high, wages low and the cost of living steadily rising. We shall see in the third installment of this series how these all contributed to the confrontations which were to ensue during 1981.
Part 3 – Next week