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The people’s struggles

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Over the past few days attention was focused on Libya where the near 42 years rule by Colonel Gaddafi was under threat. The blocking of communications through traditional and social media means that the information at best is patchy, and it is, therefore, difficult to develop a real understanding of the dynamics at play. Even Gaddafi’s appearance on Television earlier in the week did not really settle the issue of where he was.{{more}} His hold on the country is not clear, given the defection of members of his administration and sections of the military. In all of this, the signs emerging from comments by father and son suggest that they are prepared to do whatever is necessary to hold on to power, the colonel referring to the demonstrators as ‘rats’. Well, how do you deal with rats! There has been much international condemnation with even the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahamadinejad, tongue in cheek or not, taking the Libyan President to task. “How can a leader subject his own people to a shower of machine guns, tanks and bombs? How can a leader bomb his own people?” he asks. An interesting comment indeed, given recent developments in Iran!

The events in Libya are not isolated ones. Instead they represent a wave of protest that has overtaken countries of Northern Africa and the Middle East. How they will all play themselves out it is difficult at this stage to say, since the circumstances even among rulers who have for years wielded a heavy grip are different. What is happening in that area of the world has implications for all of us. Oil prices are already beginning to respond, and the Middle East could be subjected to even more turmoil with regard to the Israeli-Arab situation and stability in the area. What happens in Libya, in particular, has serious implications for us. Tuesday’s issue of the SEARCHLIGHT newspaper carried a news item about the handover of US$250,000 to NEMO by the Libyan Ambassador to the OECS. Libya, I believe, is also one of those countries committed to assist with the funding of our International airport. Normally, this should not be a problem even if Gaddafi is forced out of office, but his government has been so personalised that it might probably be seen as a Gaddafi rather than a Libyan commitment. Meanwhile, other leaders in the OECS have pointed to Gaddafi’s pledge to the establishment of diplomatic and investment facilities in the sub-region, with St.Kitts having been selected as the site for the Libyan Investment Bank.

While we should be concerned about the future of these commitments, we in the region and sub-region must also be concerned about the plight of the Libyan people and the attitude of the Libyan leader when faced with protests from his people. The bombing and firing on civilians, with reports by some sources of over 1,000 dead so far, must be denounced by our leaders. We have to begin to look beyond Gaddafi, whose days are numbered, regardless of what happens over the next few days. The foreign policy implications of what is happening in the region are also important. The United States of America by allying itself with questionable powers is likely to feel the resentment of new governments that will be established in the region over the next few months. Although the United States of America might have used its relationship and influence on the military and on Mubarak to ensure that Mubarak surrendered power without very much of a fight and that the military refrained from any brutality against the Egyptian people, that country was in a position where it was taken completely by surprise, not being sure what forces were likely to emerge. In the OECS, despite the record of the Libyan regime under Gaddafi, we have seen it fit to build alliances with him. Now we must begin to rethink our position.

In today’s global world we see how events in any particular country could have ramifications around the world. This brings me back to our situation in SVG. It would be crazy to draw any links between protests in the Middle East and North Africa with our struggles here since the December elections. The political situations are different and the cultures are different. The scale of operations is quite different. But what unites all of this is the reality of people fighting for certain rights. We in SVG tend to take a lot of things for granted and fail to appreciate what we have.

Our tendency is to try to rationalise everything and to believe that once it doesn’t affect us directly it should not be our concern. Many persons in the past have become victims to this and others in the future will also fall victims to it. One of the arguments being used by defenders of the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code is to argue that it does not affect our rights. If it does not affect our rights it certainly circumscribes those rights, which is just as bad. But in our failure to respond to these incursions we are opening the way for more, making it easier to amend other rights that might affect us even more directly.

What is alarming about the bills that were recently brought to parliament was that there was no prior discussion and no evidence of any abuse. Additionally, as some persons have pointed out they were really the first bills introduced by the new parliament.

We need on occasions like these to be reminded of that poem of Martin Niemoeller: “In Germany they first came for the communists and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.” We will do well to remember this poem.

We should respect the rights of anyone to associate himself/herself with the political party of their choice, but amendments to the laws and to the constitution have to be looked at not through party glasses. We have at all times to seriously look at what is put before us, demand explanations if we are not clear and then make decisions based on that understanding. Sometimes, however, we prefer not to hear certain things, and then suffer because of that.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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