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Contempt for the people

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About three weeks ago I commented in this column on the announcement by former St. Lucian Prime Minister Sir John Compton, that he was to return to active politics and seek re-election as leader of the current opposition United Workers Party (UWP). Like many other Caribbean patriots, I lamented Sir John’s ambitions and wished that he would go no further on the comeback path that he had apparently chosen. {{more}} All that is history now and John Compton has indeed achieved Step I of his quest for a return to power, comprehensively trouncing his protégé, University lecturer and economist Dr. Vaughn Lewis to once more become leader of the UWP.

Poor Vaughn Lewis! It is indeed sad to see such a highly educated man suffer such political humiliation. When Compton saw his own political demise coming, the wily politician that he is, smelling the rat, quickly passed what we would call the “sh…y end of the stick” to Vaughn. The poor fellow had just about as much a chance as a snowball in hell. Not only was the UWP routed under his leadership, he too was booted out of Parliament. Under his leadership the downward slide continued, not helped by the fact that he was absent from St. Lucia for much of the time teaching at UWI in Trinidad. Talk about absentee leadership!

To add insult to injury, the 79- year old Compton has returned and in a two- way leadership contest, wrested the baton away from Lewis. The St. Lucian electorate will, in due course, give its verdict on Compton and the UWP. But it does not speak much either for Lewis or the UWP, that at a time when dissatisfaction with the Kenny Anthony government appears to be manifesting itself, it is to a retired, near- octogenarian that they are turning. Where is the vision for the 21st Century?

By the time Compton bowed out of active politics (some say he never really did), his fortunes and those of his colleagues in the neighbouring islands were clearly on the wane. From the heyday of the triumvirate of Compton, Mitchell (in SVG) and Eugenia Charles in Dominica, there was a steady decline. Eugenia’s Freedom Party couldn’t hold on without her, just as the Vaughn Lewis’ UWP. And in SVG too, James Mitchell’s chosen successor suffered defeat as well.

Four years on, the NDP, under the same leadership of Arnhim Eustace seems to be picking up support. At least they clearly believe so, given all the talk of a “one- term” (ULP) government. Time will prove whether there is any substance at all to this boast. But now, appearing on the radar, is former leader Sir James Mitchell. Is his re- appearance in a public political light, just as Compton returned in St. Lucia, merely co- incidence? Compton has “taken back” the leadership that he handed to Lewis. Sir James has made no such bid but he has spoken of “taking back”.

Tek back what? He is talking about power, political power. As if it is his, to give and tek back at will; so he claims that people accused him of “giving” Ralph (P.M. Gonsalves) power with the Grand Beach Accord in Grenada. If that is so, as is his conclusion, well then he come to “tek it back”.

It is a statement of fundamental political significance. The people have no role in this power business is what he seems to be saying to us. Power is there for leaders to give and take, to broker and deal. We are mere objects. This dangerous and contemptuous trend of thought is underlined by the statement that he wanted to prove to the Organization in Defense of Democracy (ODD), which led the protests against Mitchell’s government in 2000, that “they were not important”. Not the workers, nor the public servants, nor the farmers, neither the youth, the nurses, the broad coalition of people confronting his government. In Sir James’ view, it was he and Ralph who were important.

One can then understand the stubborn refusal to heed the voice of the people in the 1999-2000 period. It was contempt, pure and naked, no more brazenly expressed than when in the height of the protests (was it at Fisherman’s Day 2000?), he could talk about the “country people coming to town”.

That refusal to understand and accept the will of the people still haunts many in the NDP leadership today. It is why they continue to moan about “the Roadblock Revolution” and try to portray the events of early 2000 as the machination and manipulation by one person, this supposedly evil genius Ralph Gonsalves.

They do not comprehend the dynamics of a mass movement; see no place in it for organizations of real people. For them, someone has to be pulling the strings somewhere. It is a gross error that the current NDP leadership should seek to correct at all costs, lest it brings about their peril. It leads to strategic errors in policy, such as the ill- advised announcement that the NDP will disband the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDEC). The old anti- people character of the Compton-Mitchell-Charles era must be put firmly and finally behind us. Constructive engagement with civil society and its organizations is a prime pre- requisite for the exercise of democracy in the 21st Century Caribbean.

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