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We must not be ‘strangers in the night’

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Perhaps it was not only by chance that the ruling of the Arbitration Panel on the conditions governing the importation of bananas into Europe was delivered on Emancipation Day, August 1.

Emancipation did not come simply from the goodness of heart. It took hundreds of years of resistance, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears to achieve it, arousing in the process the social conscience of the European colonizers as well as hitting hard at their pocketbooks. {{more}}

It is a fact of human triumph over neither adversity that has not yet won its rightful place in human history nor the social recognition that deserves in terms of not only being the work of the enslaved but being able to win support among the enslavers, albeit sometimes for purely preservative, economic reasons. Some were far-sighted enough to recognize the danger of losing the baby with the bath-water and, understanding the impact of slavery on the mental condition of slaves, were able to see that new forms of economic and mental bondage could be far more profitable than chattel, physical bondage.

If we were to look at the world today, we would have to admit; no matter how grudgingly that such people were right. Nearly two hundred years after emancipation the former slaves, or at least large numbers of them, cannot place slavery and emancipation along their historical trace are unable to correctly understand their significance, nor to correct these with forward progress. Many of us appear to be like Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”, at least where our own history and sense of being are concerned.

These are not side issues; they govern our outlook, our responses to challenges, and our perspectives on development, our hopes and aspirations. The disconnect leaves us with little sense of triumph over adversity a permanent feeling of either spineless inferiority or an empty sense of ìwhat has that to do with usî. All of these are manifested in our response to the protracted banana crisis.

First, there are those who, quite correctly analyzing the dangers of dependence, the harm to our environment perpetuated by market-driven banana production, seem almost glad to hear any bad news about banana. Yet the many “alternatives” touted over the years have failed to deliver in terms of the livelihood of farmers as the much-maligned banana. We make much bigger public issues of minor issues than the livelihood, not just of banana farmers but that of the rural community as a whole.

Our governments and public officials too seem almost timid to take up the issues aggressively and to signal their intention to “keep the flame burning”. The European Union strategizing, Latin America co-coordinating, what happen to CARICOM, the OECS? Who is giving us the confidence, refueling the tanks of resistance, passing on the torch of emancipation?

People who do not know and have not taken time out to know, each day of the pronounced death sentences on bananas “we cannot compete”. Ask them why and how, when and where, and only repetitions of things they have heard come back at you.

That’s why I connect our situation to our lack of understanding of Emancipation. In recent years we have had state-led attempts to correct it, but there are lessons to be learnt, by government, by all of us. In some countries, a statist approach has succeeded, to an extent. In the long run it is in danger of being counter-productive. The more this government, any government, does not just identify or facilitate such celebrations, but seeks to be THE DRIVER, the more the risk of disconnection, of failure to mobilize on a broad national basis.

So when it is viewed by many genuinely committed to such steps of recovery and commemoration that Emancipation activities are somehow related to support for this or that party, and then there will always be suspicion of motives.

I have heard criticisms of the decision to postpone the Emancipation Day rally as being politically motivated, all because the ULP had a mass event on August Monday. I certainly have the evidence to support the point, but it arises from the continuing distrust between governed and those with responsibility for governing. The latter must learn to listen to those genuine voices and distinguish them from the regular braying.

There are still many issues about our Emancipation celebrations for us to handle. We have advanced in our recognition of it but cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We do not have to have a Minister of Government to head every important national initiative. It is a point raised time and again not just during the lifetime of this government but for nearly three decades now. We must treat Emancipation with at least the level of preparation and respect we have for Carnival. There may not be the same economic benefits but the social, cultural and psychological benefits are incalculable. And we cannot be serious about “HERITAGE SQUARE” when it is one of our major liming, hang-out spots. When we get into “heritage”, we must get touchy about what kind of activities we have there.

So emancipation is no more a cultural fad, nor is banana a mere passing economic activity. Not for us.

If we cannot make the cultural, historical, social and psychological connects, why do we have SULLE and his “REPARATION” in the position of monarchy?