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‘Short-changing’ Our Country

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“The so-far spectacular performance of the black Senator from Illinois Barack Obama, in his bold bid to become the first black President of the United States, has taken the world by storm. His ability to galvanize broad support across the country in the Democratic primaries has reaped success beyond the wildest dreams of many of us. For us, a black President of the USA, whilst no doubt inevitable one day, did not seem on the cards in the immediate future, and while Obama may yet not be able to leap over the final hurdles, sure to be thrown in his path, his campaign has raised many possibilities. Not surprisingly, it is based on the need for “change” and the belief that “WE CAN.”{{more}}

Naturally, black people in the Caribbean, too, whatever their own political orientation, cannot help but be drawn into supporting his bold challenge. Even those who mistakenly feel they are allied with the cause of George Bush’s Republican Party (a pity on their poor souls!) will be hard pressed to oppose the Obama candidacy. Nevertheless, it does not mean that merely because he is black, we do not need to go beyond skin colour. For in the final analysis, should he succeed, it is his policies which would count most and, therefore, we need to scrutinize them as to what possible impact they have for the world in general and on Caribbean people in particular. Should we fail to do this and simply ride the emotional wave, we are in danger of not ensuring that we get the correct CHANGE, but rather settling for SHORT-CHANGE.

This “change” has become a buzz word in Caribbean politics, too, particularly in the context of several general elections being held through the region. Yet for our people, it is not simply a matter of changing leaders. We need fundamental changes in policy direction if we are to achieve our aims of eradicating poverty and enabling our people to live rewarding and enriching lives. Thus new approaches are needed. One such attempt to begin to seek answers is taking place this week in St. Vincent, with the holding of a Regional Conference on “Building a modern, post-colonial economy.”

Whilst the theme has immediately sprung from a speech by Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, it is nothing new. Indeed it is fitting that such eminent Caribbean patriots like Professor Norman Girvan and Sir Dwight Venner are actively participating, for that has been their life’s work. It is for that goal that a lone line of outstanding Caribbean leaders and the organizations they have helped to forge have toiled heroically. There have been advances along the way, but we are not at a critical juncture and need to find the right strategies to enable us to make the “Great Leap forward.”

Regrettably, this effort, being organized by Projects Promotion, is taking place in the polluted atmosphere of politics in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The thrust for “change’ has been enmeshed in the boiling cauldron of partisan politics, its content lost in the struggle for power, its direction thrown off-line, as we desperately engage in often futile pitched battles between “Government” and “Opposition. Simply put, we get confused as to what we want to change, why we want such a change and to what end.

The latest battle is being fought around what ought in normal circumstances to be a straight matter for the justice system, both in a legal as well as a social sense. But when a leader of a country is accused of rape and/or sexual assault, then that is no simple matter, for a Prime Minister is not just any other person. Worse, when this comes on the heels of a public outcry about the high incidence of such crimes with both Government and Opposition, and women above all quite vocal on the issue, then we are dealing with a very grave matter of profound moral and political implications.

Sadly, in this context, it is difficult to get at the “truth” (as happens any time persons of a certain political, economic or social standing are involved). The age old principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is either ignored in the public outrage or involved in legalistic defense. For us in the society, there must be deep soul-searching and more questions than answers. Thus, how by any stretch of imagination could such an allegation be made against the Head of a Government and by a member of the security forces at that? Is it all, as has been charged, a political fabrication? If so, then this must be the most dastardly attempt to bring down a government in our history.

However we put it, much as reputations, families and persons are deeply affected by it, the matter exposes the raw sores in our body politic. This cannot be what SVG is all about. The “change” we seek must have deep political, moral and social content if we are to avoid such degeneration. Anything else is SHORT-CHANGE.

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