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Barking up the wrong tree

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—Some months ago, I wrote a column entitled “ On the Wrong side of history”, pointing to a number of anti-progressive positions being advanced in our society. Last week, once again I had cause to use that phrase. This week, I want to continue in the same vein, this time using another saying, “Barking up the wrong tree”. I refer here to an upsurge and outpouring of views in the local media as well as on the web about “socialism” and the apparent “danger” it seems to pose to St. Vincent and the Grenadines today.{{more}}

As an old soldier in the army, I have been involved in many ideological debates almost three decades ago on this theme, the most memorable being exchanges with my brother PR Campbell and another with a godfather of mine, the late George Thomas, of “Ruler in Hairoona” fame. Those were the days of the cold war, with ideological camps, with naive anti-colonialists as we were then, struggling to come to grips with the international power struggle between the two camps. It was an intense battle given even greater impetus by the Revolutions which swept Iran, Grenada and Nicaragua in 1979 and played out in the Caribbean. The election campaign of 1979 was fought mainly on the basis of anti-communist propaganda, with the then incumbent Labour Party leading the way. What irony that today that same brush is being used to tar the Unity Labour Party!

But that was then, this is now, today, 2010, not 1980.What is the point of all this socialism talk, of this continued reference to Maurice Bishop in negative terms by people who seem not even to understand what they are talking about and who write about Grenada on the basis of one-sided information that has been fed to them. What is the point of attacking people like myself on this same anti-communist platform? I am more than perfectly capable of defending myself, but that is not the issue, so why all this cold war hostility?

The answer all lies in one name, Ralph Gonsalves, and the strong opposition that the very mention of his name brings out in some quarters. Now I can understand concerns raised by some persons of their fears and perceptions about the Prime Minister’s policy directions. I may not necessarily agree with them, but we can have intelligent debate on it. I can understand those for whom the memory of Maurice Bishop only conjures up indefinite detention, no elections etc., but those, too, have a context and a period. But, please, in 2010, let’s deal with reality, not some stupid scaremongering. Instead we get all the seventies crap about socialism and all that this “big, bad red wolf” is supposed to do to us, our democracy and our country. So what are we all, mere stooges, helpless, mindless civilians who Ralph Gonsalves can simply take and hand over to “communism”.

No doubt those perpetrating such views find succour in the statements of the latest “bête noir”, President Chavez of Venezuela, which, while often taken out of context, can give rise to concerns about his direction. But Venezuela’s reality is not the Caribbean experience. Eric Gairy in Grenada found out the hard way that our hard-won democracy in the region will not be given up lightly, and so will any other would-be dictator, whatever his/her name. The people of this country on more than one occasion rose up against undemocratic tendencies, and as long as there are those of us prepared to stand up and fight, not engage in cowardly slander, it will happen again, if anyone would try to trample on those rights.

We are a people who resisted the might of the British empire; that’s why Chatoyer is our National Hero.We fought to end slavery, opposed colonialism and the rule of the plantocracy, winning the right to Adult Suffrage, leading up to national Independence. We stayed the hands of the lawyer clique, Cato/Tannis/Williams and Isaacs, in trying to oppose draconian legislation. We mobilised to get Mitchell in power and demonstrated to get him out, so what is this fear about “Ralph”/ Is he the Almighty? When the time comes we will have our opportunity to make the final judgement on his term of office. Until then, let’s rid ourselves of all this nonsense story of 30 years ago and deal with policies and actions.

The sad thing is that those who mislead the gullible on such emotional grounds often end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This is what happened in the Referendum on constitutional reform, for instance. There are many of us who strongly supported constitutional reform, but did not necessarily agree entirely with the government’s approach. Yet rather than make a balanced judgement, we seemed to think that teaching Gonsalves a lesson was more important than constitutional advance for our country. Today we are seeing even the right-wing Conservative government in Britain prepared to introduce legislation to upgrade and democratise their political system. We spurned our opportunity at the behest of those now in the forefront of the “communist” tirade.

The same has happened with the international airport. Those who call for greater transparency, who raise concerns about affordability and sustainability, have valid points which are worthy of discussion. But to degenerate into attacks against Chavez, Castro and “The Cubans” serves no useful purpose. Such actions do no credit either to the perpetrators or their gullible followers. Worse, we can have different positions about the Cuban political system and democracy in that country, but that must not allow us to sink into ingratitude. Cuba has done more to contribute to the social development of St.Vincent and the Grenadines and its human resources than any other single country in the last 30 years. All the anti-communist tripe cannot change that. Tell the Cubans frankly if you have reservations about their political system, if you have contrary views on their human rights record, but let us not slip or be led into base slander.

That same approach is generating a lack of respect for institutions and persons in our society. It is making people who have valuable contributions to make, become hesitant to come forward and do so for fear of such vitriolic attacks. It is time we let reason enter our national discourse and stop this mud-raking and mud-slinging. The senseless attacks on socialism are not advancing our national cause one bit for it is completely irrelevant to the current challenges of our development process. It is a failure and perhaps inability to understand these which lie at the root of this antiquated approach.

I shall have more to say.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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