It has been almost 40 years in the wilderness of Independence and still, there is no plan.
Agriculture was never diversified and tourism has never really stabilized. Manufacturing never followed the model laid out by Saint Lucian economics Nobel Prize winner, Sir Arthur Lewis, and was doomed to fail because it offered only cheap labour that was cheaper elsewhere.
Many Saint Lucians are frustrated with both major political parties, but think they have no other options. Last Thursday, Therold Prudent, leader of the Lucian People’s Movement, went out to find them.
It is deceptively easy for Prudent to work the ground in Gros Islet, his home turf, but venturing out to, say, Laborie, which to everyone else but Labour, is hostile enemy territory, is a nether story.
The LPM’s first-round-the-island adventure was, at its core, an attempt to meet and listen to the concerns of people in every constituency for the LPM leader and his crew of grandmothers, grandchildren, fathers, teens, mothers, aunties, bachelors, married men, a Rasta and one very precocious two-year-old.
Prudent imagines that the people who want a way out of the bi-partisan political wilderness are out there. They just have to be persuaded that LPM is not JAPP (Just Another Political Party). He went prepared to face undeserved criticism for the sameness of all politicians. But the misdirected anger of people fed up with Flambeau and Labour is exactly what Prudent is counting on.
People from Anse la Raye to Dennery and all the way around the island delivered.
“I’m tired of them,” said one woman in Anse la Raye. “They say the same things and then, after elections, we don’t see them. It’s the same all the time.”
“Saint Lucia is maji!” one totally fed up Soufriere voter shouted. “What Saint Lucians need is communist! One party! Because that’s what they have anyway!”
“Why should you believe that you’re any different?” Prudent was told to his face in Dennery.
But Therold Prudent, apparently, was prepared for that, too. With Labour hemorrhaging support and Flambeau still somewhat divided in the aftermath of a contentious contest for leadership, Prudent is predicting that voters who hold biases toward both of the major parties will finally be ready to listen and consider a new way.
Furthermore, Prudent is taking names and numbers, compiling a list of needs, community by community and street by street.
“I think it’s time to take action,” he said on Thursday. “I think people have heard enough talk and they want to see something different from politicians. They want somebody real, somebody who cares about them more than they care about the vote.”
By Friday afternoon, he was launching the Gros Islet Home and Garden Club. It sounds as an innocuous enough, but the truth about it is that it might be the cleverest, perhaps even the most accurately calibrated political mechanism devised for Saint Lucia in the 21st century.
At the launching, 60 small farmers and gardeners were given free tools of the trade to help in the restoration of the smallest of the small. Prudent and the LPM aim to provide 500 of these kinds of farmers with such tools and seeds over the next year or so.
The strategy aims to consolidate a voting bloc that has been neglected to the point of non-existence over the last decade and a half – farmers who made John Compton a Caribbean legend. That voting bloc, though widely dispersed, was and once again could be the economic center pole of Saint Lucian production.
Prudent is hoping that no matter what the outcome of his battle to end the era of two-party politics, that his current efforts will put an end to any doubt that small farmers always were the economic heart of Saint Lucia, and that their recovery is the only one that will immediately affect everyone on the island.
In the age of offshore finance and outsourced telemarketing, it seems like an anachronism. But when a young John Compton switched the island over from sugar to bananas, few people remember that agriculture on the whole was out-of-style.
The results of that one simple bold stroke, however, resulted in 40 years of almost uninterrupted power. More than enough time to shape, mold and execute an entirely new vision for Saint Lucia.
Prudent imagines that he’s not going to need 40 years.