Vieux Fort political leadership crisis (commentary by Dr. Anderson Reynolds)

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Vieux Fort political leadership crisis (commentary by Dr. Anderson Reynolds)

By Dr. Anderson Reynolds
Late 2019 I attended a St. Lucia Labor Party (SLP) public meeting in Vieux Fort on Clarke Street alongside Independence square. It was a meeting of passionate, though repetitive, rhetoric. SLP had had enough of Allen Chastanet’s United Workers Party (UWP) government. UWP had to go!

I waited with great anticipation for Dr. Kenny Anthony’s address. When he came on, he was boisterous and forceful, as if what he had to say was a matter of life and death. He opened his salvo with “Vieux Fortians are defiant.” So the history buff that I am, particularly regarding the history of Vieux Fort, I waited with bated breath for a trip down Vieux Fort’s memory lane.

The Defiance of Vieux Fortians
I expected to hear about the days when sugar was king, when to get a job in Vieux Fort’s Central Sugar Factory, one of the first of its kind in the Caribbean, one had to loan the overseer a sister, a daughter, or a niece. But rather than prostituting their womenfolk, in defiance Vieux Fort men took to sea.

I thought I would be told that the long-held view that Vieux Fortians are lazy is a myth, for if Vieux Fortians are lazy how then so many are fishermen when few occupations are as dangerous, harsh and as demanding. Growing up, I thought the only occupation more dangerous than that of a fisherman was that of a soldier. That what some construe as the laziness and rudeness of Vieux Fortians are just Vieux Fortian’s defiance and wariness of exploitation.

That, according to social historian Dr. Jolien Harmsen, Vieux Fort’s hustler mentality of waiting for opportunities to come their way to quickly exploit and then wait again for the next opportunity, the next decider of their fate, is just a conditional response (a defiance mechanism of sorts) to history, to the fact that most of the happenings and developments that have transformed the district and changed its landscape have been dictated by outsiders, with Vieux Fortains having little or no say (DSH, the latest case in point), so Vieux Fortians have developed a wait and see attitude.

I thought the district rep would praise the likes of Julius James, Stephen Marcellin, Cynthia Satney, Raye Maxwell, Monty Maxwell, Cornelia Jacob and the other members of Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens coalition For Change (VFCCCC) for their defiance in building and holding the fort against Chastanet’s DSH misadventure in Vieux Fort, when, smarting and still licking wounds from electoral defeat, Labor politicians could barely hold their heads up, much less provide resistance to (what time may well prove to be) the Teo Ah Khing / Allen Chastanet ill-fated development.

So imagine my disappointment, dismay, even, when the Good Doctor explained with lots of conviction that Vieux Fortians are defiant because they refuse to vote UWP. I said to myself, this is the opposite of defiance. You mean no matter what you do, what you don’t do, like doormats, Vieux Fortains continue voting for you.

I expected to hear about the days when sugar was king, when to get a job in Vieux Fort’s Central Sugar Factory, one of the first of its kind in the Caribbean, one had to loan the overseer a sister, a daughter, or a niece. But rather than prostituting their womenfolk, in defiance Vieux Fort men took to the sea.

I thought I would be told that the long-held view that Vieux Fortians are lazy is a myth, for if Vieux Fortians are lazy how then so many are fishermen when few occupations are as dangerous, harsh, and as demanding. Growing up, I thought the only occupation more dangerous than that of a fisherman was that of a soldier. That what some construe as the laziness and rudeness of Vieux Fortians are just Vieux Fortian’s defiance and wariness of exploitation.

That, according to social historian Dr. Jolien Harmsen, Vieux Fort’s hustler mentality of waiting for opportunities to come their way to quickly exploit and then wait again for the next opportunity, the next decider of their fate, is just a conditional response (a defiance mechanism of sorts) to history, to the fact that most of the happenings and developments that have transformed the district and changed its landscape have been dictated by outsiders, with Vieux Fortains having little or no say (DSH, the latest case in point), so Vieux Fortians have developed a wait and see attitude.

I thought the district rep would praise the likes of Julius James, Stephen Marcellin, Cynthia Satney, Raye Maxwell, Monty Maxwell, Cornelia Jacob and the other members of Vieux Fort Concerned Citizens Coalition For Change (VFCCCC) for their defiance in building and holding the fort against Chastanet’s DSH misadventure in Vieux Fort, when, smarting and still licking wounds from electoral defeat, Labor politicians could barely hold their heads up, much less provide resistance to (what time may well prove to be) the Teo Ah Khing / Allen Chastanet ill-fated development.

So imagine my disappointment, dismay, even, when the Good Doctor explained with lots of conviction that Vieux Fortians are defiant because they refuse to vote UWP. I said to myself, this is the opposite of defiance. You mean no matter what you do, what you don’t do, like doormats, Vieux Fortains continue voting for you.

The Kenny Anthony story has already been told

Dr. Kenny AnthonyI reasoned the fact the former prime minister could so boldly and so confidently tell Vieux Fortians in effect they are not much better than doormats, and no one raised any objections, no one in the Labor Party seemed prepared to provide the district rep any opposition; and the fact of such blind loyalty, such thoughtless following, suggest that Vieux Fort is facing a political leadership crisis. I also reasoned that the emptiness of the Good Doctor’s speech, disguised in loudness and bluster, like a person increasing the volume of his speech to convince himself of its validity, suggests he was spent. Whatever he had to offer has been offered. His performance on that evening serving as a metaphor for what he had to offer as a political representative.

I can never forget what the professor of the only creative writing college class I have taken said to us. He said that everyone has but one story in them; they may write many books, many novels, but each is just another take of the same story. Well, it seems we have already read at least five takes of the Kenny Anthony story. Why read a sixth take? Aren’t there any other interesting books waiting to be read? Won’t it be more stimulating, more engaging, more fruitful to read the first take of another Vieux Fort district rep, this time one from the town and dedicated to its cause? Or are we saying Vieux Fortians are so deficient that a sixth reading of Kenny’s story is more rewarding than the first reading of the story of the most exciting Vieux Fortian?

Vieux Fort a political playground

Vieux FortToo often politicians vie for the Vieux Fort seat, not because they are from Vieux Fort, not because they are passionate about Vieux Fort, not because they have a burning desire to develop Vieux Fort, but because of convenience, they see it as a safe seat, a seat to nurture their ambition, a seat from which to launch their national political career. Indeed, it appears Vieux Fort is just a political playground (and Chastanet with his DSH has added that it is also a rich man’s hunting ground) not a place with real people with real needs. All this reinforces the notion that Vieux Fort is facing a political leadership crisis.

Those who have won the Vieux Fort seat have either been non-Vieux Fortians, or lacked dedication to Vieux Fort, or didn’t have sufficient clout in government to do much for the district.

Let’s look at the Vieux Fort political landscape beginning with the 1964 general elections that marked the entrance of the UWP onto the political stage and that ushered in statehood (1967). That year the UWP was voted into power and Henry Giraudy won the Vieux
Fort-Laborie seat. He won the seat again (Vieux Fort South) in 1974 in an election made famous by “It’ll be All right in the Morning” and Rick Wayne’s book of the same title. Henry Giraudy was born and raised in Vieux Fort and he was UWP’s long-serving and undisputed Party Chairman. Some say he was the power behind the John Compton throne. He had plenty of clout in the UWP and in government, but according to many Vieux Fortians he was a pompous, arrogant politician who thought Vieux Fortains beneath him and who was mainly concerned with national politics, with ensuring his party win general elections and stay in power.

Many can recall Giruady at UWP public meetings saying: “shut up and listen to your masters”; or he will put his foot on his political opponents and crush them like crabs. Of course, come to think of it, is this any more arrogant and conceited than Kenny Anthony telling Vieux Fortians in effect they are defiant because they are doormats, because no matter what he does they will never stop voting for him and his Labor Party?
Bruce Williams, Vieux Fort’s great humanitarian, affectionately known as Daddy Bruce because of his generosity and love of children, won the Vieux Fort-Laborie seat in 1969 under the SLP ticket but in this general elections, UWP had held on to power. Daddy Bruce won the Vieux Fort seat again in 1979, in the election that ended SLP’s 15-year political drought, but SLP’s reign, which turned into a debacle, was aborted in mid-term. Few if any could have questioned Bruce Williams’ dedication and commitment to Vieux Fort. He spent years seeking reparation from the Americans/British for their World War II occupation of Vieux Fort. But during his political life, his party was rarely in power and it isn’t clear how much clout he had in the SLP setup.

Eldridge Stephen, a bona fide Vieux Fortian, won the 1982 Vieux Fort seat under the UWP ticket. There is no reason for me to doubt his love of and commitment to Vieux Fort, but the fact that he wasn’t made a minister of government may suggest that he didn’t have much clout in the UWP. So one could conclude that he wasn’t advantageously positioned to effect significant change in Vieux Fort.

Peter Josie won the Vieux Fort seat in 1987 and then again in 1992, both times under SLP. As a Labor district rep serving under a UWP administration, he wasn’t advantageously positioned to help Vieux Fort progress. Josie claims he was raised in Vieux Fort or at least spent some of his childhood in Vieux Fort. Nonetheless, whether or not he can be considered a Vieux Fortian, the time has proven Josie to be an opportunist. In the middle of his second term as Vieux Fort district rep he crossed the floor to the UWP camp to become a minister of government. Since then he hasn’t looked back.

It is amazing that the once socialist radical who was willing to face death marching and protesting with George Odlum and the agricultural workers in the nation’s great valleys, and who during the 1979 election season used to shout on SLP political platforms across the nation something to the effect that if we can’t get in power by law, we will get in power by violence, has become, some say, Rick Wayne’s side-kick and has had nothing but praise for the UWP and Chastanet as they give away our sovereignty and patrimony to foreigners, as they give away Vieux Fort—Josie’s self-admitted hometown—to Chinese nationals, as they seem to extract income and resources from the masses for the benefit of family, friends and foreigners, and as they undermine and corrupt the institutions and statutory bodies that were established to safeguard the integrity of the country and protect it against the greed and misadventures of politicians. As an opportunist, we can conclude that Josie vying for the Vieux Fort seat was probably more about reviving and keeping his political career alive than about a commitment and dedication to Vieux Fort.

And then we have Dr. Kenny Anthony, three-time prime minister, district rep of Vieux Fort for five-terms, spanning 23 years, from 1997 to the present. Following the 1993 banana fiasco that culminated in the shooting death of two banana farmers in the Mabouya Valley, one of three of St. Lucia’s great agricultural valleys, Labor Party stalwarts paved the way (rolled the red carpet, even) for Dr. Anthony to leave the comfort of academia and come wrestle the island from the stranglehold of John Compton and the UWP and lead the island to electoral victory. Part of that paved road was to assign the Good Doctor to Vieux Fort, a safe Labor seat, thus ensuring his prime ministership were Labor to claim national victory.

How safe? Well, in St. Lucia’s 69 years, 16 general elections, of universal suffrage, Labor has lost only four Vieux Fort elections—1951 to Antoine Theodore of the People’s Progressive Party (Vieux Fort-Laborie seat), 1964 and 1974 to Henry Giraudy (UWP) and1982 to Eldridge Stephen (UWP). Kenny Anthony’s five terms make him the longest-standing Vieux Fort district rep ever, the next closest being Clive Compton (Vieux Fort-Laborie seat) who as the SLP candidate won three terms (1954, 1957,1961), coinciding with three of four elections held under universal suffrage. Kenny Anthony is not from Vieux Fort (though he attended secondary school there), and clearly, right from the start his representation of Vieux Fort had little to do with passion and dedication to the district, but all to do with a safe perch from which to launch his national political career, in the process bringing Sir John’s political dynasty to an end. Back in 1997 when Labor had won the elections by a 16 to 1 landslide and then again in 2001 by 14 to 3, Vieux Fortians were probably ecstatic, for who better to bring home the bacon than the prime minister who happens to be your district rep.

Has Kenny Anthony ever had a vision for Vieux Fort?
Some Vieux Fortians believe that the Good Doctor has never had a vision for Vieux Fort. He inherited from John Compton projects in planning some of which he implemented—fishery complex and Beanfield duty-free-zone/complex, for example—but mostly his involvement in Vieux Fort has been more about appeasing Vieux Fortians to continue securing their vote (what he calls defiance) than about substance, job creation, social and economic transformation. As an example, some point out that while the district rep built footpaths, repaved sidewalks, paved a so-called promenade, opened up what used to be called the Mangue, and renovated the Vieux Fort Square, he had failed to secure three million US dollars for a new crane that would have helped maintain the viability of Port Vieux Fort, a significant source of employment.

A few months after the 2016 general elections I run into a prominent Vieux Fort businessman and a strong supporter of SLP. He said it is Labor supporters’ fault that the party had lost the elections. SLP supporters took too much of a back seat. They didn’t go out and enthusiastically campaign and support the party. I said to myself, come on, you know very well that people (Vieux Fortians, especially) were disappointed with Kenny Anthony and the SLP. Kenny and company have no one to blame but themselves. They let a party defeat them, which in the 2011 elections voters had soundly rejected, not least because by virtue of disintegrating into a dysfunctional government they had proven unfit to govern, a party just weeks before the elections was in disarray. Kenny Anthony is lucky to have held on to his seat; for if the opposition candidate had conducted a credible campaign, the script might have been different.

Notwithstanding, it doesn’t mean that the Good Doctor isn’t deserving of some praise. When he came to power in 1997, he found many rural communities in darkness and without running water, police stations and health centers crumbling and inadequate, highways and urban areas poorly lit, and though nearly twenty years into independence large numbers of eligible students couldn’t attend secondary school because of insufficient classroom space. In sharp contrast, as if waving a magic wand, Dr. Kenny Anthony’s administration fostered a kinder and gentler country, providing universal secondary education, bringing electricity, water, and telecommunication to every nook and cranny of the island, renovating or building health centers, police and fire stations, and establishing footpaths and affordable low-income land and housing development. Besides these social infrastructure developments, Dr. Anthony’s administration introduced a greater level of discipline, professionalism, accountability, and transparency not just to the civil service but also to government, to governing. He moved the country away from the archaic strong-man government to a government-run by professionals. He truly ushered St. Lucia into the twenty-first century.

To this, some would argue, fine, but most of this was accomplished by the end of Kenny Anthony’s first term. So at most he should have been given just two terms. After two terms his story was already fully written, beyond two terms was just a recycle of the story. He was spent. It was a mistake to have changed the Labor Party constitution to allow the Good Doctor to run a third term as party leader, reminiscent of when George Odlum had orchestrated a change in St. Lucia’s constitution to allow the Good Doctor to become a minister of government in the SLP 1979 administration. St. Lucia may have been better served to have allowed Mario Michel the opportunity to write his story across the St. Lucia political landscape.

Come to think of it, what hold does Kenny Anthony have on St. Lucia and the Labor Party that they keep changing constitutions to accommodate his political career? Is it the same kind of hold (defiance he calls it) he has on Vieux Fort that the district keeps voting him in no matter what?

Back in 1997 when Labor won the elections by a 16 to 1 landslide, and then again in 2001 by 14 to 3, Vieux Fortians were probably ecstatic, for who better able to bring home the bacon than the prime minister who happens to be your district rep. After all, they had rolled the red carpet for the Good Doctor, given him their loyalty, which he calls defiance, in spades. Vieux Fortians, that is those old enough to remember the “Time of the Americans”, or those who were paying attention to their history, were probably in smiles, thinking the good times will roll again. And who could blame them, doesn’t the good book say (Luke 12:48): To whom much is given, much will be required.

Its time for Vieux Fortians to take matters into their own hands
If Kenny Anthony should have done no more than two terms as prime minister of St. Lucia, then clearly five terms as Vieux Fort district rep were more than enough, particularly since no one seems to be accusing him of setting ablaze the social and economic development of Vieux Fort. Now, it made sense for Vieux Fort to suffer Kenny Anthony as district rep as long as he was party leader because as mentioned above the best of all worlds is for the prime minister to double as your district rep.

But since the Good Doctor is no longer party leader and thus has no chance of becoming prime minister, there is little gain in having him as the district rep as opposed to a qualified, bona fide Vieux Fortian. Besides, we all have noticed that once the Good Doctor isn’t occupying the prime minister’s seat he goes missing in action. Still, if Kenny Anthony was to Vieux Fort what Alva Baptiste was to Laborie or what Moses “Musa” Jn Baptiste was to Vieux Fort North—two ideal models of a district rep—Vieux Fortain or not, prime minister or not, Vieux Fort could bear with him. But an Alva nor a Musa he is not.

Indeed, many Vieux Fortians were totally flabbergasted, that, given Kenny Anthony’s lack of political involvement following the 2016 elections, leaving the challenge to Teo Ah Khing and Chastanet’s DSH to his surrogates in the VFCCC, he was running again for the Vieux Fort seat. They could be forgiven to have thought the Good Doctor had finished with electoral politics. To some, their astonishment turned to anger. When is Kenny going to have enough and give a Vieux Fortian a chance?

From the days of slavery and when sugar was king, to the time of the Americans during World War II, to the days when Banana was king, to the days of Halcyon Days and the last frontier, and now to the days of DSH and Teo Ah Khing, Vieux Fort has always been led by outsiders, strangers have always decided their fate. Now it’s a time for a change, now it’s a time for Vieux Fortians to lead themselves, to take their future into their own hands, to be led by a district rep who is from the people, of the people, and has demonstrated an unsurpassed dedication, passion, and commitment to the cause of Vieux Fort. We need someone that, when comes to Vieux Fort, will not take no for an answer; we need someone who will never sell us out: not for money, not for Teo Ah Khing’s fancy designs and membership into his Shanghi Race Club, not for foreigners, not for Miami Beach, not for the privilege, not for favors.

When you grow up breathing in the salt-laden breeze of Vieux Fort’s Atlantic coast; loitering among the grape, fat poke, and arman trees, feasting on their fruit; frolicking on the various beaches that surround Vieux Fort with names like Sandy, Bwa Chadon, L’anse Baison, and New Dock; marveling at the wide-open spaces; trekking Moule-a-Chique to the lighthouse; playing ball on Vieux Fort’s Savannes; jogging across the Vieux Fort landscape; racing horses on the Kaka Bef; diving off the Dock and the Jetty; and fishing on the Dock and other strategic fishing spots, you can never see Vieux Fort as an empty wilderness perfect for fulfilling your political career or realizing your ambition of a Miami Beach / Dubai palm islands or as real estate gift to foreigners for club memberships. How could you when the place is part of your self-definition when the place and its people are in your blood.

Instead, like Julius James and some of the other members of the VFCCCC you get up each morning ready to battle for the upliftment and progress of your town, sharpening your weapons to defend it against foreign and misguided adventurers. Shouldn’t it be that the people who care the most about a place and would be the most affected by any changes to it, be the ones who should have the most say in what happens to the place, the ones to take the lead in its development?

However, as much as Vieux Fort needs a change, the country cannot afford another five years of Chastanet’s UWP government, the bleeding of our country needs to stop, and stop now before the country bleeds to death. So an independent candidate that will split the Vieux Fort vote and possibly give victory to the UWP candidate is highly undesirable. Therefore, the Vieux Fort candidate of change for the 2020 general elections of which I speak should come from the Labor Party.

There is a crop of potential candidates who come to mind that may fit the bill—Julius James, Monty Maxwell, Augustus Cadette, Cynthia Satney, the former senator, Debra Tobierre, and I’m sure there are others.

But we have a problem. Under Kenny Anthony, the Labor Party has adopted a culture of strict party discipline and loyalty, a culture of everyone toeing the line. Of course, he calls it by another name—defiance. Moreover, it seems the party has placed Kenny Anthony on a pedestal. No one dares to cross him, much less challenge his leadership, much less present themselves as an alternative SLP choice for the Vieux Fort seat. So unless the Good Doctor steps down and give the green light to the next would be SLP candidate, we will not get a change, we will be stuck with the Good Doctor, we will have to read yet another take of his story.

Therefore, as a concerned son of Vieux Fort soil, I wish to call on the Good Doctor to sit out this election and allow a bona fide Vieux Fortian whose heart is in the right place to vie for the Vieux Fort seat. If he were to do so, I think history would look kindly upon him.

Dr. Anderson Reynolds

Dr. Anderson Reynolds was born and raised in Vieux Fort, St. Lucia. He is an economist and an award-winning author of four books. Dr. Reynolds and social historian, Dr. Jolien Harmsen, are arguably the two foremost authorities on the history of Vieux Fort.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the management and staff of St. Lucia News Online and its parent company, Andrews Media Services Corp.)

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