Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dear Comrade – be like Maurice, not Robert!

There have been some solid advisers around the region, who told me this past week, avoid getting into a tit—for-tat with the honourable Comrade in Kingstown.

  That’s exactly where he wants the debate to go – to be a complete distraction to the difficult economic times at home; and the many questions being raised, fairly or unfairly, about the very legitimacy of his rule.

   I quickly dismissed my dear Comrade as a typical Caribbean politician who has been there for too long. He came in with great purpose – at a time when we all cheered with excitement from Munich, Grenada to Soufriere Dominica and to Bolans, Antigua. His was supposed to be the second coming of Maurice Bishop; but is now quickly turning out more to be that of Robert Mugabe – a  washed-up, sold out “progressive” on the altar of political ego.

   And like Mugabe, he is now running out of time, and running out of ideas.

   In dismissing me as a “paid operative” of the opposition – as if it is that group with the DNA of counterfeit and bribery – he effectively signed off on the attempt of state harassment not just of me, but of anybody there who dared to be fresh enough to raise ideas that run counter to that of “Papa”.

   I had dismissed the incident of last week, as the act of one overzealous officer, who took it on his own, believing he was acting in the best interest of “papa” to try to abuse his perceived power.

  But once the dear Comrade opened his mouth, it was clear that it was fully sanctioned by him.

 The Prime Ministers’ explanations and his so-called attempted put-down of this interfering Grenadian, revealed more that perhaps he wanted to.

  His panic. His pettiness. His brilliant undisguised stupidity. His overflowing seminal for mischief.

  I don’t have a direct response to the verbal diabetic nonsense to my dear long-time Comrade. You don’t dignify an undignified rant, unless you clothe the man in the legitimacy and the reverence he covets.

   The Comrade has evolved into a politician who thinks the conscience of a nation is a commodity that can be traded in the marketplace of fear of reprisal.

  He thinks of voters as commodities; and so he rightfully thinks I am one too. So I understand his mind-set.

   His forces trade in buying votes. I trade in ideas. Some even say mischief. Well if that’s what you call it, fair enough!

  A man who fought for an otherwise elusive fourth term on the backs of a brazen daylight abuse of state resources and staggering handouts that looked even indecent to the most tolerant of us – has no authority to lecture anyone.

  His politics now has a morality of its own.

   With a difficult budgetary period facing him, this aging roadblock revolutionary, should maybe stop using his time in a ceaseless campaign against his “enemies”, and get down to managing the fragile economy to the best interest of his proud people.

   St Vincent’s problems are bigger than any perceived nightmare this writer may give him.

   I will soon go on to the next assignment – whether its politics, sports or entertainment.  But there are thousands of great people in St Vincent – fishermen in Georgetown; farmers in Mesopotamia; squatters in the bayside ghettos of west Kingstown; young people who feel they have to suck-up to political and other patronage to get ahead – for me to be the subject debate.

  The problems of the country are large, and deserve the full time attention of all its leaders.

  By skilfully inserting me into the conversation, our dear Comrade seeks to cheapen the debate with a currency of insults and innuendo.

  As regards my incident, our dear Comrade must make up his mind whether he wants to govern a respectful genuine democracy; or he wants to have a state ran by ill-trained and overzealous police men operating as his goons and mongoose gang to force the Garifuna people into submission.

  He would have remembered that he took to a platform an Argyle during the election n campaign and sought to incite an entire crowd of his supporters against me, while I was standing at the side of the stage covering his rally. His inciting had people throwing things at me, and even he himself had to acknowledge he had to pull it back.

  I stood my ground in front of a crowd of eight thousand. What makes him think I’d retreat now?

   I have spent extensive time in every single eastern Caribbean country in the last few years, and St Vincent and the Grenadines is the most political divisive of all of them; where political spite is a loud part of the official policy.

  Statistics show St Vincent and the Grenadines has the worst performing economy in the eastern Caribbean; and it is at a time and place where its maximum leader can tout as one of its successes more people being added to “poor relief”

  This however is a worrying commentary on how the economic construct has failed to empower people.

  Spreading welfare is not spreading socialism.

  That’s why new leaders have to emerge – to carry the message of Maurice and Hugo; to deliver the dreams of liberation of Fedon and Chatoyer.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A fascinating man we still don’t know

(Trying to decode Nazim Burke, the man who wants to be Grenada's Prime Minister)

I have watched Naz up close and personal for many years. I have listened to him from afar.

My first interfacing with him in local politics was when he was the Public Relations Officer of the National Democratic Congress.

We used to have one-on-ones. I was told that I should get to know him; someone, I was made to understand, who is bright and a next leader of the country.

I used to come out of those meetings with an unfeeling dissatisfaction equivalent of a one-night stand. You went in excited, and you came out disappointed.

I was reminded of that when I heard him at the press conference this past week – part lecturer, part full-of-himself, part dismissive of the world outside.

All on display, were the million and one reasons he fails to connect. 

He needs to get out more; meet more people, we all say. And maybe there is a point to that.

But the more you get to know him, the more you come out not being too sure about him.

And that’s the dilemma NDC faces. You need to expose him, and then you need to hide him.

The proverbial rock and a hard place scenario, that just leaves you shaking your head saying – “poor thing.”

He is many things, but most of all – the king of vacillation; the master of talking up both sides of an issue and not deciding; a calculating (though of the miscalculating variety) political operative; caught up in his own world that misses many realities on the ground.

What his dwindling admirers see as his strength, is his eternal weakness.

Sometimes you can’t follow his political analysis – that defies common minds – that forces you to dismiss it as well – “I guess he is brighter than all of us.”

Like the issue of the constitutional reform. He has no problems with the recommendations. But he will vote against them, because he has problems with the others that are not there.

The lawyer in him should know very well about negotiated settlements; about inching towards a destination.

The miscalculating politician in him – his overriding character – cerebrally subscribes to an unsustainable, impractical – all or nothing.

And that is why people still don’t trust him. Not that he is bad guy. In fact, I think he is a good guy.

But people really don’t know who he is – and they don’t ever feel – for better or worse – what they see is what they get.

Naz’s biggest problem is not his self-declared “political enemies” as he sees them– including Peter Wickham, a political scientist and pollster from Barbados who conceivably, according to Naz, does have a dog in the Grenada political fight.

The problem he has with people like Wickham, is the same problem he had with the people he voted on the floor of the NDC convention to have expelled in 2012.

People that might challenge his own view of the world and suggest there just might be an alternative universe to his own.

It is that fear of an alternative view on the table, that has made him, conceivably engineered the exclusion of Franka, Tricks and Vincent from the NDC executive. Knowing him, he might have even convinced them that is a good thing.

But to give him the benefit of the doubt, for all you know what he said might be correct – he wanted the three to have more time to be on the ground.

Except– being on the executive is not exactly a full time political activity. He remains leader and certainly he will hit the ground at some point. One facilitates the other; not take away.

It may be a cruel accident that the only caretakers he cared to keep on the executive are some of his biggest supporters – Joseph Andall – as deputy leader and Randal Robinson – now promoted to PRO.

And it might just be cruel political irony that the people he replaced Bernadine, Tricks and Vincent with are his closest allies – and his enforcers from his St George’s North East constituency.

Heaven knows Naz has been beaten up – but he is his own worst punisher.

He has a wayward devil in his head that keeps advising him on untimely political ejaculation, such as he did this week at his weekly press conference in beating up on Ingrid Rush – the same woman he said is irrelevant.

Why waste time beating up on an irrelevant woman?

It’s one thing to disagree with Ingrid. But it’s a long shot to hate on her.

Franklyhaving worked with Naz before – the endearing feeling I always had is a recurring frustration with a man, who has some intellectual grounding – only if he could find an effective way to put in into play in the real world for the good of not just himself – but all of mankind.

That many people believe Naz is unfeeling is not a myth. It is a reality borne out by history.

But I have always wondered how this Carriacou boy ended up here. Naz is from genuine working class stock. And he has to know the struggle; our struggle.

But you will never know that by just interfacing with the man.

And I say that not as a criticism; but with keen philosophical interest.

There is an enigma that is worth further study – and perhaps a lot of patience to decode – the kind of patience a five-year electoral cycle won’t afford him.

But enigmas are both interesting and boring at the same time. And they don’t end up running countries.

(For the unsuspecting: Naz is Nazim Burke, the former Finance Minister of Grenada who two years ago took over the decimated opposition. Franka is Franka Bernadine - his fellow senator and the woman who challenged his leadership. Tricks is Patrick Simmons, the now former General Secretary who once considered challenging Burke as leader. Vincent is George Vincent, another fellow senator, who some say had internally questioned the effectiveness of Burke's leadership).

Monday, January 25, 2016

The hard reality of facts

The late American Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

 It is a quote that Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has rightly used regularly in recent weeks.

The propaganda machine of the ruling Unity Labour Party has been in full overdrive – and the likes of Jomo Thomas has gotten his proverbial panties wet with anger – throwing up a set of smokes and mirrors, about the happenings of the last week or so. (I must confess though that I do not have a history of having a lot of patience with failed politicians that want to lecture me).

 In addition to being a reporter – I write a lot of commentaries – and they are meant to be just that – my opinion on events. 

I also, unapologetically, have a world view – which, if I must say this myself -- is more consistent than that of a lot of convenient “progressives” around the region.

 Interestingly though, in this entire St Vincent election cycle (until the last few days) – I did not write any commentaries. I made no declarations like I did in such places as Dominica or St Kitts and Nevis or Grenada.

 So I was not sure what the likes of Jomo and so were fuming about – as if they believed that their huffing and puffing will intimidate me. (Children of the Grenada Revolution don’t cower).

 Sure, facts are stubborn things – and sometimes they get in the way of the line we would like to push. But facts are facts. Only reality owns facts.

 In fact most of our reporting from St Vincent has not even been written text, but 90 percent video – most of them raw and unedited.

 They have accused us of many things – but at least they have not accused us of doctoring those videos.

We were there for the election announcement – and we posted that; we were there for rallies and we posted that. We were there for the protests outside of the Governor General’s house and we posted that. We were there for the swearing in of the Prime Minister and we posted that. We were there for the cabinet's swearing in and we posted that – and for all the subsequent arguments back and forth.

All those were reported and posted without comment.

I am yet to hear an argument that in that process we doctored anything.

So the argument of Jomo, Cecil Ryan, Marlon Stephenson and the likes is to try to figure the motive of Hamlet Mark; and exactly what he is doing in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

 Well, they don’t only have a hard time in dealing with facts; but in facing truth. They are peddling a line – and they were not there – that I was disobeying police orders. Interestingly, not even the police themselves are claiming that they gave me any orders.

So let’s for example accept all their innuendos and accusations – and let’s accept that I am the devil reincarnate. How does that change the hard facts of what’s happening in St Vincent and the Grenadines again?

    You see – facts are stubborn things.

     Here are the facts of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

 There was a general election on December 9 that as declared 8-7 for the ULP. The opposition has refused to accept the results, and has challenged two of the seats in court. Since then there has been daily protests, all relatively small, outside of the officer of the Supervisor of Elections.

It escalated last week, when the police moved in and arrested eight demonstrators, including a 70 year old great grandmother.

  The next day hundreds came out in the streets and protested that development. It was on that day that I was detained on “suspicion of obstruction.” (The day after we posted a video with police – well – actually harassing the people they had sworn to ‘protect and to serve’).

Now since we have seen these obscene reactions to those facts, they have been baiting me for my opinion: so here is it.

On Wednesday, the police over-reacted and abused their power; and if they don’t back off on that course, they would light a dangerous fuse and bring this proud nation to a place that only the poor people will suffer.

What we have seen in recent times is a classic case of government over-reach that indicates panic somewhere. But these supposedly bright men should be well versed in the lessons of history.

 (And as it relates to me specifically, there was a government in Grenada who put a whole political machinery together to try to discredit me. Well here is another fact of history: they are not there anymore).

 If all the things Jomo and Cecil accused me off are true – there are still not crimes in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The last time I checked this was not Zimbabwe – and I hope no one in Kingstown has aspirations to go down that road.

One thing the Comrade and I have in common is that we are from the school of Maurice Bishop.

But at this time in our latter lives, I don’t know which one of us needs to be struck down on the road to Damascus.

Michael Manley, among the greatest of Caribbean progressive leaders of the last 50 years or so, once said: “Move forward on your feet, not on your knees.”

 All I can state here is that I am still a real revolutionary, and a rebel to the core – still a socialist activist not a survivalist politician propping up a system of inequality and victimization.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Eyeing down ‘Ralph’s enforcer’

The political operatives parading as police officers in St Vincent and the Grenadines, did the very thing they tried to stop this week – bringing some much needed regional and international spotlight on what’s happening there.

Since my detention on, well, what they described as “suspicion of obstruction” the many media outlets throughout the Caribbean and North America have been asking me “what’s really going on in St Vincent?”

It is ironic that the man who said “take him away” was the officer, who I was told his name is Christopher Benjamin and who I have noticed has been described since in one social media post as “Ralph’s enforcer.”

(In the late 1970s, Eric Gairy in Grenada had one of them; a hated police officer called Innocent Belmar; who once ordered officers to search the lunch container of my bigger brother on his way to school, putting their bare hands through his food saying they were looking for guns because he was the son of New Jewel Movement people).

The first time I noticed Benjamin (assuming that is his name), was the day after the elections at the Government House. He was in plainclothes – and I was not even sure he was an officer then.

In fact, I was not sure who he was at all, but just had a creepy feeling about him.

He was on the other side of the police line pacing up and down behind the riot police staring down the protesters. He was visibly upset that the officers were not using force against the demonstrators.

There was an SSU-clad officer with a bullhorn who was trying his best to calm the situation and to ensure there was no violent clash. At one point he called aside three operatives of the opposition including candidate Noel Dixon to “negotiate and arrangement” that will keep the peace while respecting people’s right to demonstrate.

Benjamin did not like that idea. He walked away, grumbling and rumbling – openly upset that there was a “discussion.” He called another officer in regular uniform and was complaining bitterly about the approach.

I later saw Benjamin around the swearing in ceremony at the Governor General’s office – still in plainclothes;  hobnobbing. He was obviously a well-connected man. I took a mental note of him again.

(BTW walking away from the GG’s house that night, I encountered the other officer who earlier had the bullhorn. I stretched out my hands and shook his. I told him “you’re a good man and a proud Vincentian. I was impressed with you today.” With which he replied, ‘thank you’).

The next time I noticed Benjamin again was the day of the protest when parliament opened, at the Central Police Station in Kingstown.

Like outside the GG’s residence, he appeared on the scene in plainclothes as the crowd was gathering outside of the station soon after Ben Exeter, the opposition figure was arrested.

He was agitated; directing officers; berating them for not being aggressive and assertive enough; for – and I overheard that – “taking too much nonsense.” (Whatever that meant).

My eyes were stuck on him for a bit. For a couple of brief moments, we stared at each other. I made another mental of him again. And I suspected that day, if not before, he also made one of me.

The first time I saw Benjamin actually in uniform was days later at one of the protests outside of the Electoral Commission’s office.

There he was with his baton, as if ready to direct the traffic of state harassment, on thankfully unwilling proud Vincentian officers unwilling to bring uncalled for repression on people they obviously grew up with and knew.

There our eyes met again. I could not keep my eyes off him, even while filming. He was steering me down too. I was watching him. In fact, I wanted him to notice that I was watching him.

On this past Wednesday, I had heard of police moving in and arresting a few demonstrators. I had missed those images.

But was hanging around the area, when Benjamin again showed up with a few officers. He ordered them to take away a woman dressed in an opposition t-shirt who did not seem to be doing anything other than leaning up on a vehicle.

I captured those and posted it online and sent it to a number of regional television stations.

Corporal Benjamin was obviously not pleased. He can be seen on camera ordering me to move.

During Thursday’s demonstrations, Corporal Benjamin showed up just after lunch, and immediately called most of the officers away from the face-down with the demonstrators. I was not trusting that – wondering if it was a tactical retreat or such.

Only for moments later a truckload of riot police landed on the scene. I quickly turned the camera on the approaching truckload.

But I kept looking at Benjamin on the corner of my eyes. I knew he was looking at me.

As I was about to cross the street, moving away from the demonstrators to get a better angle of the police disembarking the truck with their gear, I saw Benjamin rushing towards me, even as I kept walking away.

Then I heard him telling the officers – pointing that now infamous baton of state harassment at me – to “take him away.”

One officer grabbed me by the hand, another by the waist, saying “let’s go.”

As the two officers were walking me to the police station, I apologised to them for being made to follow the orders of a man increasingly to me, was not fit to be leading proud Vincentian officers who were just wanting to do a professional job and to genuinely “protect and serve” their Vincentian brothers and sisters.

I knew they were embarrassed; and I felt genuinely sorry for them.

I have no doubt in my mind that Benjamin – and I am sure they are others in that force -- is more willing to uphold the power of the status quo, rather than the law. But zealots like these end up bringing embarrassment to the very status quo that they believe they are faithfully working to protect.

For now, mark the name of that officer down. I just have a feeling we will hear about him again.

I have a feeling, I will also see him again.

I have seen them in the Burnham days in Guyana. I have seen them in the Gairy days in Grenada.

Political thugs like that parading in police uniform don’t go away easily.

PS: Neither do I.