The threat was always there. We were warned, but we probably didn’t know that we didn’t know how to take heed. Then it crept in like a thief in the night. I’m not speaking about the Covid-19 Novel Coronavirus, but rather the political moonwalk that is placing many of our CARICOM and Caribbean neighbors under the spell of dictatorship, in the guise of democracy.
While we hear the D-word and think shudderingly of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, and Mugabe, we try to comfort ourselves that those guys are thousands of miles and centuries away from where we find ourselves now. But the ills of a susceptible public then have not waned in this 21st Century… there are very many people who simply want to follow, and be acknowledged; causes and morals notwithstanding.
Dictatorship in the Caribbean has had a long history. A few keys names (in no particular order) come to mind:
- Manuel Noriega, Panama (1983-1989)
- Forbes Burnham, Guyana (1964-1985)
- Augusto Pinochet, Chile (1973-1990)
- Hugo Chavez, Venezuela (1999-2012)
- Rafael Trujillo, Dominican Republic (1930-1961)
- Francois Duvalier, Haiti (1957-1971)
- Fidel Castro, Cuba (1959-2006)
In fact, the generally accepted definition of a dictatorship is “a government or social situation where one person makes all the rules and decisions without input from anyone else”.
Seven years ago, Lesroy W. Williams was the mouthpiece for the breakaway Labour faction that would eventually become Team Unity. His words then, on the topic of dictatorship, rings eerily true today, about the current administration. He wrote:
“Although Caribbean leaders would retort by saying that their leadership is a far cry from the likes of those in Africa because it is not as blatant, it is however deadly subtle. Also, we can look closer to home in the Caribbean and Latin America to find our own dictators... ...Caribbean Constitutions give too much power to prime ministers who wield this ‘wild’ power over the legislature that they sometimes begin to think and act that they, the prime ministers, are the legislature.
When a prime minister can manipulate the legislature, thereby making the Speaker a mere puppet; when Caribbean elections are won by rigging and padding voter’s lists; when the press is seriously hamstrung in doing its work... ...when politicians use money to bribe people at election time and where there is no transparency in campaign financing in the absence of legislation to regulate it; when ordinary folks are lied to about the true state of the economy... ...when people are victimized because they have opposing political views and others cowed into silence for fear of losing their means to a daily bread; when politicians support garrison politics and badmanship... ...when politicians criticize the judicial system when it does not rule in their favor... ... then we are faced with the ingredients of dictatorship.”
With what can only be described as the shameful fiasco that was the 2020 Guyana General Election, the threat of dictatorship again looms its head. An incumbent President seemingly having control over the Guyana Election Commission, to the point that the tally for the pivotal Region Four is obfuscated by tactics directly out of the Dark Ages. An Observer mission, headed by the respected former Prime Minister of Barbados, being threatened with expulsion. And a martyr, felled by police bullets. Now the courts have been drawn in, with the first bone of contention being if the national judicial system can adjudicate on national affairs.
This certainly seems the fuel to ignite budding dictatorial tendencies in the region, not least of all, our very own St Kitts and Nevis.
For those with longer than nine-day memories, the current Team Unity administration was built around change and a rejection of a Labour party governance that spanned four terms. Political fatigue, we cried. We wanted change. Change came in the form of a petulant child of the Labour movement, who seemed to be impatient to be handed the reigns of leadership, and so went on to form his own Labour party.
The sparse support Tim Harris had six years ago was influential enough for him to secure one seat… and become Prime Minister, and securing the dubious record as being the most minority leader in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The extract from Williams above was a direct attack on Douglas’ Labour movement, but re-read today, it is a perfect description of the Harris administration.
Making the Speaker a puppet, interfering with the electoral list, cash bribes, suspicious campaign financiers, victimization, nepotism, batsmanship and consorting with criminals are all shining hallmarks of Team Unity’s time in power. Maybe it would not have been too bad to have had a PAM Prime Minister, but the delicate Shawn Richards felt he was not up to the task, as his limit on leadership apparently stops at Opposition politics.
One of the first things that Harris executed at his victory was to remove the diplomatic travel allowance to the Opposition Leader, which, while not illegal, goes against the spirit of cooperation and governance, and was the first hint of vapid, vitriolic, vexatious and vindictive things to come from Harris.
Ironically, so was his term started, so does the sunset on it… with the same diplomatic passport issue. This may not be good for any superstitious TU party supporters.
An uncharacteristically docile Douglas calmly accepted the ruling against him by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, only to get on the soapbox a few hours later… to say he abides by the ruling and sees a great opportunity to refresh his mandate by the people.
This is certainly not the same old fiery Douglas, but a wiser, more chess-minded politician. On the other hand, Team Unity still seem to be stuck on the checker's board, having spent massive sums of taxpayer dollars to secure a favorable judgment, via the astronomical costs of Senior and Queen’s Counsels. It would have made much more sense if there were some awards at the end of it, which makes the entire court matter an academic exercise since Douglas’ diplomatic passport has not been valid for travel for the past couple of months.
But before Team Unity could finish patting themselves on the back, shots were fired at the Basseterre Police Station, in a sobering reminder that our entire government is beholden not to the people, but to about three dozen hardcore criminals – murderers, drug dealers and bandits. The criminal underworld is scenting an election in the air, and have decided to ask for an increase in their hush-money, otherwise known as the Poverty Alleviation Programme.
It ties back to the use intimidation tactics to control the electorate when polls are called in certain nations. Most leaders leverage on their national security forces (Venezuela, Guyana etc), while others look to the criminal element to control their Opposition rivals (Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago etc).
Harris seems hell-bent on becoming the Caribbean’s newest dictator. He’ll be the worst kind, as his initial ascension to power was not via popular vote, but by forming a coalition and forcing his way to the top. He’s partnered with the “Butcher of Tivoli” retired Major General Stewart Saunders to woo and pacify Basseterre’s killers, while lettering them keep their guns.
He’s put his sister to practically run the judiciary, while his brothers run the prison and the national bank. Cousins, nieces, and nephews rake in top dollar in make-work positions. His financiers are shady, corrupt and have no allegiance to St Kitts nor Nevis… they are total outsiders. Questions abound about the transparency of the Elections Commission, which is also the watchful eye of the Harris clan.
What about the reports of voter cards and passports being distributed as freely as post-hurricane rations? What about the Spanish criminal underworld that has taken root in Monkey Hill and environs? What of the move to change boundaries on the eve on an election – a battle he lost as a member of a sitting government previously?
Harris has an army of public servants who are being paid as Team Unity social media trolls, who are only sowing hatred and disunity and are unable to intelligently discuss basic issues.
It’s almost as if Harris is following real-time, the doctrine being written by Granger.
And now, Harris has the perfect opportunity to play the dictator master-card and use the current COVID-19 lockdown to his political advantage. Now that many commentators have anticipated such a tactic, it will be even more brazen for Harris to attempt to execute it.
It must not be forgotten that the key influencers and strategists who were responsible for Harris’ ascension to office – Condor, Astaphan et al – have walked away from him; leaving him bereft of ideas and a winning impetus for a political campaign.
Stakeholders at large are expecting the big man to implode under the mounting pressures of calling the election, breaking of the peace treaty, a global economic downturn and all the ripple effects of the Novel Coronavirus.
As the eighth smallest country in the world, St Kitts and Nevis is in the spotlight; from being the idyllic, quintessential getaway spot, the island is now a hotbed of political confusion, division, and distrust. Serious crime is on the rise once again, with government burying its head in the sand and refusing to address the skyrocketing reports of robberies, rapes, and violence towards tourists.
A lack of leadership, they say. We will change it, others say. But it may all depend on what Harris says.
Joel B. Liburd