While browsing recently I was not in any way surprised to discover that St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) during the year 2017 was ranked as the third poorest country in the Caribbean, below Haiti, then listed as the poorest.
However, while reading through a couple of works recently I began to ponder the existing plight of some of us Vincentians, stranded here on these small pieces of lands, poverty stricken and begging our way the world over. Those works were, namely, Africa — Africans as Seen by Classical Writers, by William Leo Hansberry, and the equally interesting The African Origin of Civilization, Myth or Reality by Cheikh Anta Diop. These books are well worth reading for those who are interested in origins.
Such works encourage one to ponder the march of history. They likewise evoke thoughts of what had been the rise and fall of some nations, the birth and growth of human civilizations. Noting the interactions of peoples. The very sad outcome for some, when governments fail their people. Indeed, in recent times we saw the rise and fall of the Soviet system and how it failed the people there too.
During the past Sunday we were learning that an ex-Supreme Court judge from Venezuela Mr Christian Zerpa, had legged it to the US. There he denounces Nicolás Maduro and says that Venezuela’s Supreme Court is ‘an appendage’ of Nicolás Maduro’s government. But does that statement of his in any way surprise us? Not one bit!
It is reported that this one-time Nicolás Maduro backer, Mr Justice Christian Zerpa told a Miami broadcaster on Sunday 6th January 2019 that Nicolás Maduro does not “deserve” to serve a second six-year term in office. Many of his fellow country man would most certainly agree with him and have expressed their views by vacating the country too just like him, and have legged it as fast as they can to the nearest border crossing that they could find.
“I’ve decided to leave Venezuela to disavow the government of Nicolás Maduro,” Mr Zerpa said in an interview with the Miami based EVTV reporter. He went on, “I believe President Nicolás Maduro does not deserve a second chance because the election he supposedly won was not free and competitive.” Surprise surprise!
Could there be any parallel here with us in St Vincent and the Grenadines, after all, Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister here, is indeed an avid supporter and very close ally of the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Ralph Gonsalves too has been accused by the opposition here of stealing the 2015 St Vincent and the Grenadines election here likewise.
However, the main opposition National Democratic Party here has been bedevilling to get the matter resolved in our law courts. But while there is much international opposition to the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s rule, Ralph Gonsalves has had a very easy time of it, as he, Ralph Gonsalves, being a lawyer, has proved himself quite adept at prolonging the matter through our court system.
The defection of Mr Justice Christian Zerpa comes amid much growing international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro over his new term of office, which he supposedly won in a widely boycotted 2018 election. That election was dismissed by many countries as a complete sham.
Indeed, there are many here in SVG who are questioning a system like ours, which allows for a situation such as has happened here, where the outcome of the general election has been vigorously challenged but a resolution within the court system could be so frustrated by one of the interested parties, and a resolution so long in coming, it makes nonsense of the entire challenge itself, legitimate or otherwise.
It is the custom of all ruling dictators to so corrupt administrative and civic institutions within any given country that removing them from office becomes near impossible. Such institutions are likely to include the civil service, the court system, the police service and all other civil/civic bureaucracies, in order to cement and prolong their very often autocratic dictatorial rule. A parliamentary form of government such as ours has not in any way proved to be a hindrance to such an outcome.
Indeed, returning to Zerpa, for years, Mr Christian Zerpa was a close ally of Nicolás Maduro while sitting on the Supreme Court. The said Supreme Court that had backed Nicolás Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party in every major legal dispute since Nicolás Maduro’s election in 2013. Yet we see how fortunes have changed there with so many former backers abandoning the regime.
Mr Christian Zerpa had indeed written a 2016 ruling that provided the legal justification for the Maduro government to strip Venezuela’s National Assembly of most of its powers, after the opposition had gained control of that body in the then landslide election. But as the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro cements his nefarious controls over all things Venezuelan, so life under his dictatorship becomes most unbearable, as inflation spirals out of control and those people who can leg it, just simply run away.
But what is the view from St Vincent and the Grenadines? Some here see themselves little better off. We have a captive government ruled over by a budding dynastic family, the Gonsalves family. The family has reneged on their leader Ralph Gonsalves’ 1999 electioneering promise to let us have a “Freedom of Information Parliamentary Bill” and has promoted much nepotism and cronyism here.
Our Parliament has proved itself to be nothing but a rubber stamp for the Gonsalves family’s interest and, just like the Venezuelans, our civil and civic institutions are so corrupted that they are best avoided at the best of times — that is if one can.
Our begging strategy have brought in some much needed revenue, unlike the Venezuelans who have refused all foreign aid and were our currency not under the auspices of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the ECCB, and the occasional visit from the IMF, we would no doubt be experiencing the same hyperinflation here, just like the Venezuelans. High taxation has destroyed businesses with little incentive for individuals to establish new ones.
Were we to start running from here, we neither have the way with it all nor rich neighbours who could receive us. Our worrying question is this, if and when push eventually comes to shove here, would our supreme court be of any use to us. For we sure have been left high and dry so far for near on 18 years and most certainly after the last election. With things as it is here so far, we are positively up the Suwannee and undeniably without so much as a paddle. The Caribbean elite have seen to that.
Mr Christian Zerpa, in his interview with the Miami based EVTV reporter on Sunday described the Venezuelan Supreme Court as an “appendage of the executive branch” of Nicolás Maduro’s government and said that his fellow justices were sometimes summoned to the presidential palace to receive their instructions on how to rule on certain sensitive cases.
Zerpa went on to say that he did not leg it out from Venezuela earlier nor come out publicly against Nicolás Maduro’s re-election last May because he wanted to ensure that both he and his family could leave the country quite safely. One cannot fault him in such a shrewd and intelligent move. A stint in one of Nicolás Maduro’s prisons would not have been good for his health.
For sure, Mr Christian Zerpa’s striking words have echoed those of like former Justice Eladio Aponte, who fled to the US in 2012 and said the government of Venezuela’s dead socialist leader Hugo Chavez — Maduro’s predecessor — had systematically manipulated court affairs. A known classic action on the part of all dictators. From Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, to Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, former president of Iraq.
Elections are not the high point in dictatorships. General elections were held here in St Vincent and the Grenadines on 9 December 2015. That is some three years ago and more now, yet Vincentians have never been very sure as to who should be their legitimate government because our own ruling family’s shenanigans. Like the Venezuelan leader they have frustrated our knowing.
A further question to be asked of ourselves is, how on earth we as a people came to this? Why have we been so badly trodden down that we, like the Venezuelans, find ourselves hostage to a system that works only for an elite and not for the majority?
We who boast of having a parliament, the offspring of “the Mother of all Parliaments” in Westminster, yet we are so miserably treated with so little protest from us!
I am reminded of Homer’s Odyssey and the “lotus-eaters”. Have we have been reduced to mere “lotus-eaters”? We sure have left off caring and are just fetching our drinking water in reed baskets, while the “Papa” begs around the world.
The day’s gleeful announcement is that we have received new EU/British aid to repair our roads, next will come again the British to build a new port, the Japanese to build a fish facility to be closely followed by the Taiwanese with a camera system, on the heels of the Indian government with a new commercial building. USAid and many others to follow soon.
As a reminder of things to come. Not so long ago the Japanese had built us a beautiful complex in Kingstown, locally known as “Little Tokyo” but sadly now only the rats are currently its contented residents, as it has fallen into total dilapidation and gross disrepair through neglect. Even our Parliament building has shrubs growing out of it.
In Homer’s Odyssey we learn this: “I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them.
“They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches.
“Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.”
But who will force us away from being modern day Lotus-eaters?