Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 15th 2014 Contents A26
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt June 15, 2014
Early last Friday, it was
late-night music and
honking car horns in
Antigua as Gaston Browne s
Antigua and Barbuda Labour
Party (ABLP) won a 14-3 elec-
tion landslide with 56 per cent
of the popular vote. Voter
turnout was a whopping 90 per
Friday, naturally, was a public
holiday. There was little to cele-
brate for Baldwin Spencer s
United Progressive Party, in
office since 2004, but they held
on to 42 per cent of the vote
and a toe-hold in parliament.
The single Barbuda seat is
always a cliffhanger; they lost it
by a single vote.
Spencer was punished by the
voters for the dire state of
Antigua s economy, knocked
back by the squeeze on interna-
tional tourism and the 2009 col-
lapse of the Allen Stanford
empire, the country s biggest
employer. There have been suc-
cesses---a new Sandals resort, for
starters---but not enough to
swing the voters.
The ABLP is a long-standing
fixture of Antiguan politics. Led
by the redoubtable Vere Bird
Senior and then from 1983 by
his son Lester, the party held
power with one short break from
the first universal suffrage elec-
tion in 1951 until 2004. Now
they re back.
The new government looks like
a return to a strangely familiar
landscape. The Attorney General
is Steadroy "Cutie" Benjamin, an
old stalwart from the Bird days.
Lester Bird lost a leadership
contest to Browne in November
2012. But he is back in Parlia-
ment, albeit 76 years old and in
In Parliament, too, are high-
profile former ministers Robin
Yearwood, who first joined Vere
Bird s cabinet in 1980, and Mol-
wyn Joseph, who joined him just
30 years ago. Another powerful
force is the high-profile former
works minister Asot Michael,
who has given generously to
Gaston Browne is a relative
newcomer. He was first elected
in 1999, and was Lester Bird s
planning and trade minister for a
single term. His party has a
proud tradition of feuding fief-
doms. Keeping his colleagues in
line may not be easy. But
Browne has links to the old firm:
his young wife Maria is Lester
Bird s niece, and granddaughter
to the late Vere Bird Senior.
He will find the economy
pretty much as his party left it
ten years ago: in a mess, and
saddled with a public debt more
than 100 per cent of GDP. The
IMF calls the fiscal deficit
Gaston Browne won votes with
a pre-election pledge to wipe
out all unpaid utility bills dating
from last December or before.
With debt forgiveness in sight,
payments to the state-owned
Antigua Public Utilities Authority
dropped by half. In mid-
drought, the Authority struggled
to pay private-sector suppliers
for fresh water, even to meet its
monthly wage bill.
The big hope for Antigua
tourism is Guana Island, just off
the north-east coast. Chinese
investors plan a mega-resort,
with golf course, bells and whis-
tles. A few billion dollars in the
construction phase and a few
thousand jobs when it opens
could turn round the economy,
in nice time for a 2019 poll.
That scheme, too, looks like a
familiar face from the Bird days.
Back in 1993, Lester Bird s gov-
ernment floated a mega-resort
"Asian Village" scheme for
Guana Island, to be funded by
Malaysian businessman Dato Tan
Kay Hoc. That failed to materi-
The next prospect was Allen
Stanford, who cooked up a deal
with Baldwin Spencer s govern-
ment during its first term.
Environmentalists were deeply
concerned about both these
schemes, for their onshore and
offshore wildlife impacts. They
are still worried. But this time,
financially at least, the proposal
It is déjà vu all over again
with Natalia Querard. Her Half
Moon Bay hotel, on a prime
beachfront site, was knocked
about by Hurricane Luis in 1995.
It closed, and still lies deserted.
The Lester Bird government
wanted to redevelop, and tried
compulsory acquisition. They
met fierce resistance. If Querard
hoped for relief from Baldwin
Spencer in 2004, she was sorely
disappointed. She fought tooth
and nail to the Privy Council,
and lost again. But compensation
is still not settled; until that
well-chewed morsel is off the
plate, there s little chance that a
new investor will take a taste.
The next old battle is a spat
with the US over online gam-
bling. Spencer s government was
unable to resolve that long-run-
ning dispute. It started under
Lester Bird in 2003, when
Antigua through the World
Trade Organisation challenged
restrictions on the use of off-
shore Web sites.
Antigua won an initial ruling
in 2005. The US then withdrew
from any gambling-related com-
mitments under the General
Agreement on Trade in Services.
The WTO has given Antigua an
all-clear to take retaliatory
measures against US intellectual
property, but Spencer was
understandably nervous about
going nuclear. It s not easy to
win a one-sided battle, but let-
ting it drag on is no diplomatic
triumph. Will Browne do better?
In just three weeks, Gaston
Browne takes over as Caricom
chair. That should be fun.
When I returned from
my visit to a pre-
school in the Beetham
last week, I cut my hair short to
mark the day, so I would remem-
The morning unfolded like an
uneasy dream in slow motion. I
kept repeating to myself: "Two
hundred murders already, and we
are just halfway through the year.
So many teens among them, shot
My little foray to the Beetham,
thanks to Simone de la Bastide,
barely scratched the surface into
how and why a nine-year-old
child like Jadel Holder and his 15-
year-old brother Jamal, in this
sweet, hot, rainy, mango-laden
country, could be made to
reportedly lie down on their liv-
ing-room floor and be shot at
point-blank range, in front of
As we wound our way into the
Beetham, Simone told me she
was taking me to meet Wayne
Jordan, the founder and force
behind the preschool Each One
Teach One. It is now supported
by Simone s new brainchild, the
Children s Ark, an NGO that
helps at-risk children---underpriv-
ileged, abused, abandoned,
Simone, with 15 years of social
work behind her (starting with
her first NGO venture, Wand---
Women in Action for the Needy
and Destitute) and now chairman
of the Children s Ark, told me of
the stories that eat away at our
core but don t make headlines.
She told me of the shameful
disrepair of some of the 52
unregulated children s homes; of
toddlers who regularly fall down
in buckets or adult toilets; of
rooms overstuffed with toys from
Good Samaritans---and overrun by
rats and cockroaches; of unsuper-
vised children engaging in sexual
activity; of abuse at all levels. The
Government s excuse for not
shutting down unacceptable
homes is that until the Children s
Authority Act is fully proclaimed,
they cannot enforce regulations to
end abuse and health issues.
This is a clear signal to us all
that if they don t care about chil-
dren, they can t care about the
future of this country.
We had a chance to walk
around. Drainage made up narrow
pathways dividing rows of gal-
We bumped into groups of
boys. A boy, around 17, with
piercing light eyes and a face that
belonged on the cover of GQ,
was sitting on a wall in one
group. His friends were languish-
ing in various positions around
him, one with a heavy gold chain
and ring, the others looking in
need of a good meal, hug-up,
sleep and shower. Their eyes lit
up with curiosity. They were still
children. The cynical say they
know their life expectancy is low,
so they live for the day.
I stopped, and said, "Can I ask
you some questions?"
"Sure, miss." They smiled
They are 17, 18, and 21 years
I asked, "Why aren t you in
They looked to each other for
"I is trouble," said the almond-
"What?" I asked.
He wouldn t say.
They know everything. They
know about the guns and the
drugs, the drug lords, the middle-
men, the construction gangs.
Studies show that gangs dealing
with drugs, use the little pawns
like these boys, who make less
than minimum wage. They ve
devalued their own lives.
To every question, they said,
"I don t know anything, I inside
my house, 24-0."
I asked, "Can you take me to
"No, miss, it hard to get to."
I said, "Okay, I won t ask what
age you held a gun or who you
saw shot dead, but have you been
"Yes, miss, hungry, plenty
times. Our father locks up the
kitchen. We never see him. We
don t know what he does. We
wait for him whole day to eat."
I asked, "Did anyone hurt
Three downturned mouths face
me. "Yes, miss, plenty licks."
"Mother or father?"
They don t know where their
mother is. She lives somewhere
with another man.
Further down the drain track, a
woman, "Miss Lorna," stands at
her verandah. I ask if I can come
in. She invites us into her clut-
tered home. Inside one room lives
her 30-year-old son with wasted
legs. He can t walk. The family
thinks it s obeah.
Miss Lorna from Grenada has
lived for 30 years with her dis-
abled son beneath homes, amidst
puddles of fish and rainwater. She
worked in the La Basse. Her son,
with a big stomach, crawls about,
on his belly, from mattress to toi-
let. That s his life. He says he
believes he will walk one day, but
he never goes out. The wheel-
chair is untouched. His eyes are
Further down the drain we
meet three women playing all-
fours under a galvanised shed.
The heavily pregnant one is
smoking into the face of the
other pregnant one. They each
have six children already. They
are 29 years old. No sign of the
The childless one, to my ques-
tion as to whether she wanted a
job, replied, "Yeah," impatient to
get on with the game.
This is a cocooned world with
its own rules.
I would soon encounter the
school the Children s Ark helped
build, Each One Teach One. My
leaping faith at this nurturing
preschool in the midst of hope-
lessness, is obscured by a shock-
ing act done by one preschooler
To contribute to the Children's
Ark, please call 389-9772.
ANTIGUA: BACK TO BIRDLAND?
A WALK IN THE BEETHAM
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