Tuesday, 12 February 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
It’s not that things aren’t happening all over the world, far too many of them bad … or at the very least not too good. Too often lately my double-bubble telescope has been sending signals about sensory overload.
It seems there’s so much data streaming up from all the trouble spots around the globe that really serious crises risk getting lost in the clutter. And with the planet’s ecological balance starting to really spin out of all control – thanks mainly to us: the enemy – I’m going to need more bandwidth to stay on top of everything.
I may also have to shuttle up extra supplies against the possibility of a prolonged stay in low Earth orbit – you never know when all hell might break loose: Mankind and Mother Nature joining hand in hand to turn our only world into one global disaster zone.
Monitoring events on my Earth base Antigua & Barbuda is a “background noise” thing for me – a default activity; and recently my multiple retractable broadband antennae picked up something that sounded a lot like a disease.
Actually, it sounded a lot like a mental disease, common in this twin-island paradise. The condition flourishes happily in our authoritarian culture, which itself is deeply rooted in the islands’ socio-economic history. The rod is a fundamental feature of our psyche, and though not necessarily wielded in a physical sense is very much at the forefront of all thinking – especially in the realm of officialdom.
The process is simple and straightforward. Give a member of the official class the power to exercise legal coercive force against any citizen of group of citizens, and that official will immediately resort to that power – unthinkingly, automatically – at the first opportunity. The official will act in that manner because that is the way things are done, aren’t they? It is a mindset, not by any means unique to Antigua & Barbuda, infecting societies worldwide and throughout human history. If you don’t believe me check out the Code of Hammurabi … or the Law of the Medes and Persians that changeth not.
So, when the Town & Country Planner (sounds like a marvelous job – planning whole towns and entire countries … is there an annual quota?) started making squatting a headline news big story, everybody knew more or less what was coming. What was coming was talk, talk, plenty of talk and still more talk. It was truly edifying to hear the Town & Country Planner talk about the problem of squatting; talk around the problem of squatting; talk about the illegality of squatting; talk about the health hazards of squatting; talk about the prevalence of squatting; talk about alternatives to squatting.
It was even more educational to hear the Town & Country Planner and the Chairman of the Development Control Authority (note: “control” and “authority” in the same title … these guys are doomed) talk about the measures the DCA could, or should, or might take to ‘remove’ or ‘evict’ squatters illegally occupying government land. Private owners would have to take care of their own assets.
Everybody knew crunch time was coming when the big boys at the DCA started issuing threats about imminent eviction of squatters illegally occupying government lands at a place called Perry Bay. Not only were the illegal squatter dwellings holding up proper development of the area, they provided an unsightly visitor experience for the cruise tourists who help to pump lifeblood into the local economy. The Chief Health Inspector was drafted in to issue dire warnings of a potential cholera outbreak triggered by raw human effluent flowing into St Johns harbor. The Anti-Perry Bay Squatter public relations campaign was in full cry; the radio talk show phone lines hummed with the intensity of the debate.
Then, the big announcement came. A determined DCA drew a line in the sand. A date with destiny was made; and up to the microphone stepped … not the formidable chair of the DCA … not even the dutiful Town & Country Planner. No sir! Those big and bold and brave and high and mighty public officials scuttled to hide behind the rather inadequate (for the purpose) skirts of the most diminutive member of the DCA board – a female at that, Chief Environment Officer Diann Black Layne.
What ungentlemanly behavior! With their strategic absence the big boys of the DCA (who shall at this point remain unnamed) gave away the whole game. They could not be seen to personally throw down the gauntlet to the Perry Bay squatters. Official cowardice was the order of the day. Already, the DCA action was being revealed as counterfeit.
It had to be. The political stakes were high, and the ground on which the DCA stood uncertain. This was well known to be government land. The settlement had grown up over years, in full view of all authority. Everybody knew about. Nobody could have missed it. Electricity and water services were attached to many properties. Utility bills were being paid. The DCA had somehow approved those connections, possibly validating the residences as bona fide.
Most glaring of all, many of the squatters were immigrants from the Dominican Republic, a good number of them citizens of Antigua & Barbuda. Other citizens of Antigua & Barbuda were occupying other government lands elsewhere, apparently without let or hindrance by the DCA or anybody, for that matter.
The fear of the potential adverse political fallout from the threatened eviction was such that not even the loud chorus of rabid anti-foreigner sentiment from supporters of the ruling party could carry the day. The opposition party could not credit its senses, licking its chops at the prospect of a weak incumbent government evicting scores of members of a significant voting bloc in an election year.
Faced with the enormity of the impending blunder, earnestly warned by knowledgeable and tuned-in political analysts, the ruling party blinked … and sent out DCA chair Leon “Chaku” Symister (himself!) to begin the fence-mending process. More time, Symister announced, would be given; no horizon was indicated.
Once again officialdom in Antigua & Barbuda has stumbled painfully over its own authoritarian nature. The authoritarian mind sees no circumstances, takes no thought for consequences. Might is right, and the mere possession of a power confers the right to deploy that power in any arbitrary manner expedient … as on a sugar plantation in the 19th century.
There is a saying, attributed to the English churchman Thomas Fuller: “Let not your will roar where your power can but whisper.” So, when the Perry Bay squatters showed every sign that they intended to ignore any and all “deadlines” and to let the chips fall where they may, the authoritarians at the DCA suddenly remembered that discretion is the better part of valor … and this time they opted not to hide behind the lady’s skirts.