By Alvette “Ellorton” Jeffers
The Antigua and Barbuda State is never to be trusted; and especially in this moment of national crisis, our scepticism must be heightened. We do not develop this healthy scepticism because its representatives are habitual liars. The State has to be held under constant scrutiny because its different bureaucracies are first and foremost concerned with their own survival, and when they are compelled to speak to the population, it is what is paramount. Therefore, they have a reason to circulate sanitised information hoping that it fosters, within the community, a favourable opinion of the State
The State includes the political Executive that governs. It can change every five years, but the political party that assumes that position, continues to function within the prescribed settings that make the survival of the entire State possible. The departments of the Sate include the courts, the prison, the police, the defence force, the civil service bureaucracy or any outside agency that is legitimised to function on the State’s behalf. Each department has its distinct function and rules. Together, they serve the single purpose of cementing the State’s authority and dominance. Its separate departments raise or collect revenues from which the salaries of bureaucrats are deducted and payments for public undertakings are made. Each State department has the authority to persuade citizens to comply with regulations passed in Parliament; and through this process they act to align the citizens’ behaviour with the norms of the State. The success of this effort contributes to the financial survival of the bureaucracy and the workforce they employ. In short, the State’s functionaries live off of a fraction of the profit labour creates in the form of taxation, fees and fines. Some have long used their privileged positions to “enrich” themselves by making the “island’s business” their “business.” (Carib News,October 9, 1996) It can be said, therefore, that the State is also a parasitic body that is given power to regulate and monitor social conflicts that are products of the economic system that exploits labour and leads to the creation of a wealthy class of individuals. This wealthy class lives a life of comfort while all others face an unpredictable future. This class depends upon the State to fortify its privileges and, additionally, it benefits from a labour relation’s policy that undergirds capital’s interest over those of labour by undercutting the power that labour had during the 1940s-1970 to call a general strike.
The State, or if you prefer this parasitic body, does not maintain itself through force only; but it has used violence, in 1968 and 1979, to end labour uprisings in favour of the State and foreign investors. To lessen its dependence on coercion of any type, the State sources other avenues for legitimacy. One such source is its potential to implement social programs that the working class and every-day people need. It cannot justify its raison d’ etreif it fails to provide them. It will not garner the endorsement of those it continually disappoints. At such times, the political Executive can access resources to create dependable, flag-waving sycophants, some of whom are permitted to engage in unconventional conduct. It is among them that the State finds its most virulent loyalists; and they are loyal only because they can gain a pecuniary advantage over others. They are often the most strident in their condemnation of those citizens who will not swear loyalty to the Antigua and Barbuda State. These citizens who openly resist the State’s normalisation processes and remain nonconformist are sometimes the victims of all types of public shaming, official mal-alignment and in some instances, they are sanctioned for being, to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr., “maladjusted to injustice.”
The State’s failings are mounting and are on display for all to see. The mingling of the economic crisis with the spread of the coronavirus is destabilising the society. As this crisis deepens, the State is finding it difficult to provide security especially for every-day people who need it the most. It is not only they who feel insecure. The health employees whom the population is relying on to help curb the spread of COVID 19, feel vulnerable too. “In recent weeks”reports The Daily Observer of April 10, 2020,“nurses have been expressing concern about myriad issues such as lack of protective gear…these issues were further compounded by the fact that at least three healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19, and this has sparked a sense of fear and anxiety among others in the medical profession.”The modern State touts as its primary goal the provision of security to all who live within its geographical border. In this regard, the State is undermining that objective and because of it, its validity is in question.
The anxiety generated by the threat of the Covid-19 is likely to worsen because the economic predictions for Antigua & Barbuda and the Caribbean, in general, are not good. The government has not yet offered the working class and every-day people any financial relief, and it is going to get worse for them. According to Justin Ram, Director of Economics, Caribbean Development Bank: “Over the next six months, tourism could decline by 50% or 80% or 100%…A lockdown in our major source markets, including North America and Europe, will mean we will not have the numbers expected. This could mean a 10% decline for some country’s GDPs and some up to 30%.” (New Energy Events April 9, 2020) This sounds like a near or total collapse. Great social dislocations have to be expected. As a consequence, the working class and every-day people are going to experience a miserable existence if the government responds to the economic crisis in the same haphazard manner that it is responding to the coronavirus crisis. A great foreboding is in the making, and it will most likely generate political tensions, no matter what the State does now.
It is for those reasons that the State wants to exercise control over how we think and act, now and after Covid-19. Conformity is likely only if everyone, including those who are opposed to the A&BLP, unquestionably accepts the pronouncements from the political Executive. It is rather presumptive, even for Gaston Brown, to think that the State deserves such unquestionable loyalty just because a crisis exists. It would have been less challenging to get citizens to unite if unity was a national priority many years before Covid-19. National unity is not instant, like when tea or coffee is infused in hot water. The unity that Gaston Brown covets is evading his government because he has used valuable time to diminish, ridicule, insult, and shame almost everyone he has deemed sceptical of or indifferent to his vision for Antigua, and particularly, Barbuda. Even now, there is still the proclivity to harangue. Intellectuals who have studied and written about the State have noted that citizens can find their way to the State through a magnanimous leader. He or she, to a great degree, becomes the State’s embodiment, and because of their charismatic quality, they are able to induce citizens into embracing a vision that corresponds to their own intellectual and democratic aspirations. Gaston Brown is not such a man, and therefore, unsuitable for the season.
We are beginning to get a vision of what is going to happen as the crisis deepens and discontent spreads. The State will likely depend less on the response to its call for unity and “loyalty to the State”and, thereafter, favour more restrictive and coercive measures. After the March 31st virtual session of Parliament ended, the Opposition and the Press began to practice self-censorship. That was insufficient for the government. It and its sycophants began to ridicule the Press even for its tepid responses to the government’s haphazard approach to the health and economic crisis. Luckily for us, The Daily Observersuddenly woke up in time to recognise thata freed people do not have to apologise to the State for acting out their freedom. It is now asking the questions people want answered. During periods of national crisis, the truth is always its first victim. Thus, it is imperative that the Press in particular, and the people in genera, expose half-truths told and the misrepresentation of or the withholding of facts. What is important right now is not the State’s but the survival and triumph of every-day people. The intellectual genesis of the Antigua and Barbuda State can be located in the earliest period of colonial conquest, and it retains its oppressive character and, therefore, it cannot be relied upon for the protection of our rights and liberties in this time of crisis or after. The French philosopher, Paul-Michel Foucault (1926- 1984), made the following observation. “The liberty of men (and women) is never secured by the institutions and laws that are intended to guarantee them.”The “institutions and laws”can, he says “be turned around”at any moment. He concludes that “liberty”is what must always be “exercised”to broaden the scope of democratic practice constantly. (Foucault Reader, p.245) States do not grant liberty. It is an inalienable right which we practice. Structures of hierarchy and power exist to privilege one class over the other; and where those are maintained, laws to bolster their existence persist. Hierarchy and privilege must be overthrown, and liberty and democracy must be the conduit through which a new Antigua and Barbuda comes into existence.