Dem thar fightin’ words

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Back out in the old west in the United States, a ‘badass hombre’ was warned to watch his mouth if he made a disparaging reference to another’s manhood, his honour or his pride. Indeed, a personal insult or a verbal swipe at another man’s mother or his sister, was considered “fightin’ words,” and fisticuffs or a shoot-out was likely to ensue. “Put yer dukes up!” was the honourable thing for the slighted party to say. Ofttimes, there was a gun duel. See any of the Clint Eastwood western classics – HANG EM HIGH, PALE RIDER, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE, and so on and so forth, for evidence as to how old scores were settled, and how intemperate words were dealt with.

Interestingly, we here in Antigua and Barbuda, have recently seen more than our fair share of life imitating art, and near-shoot-outs and fisticuffs, because of “fightin’ words.”What was most disconcerting about the contretemps was that they happened in the august halls of Parliament. In what was supposed to be our greatest deliberative body, soberly pondering the minutiae of the 2020 budget, there were a flurry of verbal jabs and feints, and the unfortunate fightin’ words reduced the proceedings to an ordinary wild-west saloon fracas.

The strange thing about last week’s parliamentary brawls was that, instead of ducking and taking cover, as would have the beer-swilling patrons in the western saloons, the peanut gallery here in our Parliament – the ones who are invited because they can be relied upon to dutifully applaud and giggle like infatuated teenagers at the trite utterances of the preening speakers – peered over the balconies. Much like King Obstinate who “Climbed up in a tambran tree to observe de whole scenery,” the peanut gallery pricked up its ears and leaned forward. No one wanted to miss the melee. We submit that Crazy Elim and Big-Foot Maude, they who “Cussed all day and won’t stop / ‘Til dey end-up in Charles Knight shop,” were in danger of having their cuss-record broken.

Consider, if you will, the verbal sparring between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Gerald Watt, QC, and the representative for the constituency of St. George, the Honourable Dean Jonas. Apparently, the good MP, during his turn on the floor, wanted to talk about constituency matters, and the good Speaker was, with thinly-wearing patience, trying to explain to the recalcitrant MP that he had to first speak to budgetary matters, then use his last fifteen minutes to speak about constituency issues. As you can imagine, the good MP, he of obstinacy repute, was not pleased, and he sparred with the good Speaker for a bit. Eventually, he grudgingly relented, but not before cheekily asking the good Speaker, “Are you happy with that?” to which the Speaker almost went apoplectic with rage. He caustically reminded the obdurate MP that he was already in the “dawg-house,” (No pun intended), and that he ought not to test him. It was an unambiguous threat/challenge – fightin’ words, indeed! Talk about make my day! Clint Eastwood would have been proud!

Then there was the revelation in the venerable House by our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, that we were being sued by the St. Kitts Nevis Anguilla National Bank (SKNA) for $60 million. With a glint in his eye and a clenched jaw, the PM revealed that even though, to his thinking, the monies being claimed were an investment rather than a loan, he was willing to give SKNA fifty cents on the dollar, in a spirit of Eastern Caribbean Currency Union comity and goodwill. He said that he was being generous and, in the words of Don Vito Corleone from THE GODFATHER, “making them an offer that they couldn’t refuse.” Well, SKNA rejected the PM’s offer of a haircut, and the PM, in a fit of pique, as much as declared that SKNA can go to hell; he has taken the offer off the table and instructed the attorney general and the solicitor general to fight the SKNA claim. Quoth the PM, There is no legal basis on which they can succeed . . . we will defend it! O dem thar fightin’ words! The Don (Marlon Brando) would have proposed a toast!

To everyone’s dismay, the brawling in Parliament reached a new height . . . or rather, new low, when the newly-appointed Minister of Barbuda Affairs, the Honourable Samantha Marshall, decided that she was going to lay down the law and show the Barbuda people who is de boss! Apparently, the central government decided that they were going to seize the building now occupied by the Barbuda Council, and use it as the offices for the newly-appointed Parliamentary Secretary, Knacyntar Nedd. According to Minister Marshall, the newly-annointed Sheriff in town, what with the pusillanimity of Minister Weston since he was flipped the bird by Bahamas Hot Mix, the Barbuda Council must yield and give way. Said Sheriff Marshall in effect, ‘Looky ere pardners; this town ain’t big enough for the both of us. I am suggesting that you git! Actually, her very words, uttered with steely determination and an undisguised hint of venom were, “There is no other government but the government of Antigua and Barbuda. The local council is an agency of the government, like it or not, operating in Barbuda. They must comply with the directives of the government.” Oooooh! Talk about grievous and disrespectful words stirring up anger! Matt Dillon, the intrepid marshal of Dodge City in GUNSMOKE, would have yelled a big ‘yee-haw yipeee!’

Of course, to his eternal credit, the representative for Barbuda, the Honourable Trevor Walker, was having none of Minister Marshall’s disrespectful dictum from on high. In fact, he lamented the high-handed approach taken by Marshall and suggested that there should have been some sort of dialogue. Needless to say, the relationship between the new Minister of Barbuda Affairs and the people of Barbuda has gotten off to a rocky start. And yes, Walker has vowed not to hand over the keys or vacate the Barbuda Council building. He has pledged to rally the people around the building, much as they did with the Fisheries Complex in July, 2018.

Intriguingly, in light of that stand-off, and the arbitrary decision by our PM to cut government funding to the Barbuda Council, never mind his threat from April of last year to abolish the Barbuda Council, MP Trevor Walker has dug his heels in and appears to be ready for a fight. Indeed, he bemoans the fact that this administration and the Barbuda Council cannot seem to work together on anything. It is for that reason that he is suggesting that perhaps it is time for them to part ways –  a divorce!

Folks, we here at NEWSCO deplore the belligerence and aggression being shown the Barbuda people. So sad! Not since this writer (the son of a minister) was caned by Dr. Blackett at the Antigua Grammar School, or whipped by his no-nonsense dad with the words, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him,” have we seen a duly elected representative body (the Barbuda Council) treated like errant children – “They Must comply with the directives of the government!” It is the central government’s way or no way! Whatever happened to the notion of letting brotherly love continue? Whatever happened to congeniality and a meeting of the minds in order to find a happy medium? Alas, the aforementioned grievous words will not turn away wrath! Nay, much like Crazy Elim and Big Foot Maude, the people of Barbuda, with steely determination are saying, “Wet yuh hand and wait for me!”   

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