Somebody is trying to play a ‘good cop, bad cop’ game with the Barbudans occupying the Barrymore Hotel. It cannot be that the Prime Minister, the undisputed kingpin of Cabinet and the Government – the Parliamentary primus inter pares – gives clear instruction or directives that the displaced sister-island compatriots should be spared any heavy-handedness and treated with the soft hands of leniency, compassion and consideration for their plight, and Lennox Weston of Public Works or Philmore Mullin of NODS would dare to defy the Worl’ Boss.
Saturday’s tour de force at the Barrymore by NODS and Public Works, escorted and backed by police muscle and more, could not have taken place without the knowledge and sanction of Prime Minister Gaston Browne – not in the very loudly announced and peremptory conspicuousness with which they showed up, equipped with trucks to cart away the belongings of the now unwanted remnant of our internally displaced brethren.
Lennox Weston simply does not have the political capital to risk defying Gaston Brown – not when his margin of success after the umpteenth attempt was a measly 20 votes. It is doubtful that even the super-safe, settled and secure Robin Yearwood has that kind of political capital that might spare him from taking a Max-like punch to the mouth behind the closeted and silenced walls of Cabinet.
Forget about Philmore Mullin acting – as lawyers would put it – on a frolic of his own and adopting the hard-charging posture that the Barbudans must get out or be put out of Barrymore one way or the other, come what may. Apart from it immediately seeming at odds with Mullin’s manifest temperament and humane countenance, the soldier in him just would not bear such blatant disobedience to orders from his higher authorities, military or civil. Mullin would have never undertaken Saturday’s abandoned swoop on the Barrymore compound knowing that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were opposed to it.
Atlee Rodney would be acting properly if he responded to requests from legitimate authorities such as Cabinet and NODS for police backup in executing or enforcing lawful actions such as eviction orders. The question is, in the case of the ostensible Barrymore squatters – the Barbudan evacuees who have presumably overstayed their welcome – does any court order exist or has been sought to assure a police commissioner that the eviction is lawful? While we do not want to suggest that the Acting Police Commissioner’s actions in such situations proceed from any political nod of approval, Atlee Rodney is by no means a khaki-uniformed version of Robin Yearwood – or even a depreciated Asot Michael. Rodney occupies the tenuousness of a position for which he is credential-qualified, but granted only by the grace of his predecessor’s disgrace. And not as if we don’t know that a nationalistic minded competitor recently waded out of a prison secondment with the express aim of challenging and contesting for that coveted confirmation.
Prime Minister Browne must stop playing love-hate games with the Barbuda people based on the results or outcomes of the most recent elections. He must stop insulting them with the label or descriptor of squatters – whether within their indigenous space or in the present context of internal displacement to the mainland. Even if he says to treat them with soft hands, but forces under his leadership and control do otherwise, they will not be fooled as to who is really calling the shots and pulling the strings.
The Barbudans have been there before: shown, to the point of tears, all the ‘our-dear-brothers-and-sisters’ love after the hurricane – but before the general elections of March 2018. When the election results showed that their apprehension about having their umbilical patrimony dismembered and appropriated was greater than their expected gratitude, then suddenly they were warned with the low growl of an irritated pitbull that the days of coddling them for votes were over. The declaration of overstayed welcomes and evictions picked up even further steam when the more recent Barbuda Council election results affirmed and confirmed the people’s reaction to the manner in which the jackboot of asserted power and authority was being imperiously placed and pressed upon them – ditto the now stalled airport construction project, and the threats to disband or dismantle the Barbuda Council.
What is happening at the Barrymore Hotel is but a microcosmic reflection or sampling of the posture of vindictiveness toward the people of the sister isle that has blossomed with increasing truculence once their determination to resist became clear and unmistakable.
They showed it in two election results – general and local – on their home island turf; they showed it with their human-chain barricade of the Fisheries Complex which housed their Council office; they showed it last Saturday when they repulsed eviction on the strength of the Worl’ Boss’s Pointed word that they were not to be thrown out like that – sans sensitivity, compassion or consideration.
The Barbudans may be guilty of exploiting supportiveness for opportunistic freeloading, or for political objectives choreographed behind the scenes by well-known manipulators and puppeteers. But in the same way that we can put ourselves forward as agents, negotiators and arbiters of political settlements in places much further away and far more alien to our comprehension like Haiti and Venezuela, we should not succumb to the contemptuousness of familiarity but instead stir up a greater abundance of charity toward our own and never give up on finding and crafting political and other solutions for a “more perfect union” of Antigua AND Barbuda.