The event which is organized by the main opposition political party in St. Kitts and Nevis, the People’s Action Movement, PAM, is taking the form of a street demonstration today Thursday 22nd November, 2012, through the city, starting at Greenlands Park in Central Basseterre and ending downtown on Bank Street, in the heart of the commercial district.
PAM has over the past couple weeks hosted a number of town hall forums, public meetings and whistle stops in certain key villages, to mobilize people into action.
They have used their meetings to encourage civil servants, private business enterprises and their employees, non-govern organizations and community leaders, as well as supporters of all political parties, to join the “Land for Debt” protest march, as a means of demonstrating just how much they disapprove the measure sponsored by the country’s Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas. This is all related to the passage of the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla (Vesting of Certain Lands) Bill 2012, which was passed in the National Assembly in October.
PAM has already made it known that if elected to government, they would repeal the legislation, but they have also tried to convince the ruling Labour Party Government to remedy the situation by not following through on the measure. This however is doubtful as the government has, during its own town hall meetings, demonstrated that it has no such intention, because it is convinced that the move was in the best interest of the people and country.
PAM leaders however disagree, charging the Douglas Administration with “selling out the patrimony of the people”. Others have even been stronger with their language, accusing Prime Minister Douglas of “betrayal” of his people.
“The intention of this march is to send a loud and clear message to the Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas and his Labour Administration that the people of this country are not satisfied with this “land for debt swap” bill and we the people of this country demand that the bill be repealed and our crown lands remain in the hands of the people,” PAM’s leader, Shawn Richards has been quoted as saying.
It was 37 years ago on 1st February, 1975 that then Premier of the territory, the late Robert Bradshaw took measures to acquire the so called sugar lands from the private owners, who had been seeking a deal with the government to sell the lands and get out the failing sugar industry. However because they were unable to settle on a price, the government took the lands in the name of the people, as part of an effort to “rescue the sugar industry”, which was experiencing low prices and huge losses.
Bradshaw had used his now famous speech at Buckley’s Estate in West Basseterre, to announce his intentions.
Bradshaw is said to have announced, “We are gathered here this morning collectively to make history to assume the greatest responsibility which could fall to a people: namely takeover by law, absolute and ownership and control of all the really productive lands in this isle of our birth, for our mutual benefit and the benefit of our posterity forever.”
Despite this measure, the government was unable to secure title to the lands and the owners went for another seven years, before settlement could be reached and payment received; but not from the Bradshaw government. Bradshaw died in office just three years after the acquisition and by 1980 the political dynamics of the country shifted, with the PAM party, along with their then partners from Nevis in the Nevis Reformation Party, NRP, forged an alliance that toppled the Labour Government following the general elections of 1980, with PAM winning 3 seats in St. Kitts and NRP 2 in Nevis, to establish a coalition government.
Two years after, in 1982, the PAM/NRP government finally settled the dispute of the lands with the private owners who were paid just over 22 million dollars for the land, occupied on about 50 sugar estates around the island. It was from this point that the government was able to take formal control of the sugar lands truly in the name of the people, (because title was now received). Given this background and when this is juxtaposed with the current deal to swap the land for debt, due to the failure of the government to repay the 900 million owed to the bank, one can better appreciate the reasons for the strong sentiments against the measure.
There are those who argue however that it is the right thing for the financial institution to be compensated because they had to foreclose on the government, taking the land, as compensation. It was back in 1978 that the Labour Government offered some of the sugar lands as security for millions of dollars needed in loans to fund, what was already a failing sugar industry.
Pam is therefore trying to explain that their march is an effort to restore the property of the people and their patrimony, back into the direct control of the government.
While the march is scheduled to start from Greenlands at 4:00pm the event will climax on Bank Street later with a rally where PAM leaders are expected to address the gathering. Entertainment by some of the island’s top artistes is also part of the plan.