Therefore, the question one political observer has asked is, if Bradshaw were alive today, would he approve the decision on Friday 21st September, 2012, by the Labour Government to vest 1,200 acres of former sugar lands to the National Bank, as part of a swap to reduce the debt owed by the Denzil Douglas Administration, to that financial institution?
Though no one is certain what the answer would have been to that question, there is much clarity about the former Premier’s position when it comes to the ownership of land, especially in a small black developing Caribbean nation like St. Kitts & Nevis.
On 11th February, 1970, this is what Mr. Bradshaw said to a group Kittitians, Nevisians, Anguillans and other students at the then College of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas:
“…we see that political power developed in the Caribbean over the centuries from European settlement, through the period of slavery, and after emancipation from chattel slavery up to the present day, first giving power to the whites and now to the blacks. And may I be permitted to prognosticate by saying that political power may ultimately be taken from the blacks …and retaken by the whites, primarily through their lackeys and through economic power…”
Bradshaw who is now celebrated as the first National Hero of an independent St. Kitts & Nevis, also alerted 42 years ago that, “ The black man had therefore better be warned not to continue to live only for the next clothing style, but to face and triumph over the harsh and relentless realities of today so that he may survive tomorrow.”
This is what Bradshaw meant by that cautionary note to his fellow black brother, when he said, “He is gradually selling out, instead of leasing, the few acres of lands he owns, thereby assisting in the systematic process of dispossessing himself of his heritage, as well as of a stake in his country. Let him not cry after the money too has left him.” Though uttered 4 decades ago, these are powerful words that must still resonate today.
Five years after his UVI address, Bradshaw led the charge of his Labour Administration to take one of the boldest political moves in the history of the Caribbean. In a speech delivered at the historic site of Buckley’s, a defiant Bradshaw announced in 1975, his government’s decision to acquire approximately 10,000 acres of lands owned primarily by about 50 white sugar barons on the island. This was an action taken by the Premier to not only rescue the ailing sugar industry, but to also reclaim an important heritage of the black masses of the territory.
The acquisition of the land was central to Bradshaw’s economic design for the country, understanding all too well that economic power and political power should be buttressed by economic strength.
Therefore, the decision, on Friday, of the Douglas Labour Administration will always be viewed with skepticism and fear. Members of the parliamentary opposition, during the debate on Friday, revealed that there is still uncertainty about exactly how much of the debt to national bank would be erased after the swap is completed.
Additionally, as Senator Vincent Byron of PAM said in the Assembly, the government has provided no information about what would be done with the lands, once handed over to the bank. The fear by many, not just politicians, is that the land will be disposed of, not to the ordinary Kittitian, but sold at such a high market rate that local people would not be able to afford to buy. If this is so, the added fear is that all this land, approximately 2 square miles, scattered in parcels in various parts of the island, could result in white foreign ownership. If so, here is where Bradshaw’s caution and concerns of 1970 would become ever so relevant.
But there must also be an understanding that if indeed the lands have to be swapped for debt elimination, there really is no better entity, (other than the Social Security Board of course), than the National Bank of St. Kitts & Nevis, to benefit from such land swap. That however, argue opponents of the Bill to transfer the lands, is not the real worry. Their fears, as outlined by opposition law makers, are: (1) To whom would National Bank sell the land? (2) At what price? (3) Would the process be open, public and transparent? And (4) how much debt would be wiped off the books from the amounts owed to National Bank?
But as Senator Byron asked on Friday night, is this the end, or will there be other deals that would see the government swapping land for debt reduction? It should also be pointed out that this matter is so serious that even two members of the government expressed their own concerns and objections to the actions of the Administration in which they serve. Both Sam Condor and Dr. Timothy Harris respectively, left the parliament shortly after their own presentations and are said to have declined to vote the Bill, in protest of the decision to swap the lands. For them, as a supporter explained, they preferred to be on the right side of history.
When one recognizes that one of the 2 ministers is the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and the Deputy Prime Minister of the country; and the other is the Senior Minister who is also the Chairman of the Labour Party, this therefore must give cause to the entire nation and all citizens to remain vigilant.
The advice given by opposition MPs therefore is for all citizens to become embroiled in the discussions, to ensure that the best interest of the country and its people, are being served.