The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].
On Feb. 11, 2011, Leon Samuel, aka “Bigger Bigs”, was lynched, economically!
With the start of the 2015 Black History Month (February), the ongoing mission of CARICOM to seek reparations for crimes committed by Europeans against the ancestors of people of African descent in the western hemisphere and the Dec. 10, 2014 launching of United Nations International Decade For People of African Descent (UN-IDPAD) between 2015-24, it is quite fitting to highlight Bigger Bigs’ predicament. Noteworthy also is the fact that we are days away from the fourth anniversary.
Without due process as provided in our constitution and specifically under The Town and Country Planning Act, the Rabacca-based business, Bigger Trucking and Blocks Construction Co. Ltd., was closed by Order of the now famous SR&O No: 2 of 2011. In that Order (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Statutory Rules and Order, 2011 No. 2 Gazetted on Feb. 11, 2011) which is also cited as Protection of Environment (Rabacca) Order 2011, Bigger Bigs’ license to sand mine was ordered revoked and his crushing plant decommissioned, summarily. At the time, Bigger Bigs’ business was a growing one, worth more than $11 million and had over 60 workers, which included an executive team of nearly all-young, black women.
This gazetted attack points directly to the Cabinet (executive arm) of the Ralph Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party administration. While in the preamble of that Order much ado is made of the findings of the Physical Planning and Development Board, there is no mention as to whether the Board recommends the closure of this business and the decommissioning of its crushing plant. With the support of his technical team, well-wishers and sympathizers, Bigger Bigs has been able to prove that that SR&O No: 2 of 2011 is simply bogus and that he was singled out for this treatment.
Given the subtle but direct attack against this young businessman of African descent, his workforce and their families and the yet-unclear motive, one can argue it resonates the finding in the 2012 Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report: The Situation Of People Of African Descent In The Americas. This finding, which was also presented to CARICOM Heads of state at their 33rd meeting (July 2012), is that where the populations tend to have majority of African Descendant populations, the issue of race is more complex and more subtle. It states further, “while there is less overt racism in Caribbean countries, indirect discrimination remains a problem, in addition to strong structural paradigms that exacerbate inequality between the races”.
The Bigger Bigs atrocity has been highlighted through various acts of protest, newspaper writings, radio discussions, social media blogs and of most significance a press conference on Nov. 12, 2014 with a panel of some of the most prestigious in their respective fields: Marlon Mills, environmental management consultant; Philmore Isaacs, retired chief agriculture officer; Glenford Stewart, civil engineer and Managing Director at Stewart Engineering Ltd.; Clive “Bish-I” Bishop, agricultural development specialist and soil specialist.
As a result, Prime Minister Gonsalves who often boasts his Portuguese inheritance now seems to claim to have been wrongly advised and has since revoked SR&O No: 2 of 2011. He cannot, however, be exonerated when the findings of legal expert, Queen’s Counsel Stanley John is that: “… in the course of the review of the provisions of the Act, there is no role for Cabinet to review or approve decisions of the Board which are made in relation to applications for development under the Act. Accordingly, any usurpation of such a function by Cabinet as is being suggested would be ultra vires the Act.”
Guided by historical accounts, Bigger Bigs is but two generations from slavery: his grandfather, Harold Samuel, was the son of a slave. Hence, his plight and that of others in the African diaspora is evident in the theme for this UN-IDPAD which is “People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development” and the main objective of this International Decade, is to promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for people of African descent as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Implicitly, therefore, such a declaration coming from the United Nations indicates that even after 200 years and more that slavery was abolished and the slaves were subsequently emancipated in the western hemisphere, a major issue is that of disregard for and actual denial of their fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of African descent. The tragic circumstances in the United States involving Mike Brown of Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner of New York are stark reminders. Brown was unarmed and at a distance of some 145 feet away from the police who shot and killed him on Aug. 9, 2014. Garner was choked to death by police who held him in a chokehold on July 17, 2014 even as he was crying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”.
Much like the murder of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, the heartless attack against Bigger Bigs, his workforce and their families is symbolic of the days of slavery when in the eyes of the slave masters, Africans were seen as of the lowest ranking of the animal kingdom. They were also met with commensurate treatment and prime examples of this comparable treatment in SVG today, are that of Kelly Glass and David Ames. They own businesses that are evidently environmental hazards but are not regulated in the same way.
More to the point, though, the Bigger Bigs story is indicative of the need for CARICOM nationals and in particular Vincentians to take more seriously the call for African reparations, IACHR report and the theme and objectives of the UN-IDPAD. In fact, this 2015 Black History month provides an opportunity for national focus on these issues.
And whereas “high regard and commendation” to Prime Minister Gonsalves are recorded in Hansard “for his commitment to, and determination, in initiating the reparations conversation at the highest level of regional governmental authority and for pushing forward the fight against European Conquest, Genocide, the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery, Colonialism and for reparations”, we can expect no less than a special parliamentary session on the UN-IDPAD.
Host, Global Highlights
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].
I think that the action against Mr Samuel was a vindictive reprisal against someone who was seen to have deserted the party. It was in keeping with many of our attitudes so common in the Caribbean, whatever the race of the apostate. If you leave my party there is no good in you and you must be destroyed. (That attitude used to be very common in Christian religious disputes, which is where the modern meaning of the term “apostasy” originates. These days western commentators forget the past of their own countries and act as is only modern Muslim jihadists have ever wanted to destroy those who disagree with them)
On another point in this discourse, I hope that this – “Implicitly, therefore, such a declaration coming from the United Nations indicates that even after 200 years and more that slavery was abolished and the slaves were subsequently emancipated in the western hemisphere…….” was a misprint. Because slavery certainly has not been abolished for 200 years in the western hemisphere. Brazil, the last country to emancipate its slaves, did so in 1888. The US freed its slaves after the Civil War – 1865; and then Southern states replaced it with their “Jim Crow” laws – Slavery by Another Name as American author Douglas Blackmon calls it. The British freed their slaves in 1834, or if you agree that Apprenticeship was also slavery by another name, then 1838. It’s true that Haitians abolished slavery during their revolution, (although both Toussaint L’overture and Dessalines forced the former slaves to continue working on the plantations). But even if we accept 1804 as the end of slavery in Haiti, Haiti is but a small part of the western hemisphere. Various forms of forced labour involving people of the African diasporsa persisted in the western hemisphere throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century.
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