ROSEAU, Dominica – On Monday (November 18) evening civil unrest was instigated in Roseau. The police and protesters clashed near the official residence of the president of Dominica, one day ahead of Nomination Day and general election, December 6; meanwhile Lennox Linton political leader of the United Workers Party (UWP) insisted that they had nothing to do with the disturbances, instead blamed the police force for the incident, including the use of tear gas.
“I want to make it clear upfront that the United Workers Party is not directing any protest action,” he said. “I want to be clear this afternoon that the incident on the evening of November 18, 2019, was instigated by members of the police squad.”
On Tuesday, prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit defined the following facts
Today, (November 19, 2019) Nomination Day in Dominica, it is my very sad duty to inform you of events that took place last evening from about 7:15 p.m. These events signaled the intrusion of violence into this election campaign in a manner that is unfamiliar, unnecessary and unproductive. In 18 days, a general election will be held in Dominica, at which time supporters of the United Workers Party (UWP) can make their opinions clear in the ballot box.
Surely then, election reform cannot, therefore, be the real reason for these protests?
The elections on December 6, are being held under the same electoral laws which have governed Dominica’s free and fair elections and democratic process since attaining political independence. Both the current labour government and the UWP opposition, have been elected through this exact process and under these same laws.
It is this same process and these same laws, that saw the UWP increase its seat count in the last general elections in Dominica and also its share of the popular vote. It is with this same process and these same laws, that the UWP and its supporters are forecasting a massive win for the opposition on December 6.
So, one must ask: What really is the reason and the cause, for this gangster-like behavior?
Why are they seeking to tarnish and destroy the image and economic wellbeing of the country they are confident of receiving the mandate to lead in 18 days? Something about their behavior does not add up.
In the last few weeks, the opposition UWP has been holding daily protests; disrupting business, traffic and Dominica’s good order; and also disturbing the peace.
As part of these protests, the opposition has seen it fit to have people camp out day and night, cooking, eating and sleeping in the area just between State House and the Fort Young Hotel.
This is a free country. The opposition and those who support it, have every right under our Constitution to protest in whatever manner they would wish within the confines of the Law. However, the nature of the opposition’s protests is such, that roads around various government buildings have had to be sealed off.
As is typical of election season, the opposition UWP is convening rallies and public meetings, and so is the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP).
On November 17 or thereabout, the UWP informed the public that it was proposing to hold a gathering at Goodwill Lindo Park, proceed through the city on foot and by car, and end with a public meeting at Newtown. The event was scheduled for Monday, November 18 at 4:30 p.m., when it would still be daylight. For a reason best known to the UWP, the walk across town did not start until the sun had virtually set.
It was known to the protesters that their daily and nightly protests had caused Victoria street outside the State House to be barricaded and sealed off. Yet, the protesters made their way directly to the barriers, arriving there about 7:15 p.m.
Once they arrived at the barriers, the protesters sang, danced and played music uninterrupted. Shortly thereafter, some of them began shouting at the police and other security personnel, who were manning the barriers.
A protester on a megaphone repeatedly called for the removal of the barriers so that the protesters could make their way to the UWP public meeting at Newtown.
It is significant that despite the protesters insisting they were using this route to get to a UWP meeting in Newtown, that, the UWP had not scheduled or set up any public meeting, anywhere in Newtown.
The protesters were asked by the security forces to use another route to go to Newtown, but they refused, insisting they had to pass on Victoria Street.
Some of the protesters became abusive and the protestor holding the megaphone could be heard and seen issuing threats to the security personnel… saying that if the security did not remove the barricades, they would soon see what the crowd was going to do. Other protesters were shouting that “it was going to be war”.
In all the chaos the security personnel stood in position calmly behind the barricades.
As the behaviour of the crowd became more aggressive, protestors at the front attempted to storm the barriers and fight officers trying to keep the barriers in place. At that point, protesters broke through the barricades and initiated violent contact with members of the security forces.
When the crowd did not comply with requests made and instructions issued by the security personnel, the security forces used tear gas to disperse the members of the crowd, in an attempt to prevent the situation from escalating and erupting into greater violence or injuries. We must all thank God that no-one was seriously injured.
I have been informed that guests having dinner at the Fort Young Hotel were also impacted by the street protests and tear gas. To ensure their safety, the hotel’s security guards placed the hotel on lockdown by closing the main gates. The situation at the hotel was one of fear and panic. Hotel staff asked guests to go to their rooms and many guests fled, abandoning their dinner, as the night’s entertainment came to an abrupt halt.
What is of even greater concern, is the fact that former prime minister Edison James was present at the protest, and so was deputy leader of the UWP, Joshua Francis; both of whom could have told protesters that there was no meeting at Newtown and could have injected some sense of calm and restraint.
Only a few days ago, UWP protesters blocked the passage of a van taking supplies to the hospital. All without a word of apology, disapproval, or condemnation from the UWP leader and candidates. Now we are told, they are actively seeking to lure some professional groups in the public service and other general staff onto the streets, as part of their protests.
These protests are essentially to provide a daily source of video and photo footage for transmission to the international media and select international agencies. It is part of an evolving narrative to suggests that law and order have broken down in Dominica and that elections, set for December 6, cannot be free and fair. It is their precursor to what would happen, were they not to be successful on elections day.
In all this, the image and economy of Dominica stand to suffer immeasurably. No investor will come into such instability. No tourist will knowingly expose themselves to what guests at Fort Young were exposed to, last evening. So already, the economic impact is clear.
Cruise ship passengers are also going to get caught up in the opposition’s recklessness. And what harm this could cause the country, which is still building back our tourism product and economy after hurricane Maria.
We will have to wait now and see if the Cruise Ships will abandon their calls on Dominica, during the vital December and January peak period. We shall wait to see what impact this lawless and unwarranted behavior shall have on overall visitor arrivals during the crucial next few months and which investment projects shall be halted out of fear of disruption and destruction. It was not lost on us, last evening, that the familiar burning of items started once again on the Salisbury main road.
This is the approach of the current leadership of the UWP to conflict resolution. Whatever is the issue, their first order of business is violence and destruction of our beautiful island. [Today], they marvel, as Dominica is portrayed to the world as a violent, unstable country, not worthy of investment; not worth it of business or recreational visits and not worthy of investment citizenship.
We are told that all this is the prelude to a series of salacious newspaper, radio and television articles and documentaries, all portraying Dominica in a negative light. So, the opposition is not telling us what they would do to build up Dominica. They are clearly concerned, at this time, with tearing it down. On this current trajectory, no matter the outcome of the upcoming general elections, Dominica will be the ultimate loser in all this.
As prime minister, I strongly condemn the actions and conduct of the UWP and its supporters. The economy of Dominica will take a major hit from all the violence and anti-social behavior being pursued by the opposition, in the lead up to these elections.
I call on them; if they really do care about our Country, Dominica, to consider the impact their actions and conduct are having on the image of the country and the safety and wellbeing of residents and visitors alike.
Dominica has a history of free and fair elections. Every Dominican can attend the meetings and entertainment activities of their chosen political party and is free to vote as they choose. This election should be and will be no different, unless the UWP is determined to introduce a new level of danger, violence, risk, and damage to persons, to property, and Dominica’s reputation in the international community.
Such conduct also puts the country’s economy at risk. We now have to be concerned about whether tourists are safe. Whether they feel safe. How many of the tourists at Fort Young may now want to leave Dominica.
At the beginning of this election, I called for peace, order, respect for each other and for property. The church in Dominica made similar calls. [Today], I repeat those calls and urge for the level of irrationality and irresponsibility being demonstrated by the UWP and its supporters to stop.
The UWP must distance itself from this recklessness and call on its supporters to halt such further actions. No responsible political party which is seeking to form a government would engage in this kind of dangerous conduct. No one who cares about, or loves Dominica could be part of this or want it for our country.
I appeal to our churches, civic organisations and law-abiding Dominicans all over our country and those in the diaspora, to condemn this despicable behaviour.
I have instructed the candidates of the DLP to proceed peacefully with their nominations today, without large groups of supporters, or the usual Nomination Day fanfare. I have done this, in order that a sense of calm, de-escalation, non-provocation and peace will prevail.
I call for peace. I call for calm. I call for respect for law and order. And I call on the protesters to refrain from actions that would result in any kind of harm to persons, or damage to property and our economy. I also call on the opposition to let our elections proceed in the usual manner. We can disagree politically, and we can vote for the party of our choice without resorting to this.
As I have been doing throughout this campaign, I urge all Dominicans to unify as one people and put our country first. If you put this country first, your love of country will guide you as to how to behave and how to vote, since you would do nothing to put our country at risk; not after we have come so far.
Fellow Dominicans, I ask you to join me in prayer on this Nomination Day and as the country moves to Election Day, on December 6.
It is consistent with this noble ideal, that the leadership of the DLP has taken a decision, to suspend all political activities this coming Sunday, and to encourage its members and supporters to join the Catholic Church in observance of Christ the King at Windsor Park Stadium.
Indeed, even before Sunday, the DLP will be hosting a national gospel extravaganza on Friday, November 22 at Castle Bruce Savannah. This event starts at 6:00 pm and will feature, once again, internationally acclaimed Gospel singer, Pastor Donnie McClurkin, along with the best of local gospel talent on Dominica.
This is a concert to which we are inviting all Dominicans, so we can rid ourselves of the stain and the blotch associated with last evening disturbances [November 18 ] and hopefully avoid a repeat of February 7, two years ago, when very serious attempts were made to destroy our historic capital city.
I appeal to all Dominicans, residents at home and abroad, to denounce the pursuit of violence by those who should know better and to allow peace and tranquility to reign in this country for the next 17 days, in the first instance, and the aftermath of the general elections. Because, when all is said and done, more than anything else, we have a country to build… not to destroy.