Freedoms Not Linked To PLP

First Published: 2007-07-27

IN THIS column yesterday (The Tribiune Editorial July 17, 2007) we discussed what Senator Dion Foulkes claimed was a "malicious" and "vicious" attack on the FNM, its present leadership and "more seriously, the founders of the FNM" by Senator Allyson Maynard Gibson.

The attack was made last month – the month in which the Bahamas' independence was celebrated. At that time Mrs. Gibson decided to separate the sheep from the goats when it came to who supported independence for the Bahamas. According to Mrs. Gibson the PLP were the champions of the Bahamas' separation from Britain, while the founders of the FNM were not.

What she failed to realise was that in the early days of the independence debate, her own party leader, the late Sir Lynden Pindling, was against the proposal, while many of the FNM's founding members supported it.

Anyway, independence eventually came under the PLP banner with the late Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, one of the Dissent Eight and a founder of the FNM, against it. He was against it not because he had a change of heart on independence, but, like so many Bahamians, he did not want independence under the victimising yoke of the Pindling government.

In defending his party, Senator Foulkes reminded Senator Gibson of two other issues – the equality of Bahamian women and Bahamians' rights to move freely in their own country.

Senator Foulkes said those he believed Senator Gibson was attacking were men who fought for the equality of Bahamian women as well as the right of the Bahamian people to move from island to island.

Although these men were not able to convince the British government to give full equality to Bahamian women, they did persuade them to stop the PLP from forcing Bahamians to remain on whatever Out Island they were born.

The idea that freedom of movement in one's own country would even be questioned will surprise many of today's freedom-loving young Bahamians. Many were the battles in those days for the freedoms that today's generation take for granted.

It is fascinating to thumb through old files, recall the behaviour of and political positions taken by today's politicians in their younger days and see how far they have come and what positions they hold in today's Bahamas.

For example under the heading "Hanna's lack of compromise seen as dictatorship move – Deputy PM wanted to have citizens barred from leaving country", The Tribune of January 5, 1973 reported:

"Had Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Hanna had his way at the recent constitutional talks, Bahamians could have found themselves after independence, barred from leaving the country or restricted in their movements within it.

"Mr Hanna would have given us a constitution that would have put us into a dictatorship right away,' one delegate was reported as saying.

"Although government and Opposition delegates have made no specific comment on the proceedings at the London conference, several have privately remarked on Mr Hanna's outright refusal to entertain any compromise on any of the issues.

"One of these related to the guaranteed freedom to enter and leave the Bahamas."

If Mr Hanna had had his way, Bahamians would have been like Cubans fleeing the country at dawn or after nightfall on whatever rickety piece of wood they could float.

One only has to recall the fight over the Cuban dentists recently detained in the Carmichael Detention Centre, and Cuba's position that the minds of certain of its professionals were Cuba's national property, and, therefore, too valuable for their owners to leave the country, to know what life would have been like in the Bahamas today.

Young Bahamians can only imagine the horror of the position they would be in if Mr Hanna had won the day.

The 1973 Tribune article reports that when the FNM delegates recommended a change, this "provoked an outburst from Mr Hanna, who openly stated that the government might wish at a later date to restrict certain Bahamians from leaving the country. He therefore did not wish the freedom to leave (the Bahamas) incorporated into the new constitution."

Delegates on both sides agreed that Sir Lynden conducted himself "as a mature statesman" throughout the conference, while Mr Hanna "repeatedly threw stumbling blocks in the way of a satisfactory settlement."

Bahamians have the FNM, led by the late Sir Kendal Isaacs, to thank for many of the freedoms they enjoy today. They were backed by the British government, which took a firm stand on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual as they were to be embodied in the Constitution.

Today that same Arthur Hanna, considered a stumbling block in London in the seventies, is governor-general of an independent Bahamas, over a people who have the constitutional right to move from island to island, and leave the country at will.

It would be interesting to know today how much he would still agree with the Arthur Hanna who displayed such dictatorial tendencies 34 years ago.

July 18, 2007.

The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Nassau Institute (which has no corporate view), or its Advisers or Directors.

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