Justice Dr Irving W Andre will launch his latest biography, ‘The Rise & Fall of Patrick John’, at the UWI Open Campus in Roseau on Friday
Dr Irving W Andre will launch his latest biography, ‘The Rise & Fall of Patrick John’, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus in Roseau Dominica, at 6:30 pm on March 29, 2019. In what is undoubtedly the most dramatic biography of a Dominican government leader, the promise and loss attendant to John’s journey from humble beginnings to the apex of political power, and then his fall during a popular insurrection, is laid-out in stark detail.
In crafting this biography, Andre has had the good fortune to interview John as well as several of his contemporaries. Interviewees who gave depth to the work include classmates of John such as Frederick “Flexy” Symes and eminent local educator and former Saint Mary’s Academy (SMA) principal Egbert Germain. Germain befriended John from his earliest days at the Roseau Boys School but that did not stop him from opposing John’s despotic tendencies. For his stance in defense of democracy, Germaine was to be arrested on at least two occasions by the security forces.
The biography reveals that John showed early signs of academic prowess; earning good enough grades in mathematics and literature at the Saint Mary’s Academy to earn a teaching spot at that well-respected institution. Aside from exhibiting respectable academic pedigree, we learn that John is a capable footballer with the Combermere Football Club and a some-time costume designer at the annual carnival parades who also pens calypso songs from time to time. A trade unionist with strong support from port workers and possessed of the common touch, John could stir a crowd with his powerful, and often witty calls in defense of the working people. In that regard, John was a master of crowd-pleasing political invective as he would often hurl volleys at the parliamentary opposition Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) as being led by heartless blood-suckers. On the Labour Party political platform of that time, it was not uncommon to hear DFP leader Mary Eugenia Charles castigated as Madame Dracula.
However, the biography is frank in noting early troubling questions that arise over John’s stewardship of finances at the Roseau Town Council during his time as Mayor. John wins election to office in 1970 and serves under the legendary Premier Edward Oliver LeBlanc. He outmaneuvers Ronald Armour to win the leadership of the Dominica Labour Party when LeBlanc resigns.
In an ironic twist, the tremendous success of the Labour Party-led government under LeBlanc evolved in a 1970’s society that was better educated and possessed of a civil-service heavy middle class with salary expectations that often exceeded the ability of the public purse to meet. In that milieu stepped in the university educated Black Power radicals gathered under the banner of the Movement for a New Dominica (MND), who were critical of John’s leadership. Even more confrontational was the Civil Service Association (CSA) led by Charles Savarin (now the President of Dominica) which becomes a relentless opponent of the John led Labour government.
However, by 1976 Dominica was increasingly divided. Regrettable attacks on tourists were blamed on dreadlock wearing youth linked to university educated Black Power radicals. The government reacted with the mailed fist and unleashed the security forces, especially after the murder of the US tourist John Jirasek during the carnival of 1974. MND notable and former SMA student leader Desmond Trotter was arrested and tried for the murder. Represented by Grenadian lawyer Maurice Bishop (who would later lead the Grenada Revolution), Trotter was convicted and sentenced to hang. The MND and Trotter’s supporters alleged a “frame-up” and many students and unemployed youth took to the hills to form encampments, away from an unjust colonial society they called “Babylon.”
The John-led administration felt a responsibility to act. It was John’s view that he had to ensure the survival of the already weak tourism sector, while also assuring fearful farmers that the government would protect them from crop-stealing Dreads. The government, with DFP support passed the Prohibited and Undesirable Societies Act (AKA the Dread Act) in 1974. That act of parliament made it legal to take the life of any Dread found in a residence, allowed the arrest of any Dread without a warrant and denied bail to anyone wearing “a badge of the society” i.e. dreadlocks. In the anti-Dread campaign waged by the Dominica Defence Force and Royal Dominica Police Force Special Service Unit in Dominica’s mountainous interior, many lives were lost. That campaign often saw brutality unleashed against innocent youth that created resentment against the Labour Party government led by John that would explode into full-blown insurrection after the May 29, 1979 riot.
Despite the discord of the 1970s, Patrick Roland John’s administration made real beneficial gains that improved the lives of many Dominicans then, and still do so. The Labour Party administration led by John founded Dominica’s National Commercial & Development Bank, eradicated many shanty-type dwellings around Roseau and replaced them with proper modern housing developments at Bath Estate and River Estate. The government also opened the new deep-water harbor at Fond Cole and started the Dominica Social Security system. John’s greatest achievement, however, was to take the island into independence from Britain on November 3, 1978.
It is said that people who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. In that regard, it has been to Dominica’s undoing that some Labour Party leaders have allied with international bandits, rascals, schemers, and frauds in a fashion which undermined the legitimacy of their office, or ill-served the national interests. It was John’s attempts to quell opposition to his increasingly errant rule, which led to the May 29, 1979 clash outside parliament in which Phillip Timothy was martyred in the cause of liberty and a dozen others wounded. The biography recounts that one by one, Labour Party parliamentarians resigned their positions in the cabinet- often compelled to do so by a rain of stones. The first Labour Party minister to resign was Oliver Seraphin who then went on to become interim Prime Minister until elections in July 1980.
In 1980 Mary Eugenia Charles’ DFP won the elections. John would have none of it. Instead of going back to a life of service in the teaching profession, or trade unionism, John sought to regain power in a most unorthodox manner: a coup d’état. That coup was a bizarre partnership with elements of the DDF led by former Captain Malcolm Reid.
Set against the backdrop of Dr. Andre’s meticulous research spanning many years, the biography of John’s rise and fall is a cautionary tale that all current and future politicians should heed. The message inherent to this splendid work is that one should never squander the goodwill of the masses and become deaf to the people’s cry for justice. History teaches that arrogance by any leader is a rebuke to democratic ideals of public service and ultimately self-defeating. Political power is never everlasting, and every leader must strive to serve the national interest, not just one’s party or cronies. John was a gifted and popular politician who made worthy contributions. However, his swift rise to power was compromised by his questionable integrity and an almost blind belief in his invincibility. The publication of John’s biography is a most timely morality tale as it reveals how a political leader once feted by the adoring masses can fall from grace when unhinged by a lust for power and the lack of better judgment.
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