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Happy thirtieth anniversary, United Progressive Party

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There’s an air of excitement here in Antigua and Barbuda as the United Progressive Party (UPP) celebrates its thirtieth anniversary. Wow! It’s been three decades full of risks, rewards and challenges, and at every turn, the Party has stayed the course and risen, in a most admirable way, to the occasion. We can truly say like the Scriptures, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”  Out of those thirty years, the Party has governed for ten, and that is certainly nothing to sneeze at. (And by the way, arguably, were it not for the shenanigans of this pathetic and beleaguered incumbency, in this past questionable general elections, the UPP could be holding the reins of power today.

The UPP is again knocking on the door, and with the stunning missteps and ineptitude of this Labour government, the conventional wisdom is that Labour will implode, ushering in another breath of fresh air in our fair State, what with the cadre of bright, young, patriotic, progressive members of parliament. The UPP is in its ascendency, while the moribund Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) is in a serious decline, struggling to resonate with the people, who remain disenchanted and seriously disillusioned. This is a weak governing Party that has had to resort to providing inducements of one sort or the other to potential voters, paying people to ride along in its unimpressive motorcades, and hosting feel-good concerts featuring international artists.  So sad! This is what Labour has come to. Talk about “How art the mighty fallen!”

Of course, a goodly part of the ABLP’s demise has to do with its boorish, bullying, callous, intemperate, selfish, uninspiring, incompetent leadership. Indeed, it could be argued that the ABLP leadership is the best friend of the Opposition forces – the shooting-from-the-lip rhetoric, the vile pronouncements, the arrogant admission that votes from one constituency were transferred out to assist weaker candidates in other constituencies, is damning – a major disappointment and turn-off for all Antiguans and Barbudans of goodwill. Our democracy has been egregiously violated.

Then, on the question of incompetence, it cannot get any worse than the Alfa Nero mess that is now costing this country millions of dollars, and the hare-brained Antigua Airways scheme. Sigh! We are in a bad way. And confidence, such as there was, in this administration is eroding. Seems, the more that things change with Labour, the more they remain the same. Sigh!

Anyway, thirty years ago, the UPP, an amalgamation of three Parties, the (United National Democratic Party (UNDP), the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM) and the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM), came about on the strength of the idea that the Opposition forces needed to be united against the ruling Antigua Labour Party (ALP). It was a brilliant move, hewing to the realization that there was really so much more that united than divided us, especially the common adversary of the people, and a progressive agenda for a better Antigua and Barbuda – ‘’Bird and Birdism,’’ as Leonard ‘Tim’ Hector was always so fond of dubbing the Labour Party. By the time that the UPP was formally inaugurated (April 15 – 18, 1993), after intense discussions the previous year, Antiguans and Barbudans had grown quite tired of the ALP and the systematic betrayal of its founding ideals.

According to General Secretary of the UPP, Senator Shawn Nicholas, in a special appearance on yesterday’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE broadcast, the people of Antigua and Barbuda were once routinely laughed at and called unflattering names having to do with the rampant corruption in our fair State under Labour. We were the stuff of ridicule, and it was only after the UPP seized power in 2004, that the “Delivering Hope,” “People First” team was able to painstakingly restore our image and standing in the world. That was one of the founding goals of the UPP – to take the name of Antigua and Barbuda out of the gutter; to restore national pride and dignity; to level the playing field so that “Everybody can nyam.” Indeed, its motto at that very first convention in 1993 was GOOD GOVERNANCE – A PRIORITY FOR THE PEOPLE. Needless to say, the UPP delivered on its many promises, exceedingexpectations in its ten glorious years in office.

In that self-same aforementioned VOICE OF THE PEOPLE broadcast, a founding member of the UPP, and former Member of Parliament, Hilson ‘Brother B’ Baptiste, waxed lyrical when he recalled the early years. Baptiste, a lifelong revolutionary, Black Power advocate, and indomitable fighter for Antiguans and Barbudans, spoke of entering elective politics in 1989 when he ran on the UNDP ticket, then headed by another venerable fighter for Antigua and Barbuda, Vincent ‘Tubby’ Derrick. He recalled the Honourable Dr Winston Baldwin Spencer as the first political leader of the new entity, a man committed to doing right by the people and good governance. Baptiste recalls the very opening months of the new Administration when the neophyte government ruled by trial and error, seeing what worked, and discarding that which was not working. Baptiste said that there were quite a number of Cabinet reshuffles. He also shared that Spencer, at every opportunity, would beg for educational and other opportunities for poor Antiguans and Barbudans. The UPP was unapologetically interested in equality of opportunity.

Baptiste spoke with great pride of how Antiguan farmers were able to export a wide variety of produce to countries as far away as Canada. He spoke of the introduction of piango. He spoke of protections for small farmers, and egg producers, and the sort. He spoke of his work with the St Johns Development Corporation, the Airport and the Hotel Training School. And he recalled with great pride the many names of the strong UPP team that worked assiduously to bring about a betterment here in Antigua and Barbuda, rebuilding our precious reputation. Who can forget Harold Lovell’s visionary leadership at the Ministry of Tourism, and his superb handling of the global economic downturn at Finance, when banks and economies crashed? The UPP did not lay-off one single government employee during that time. And how about Dr Jacqui Quinn’s outstanding tenure at the Ministry of Education? And John Maginley’s sterling guidance at Tourism, when over a million tourists visited our shores in one cruise season? And Dr Errol Cort? And Chanlah Codrington? And the aforementioned Brother B? And PM Baldwin Spencer’s gracious, caring and statesmanlike Prime Ministership? Sigh! Those were the days. . . . . .

The names of the early warriors in the UPP deserve to be called, because they envisioned a better and brighter Antigua and Barbuda. So, in no particular order, we cite the names of the various nominees for the various Party positions at the inaugural convention in April of 1993: Henson Barnes, Adlai Carrot, Tim Hector, Colin Derrick, Anthonyson King, Cortwright Marshall, Charlesworth Samuel, Wilmoth Daniel, Nathaniel Francis, Lionel Gomes, Harold Lovell, Alister Thomas, George Goodwin, Donald Halstead, Maple Abrahams, Marilyn Benjamin, Rick James, Francis Nunes Jr, Ralph Potter, Burton Barnes, Ineta Bryan, Steve Browne, Malcolm Daniel, J Oliver Davis, Robert Hall, Lowell Jarvis, Lester Jonas, Louis Lockhart, Edward Mannix, John Mc Donald, Ernest Oliver, Selwyn Palmer, Radcliffe Robins, Elsworth Samuel, Gwen Spencer, Baldwin Spencer, Vincent Derrick, George Piggott, Jerome Bleau, Conrad Luke, Strickland Jarvis, Eustace Nicholas, Sydney Christian, Percival Perry, Ralph Francis, Rolston Potter, Alfred Allen, Selwyn Palmer, Victor McKay, Nathaniel Francis, Chester Hughes, Bertran Joseph, Alexis Edwards, Lawrence Jardine, Eustace Newton, Gatesworth James, Carl Roberts, Valerie Harris-Coleman, Foster Bennett, Stephan Winter, Clarvis Joseph, Kelroy Drew, David Spencer, Lionel Gomes, Hilson Baptiste, James Adams, Gerald Watt, Carlton Roberts, George Benjamin, Jerome Sealy, Irwin Romeo, Ferdinand Peters, Beresford Bell, Alfred Shaw, and so on and so forth. We are grateful for their patriotism and their many years of service to Antigua and Barbuda. May God bless them all, and those who are no longer with us, we honor and cherish their memories. Truly, we stand on their shoulders.

Clearly, the work of the UPP is hardly done. Au contraire, this country of Antigua and Barbuda is now facing even graver challenges than it did some thirty years ago.  In the spirit of the aforementioned UPP stalwarts, we say, “Excelsior – higher, loftier, onwards, upwards!” Let us answer the clarion call. And as Tim Hector said in his keynote speech at that first national convention, let us make “That transition to good governance.”

Happy thirtieth, UPP! May you ever blossom and flourish!

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