Let me just say from the onset that it was unfortunate that the word “criminal” was used by a government senator to describe the actions of a few carnival enthusiasts. Their attempts at staging spontaneous activities on what would have been carnival Monday and Tuesday (July 20, 21) went viral—which amounted to heaven for carnival addicts and a relief to those afflicted with “carnival tabanca.”
I believe that an opportunity was missed to highlight how engrained the cultural event has become in our society, and the government, recognizing this, has continued to assist with its growth, development and marketing. Under the present administration our cultural events, especially carnival have received unprecedented support. Certainly, those enthusiasts should be reminded that we still must remain on the side of caution, in light of Covid-19 (with 24 cases recorded here to date) and to continue practicing the protocols, social distancing as well as avoiding large crowds and gatherings.
It was unfortunate to hear Independent senator Adrian Augier and carnival man par excellence suggest that the main reason for the cancellation or postponement to this year’s carnival was tied to the event being “not viable because the borders are closed.” Augier knows better. So what was his motivation?
Augier is also the vice president and mouthpiece of the Carnival Bands Association, with which the government held several consultations about the way forward back in March of this year. Other stakeholders included the Cultural Development Foundation, Events Company of Saint Lucia, the CBA, Balance Inc. (representing a number of calypsonians and soca performers) and other stakeholders.
Saint Lucia recorded its first positive case of Covid-19 on March 13 and closed its borders on March 23, 2020. Now let us back track a bit. From December 2019, carnival bands in Saint Lucia started launching, and investments were made for this year’s event that promised to be the biggest ever. The indicators: by January, hotels—large, medium, small—were all showing bookings upwards of 60% for June-July. By February 2020 a number of large bands were reporting they were between 75%-90% sold out. A number of carnival fetes and events were trending in the same direction, with some selling out mere hours after announcing online the availability of ticket sales. A number of community carnivals were all set to host the launch of their events before March and social media was ignited as #SaintLuciaCarnival2020 started trending, along with photographs and videos of Carnival 2019.
With all of this in mind, it is beyond reasoning to suggest that the closing of borders would not, should not, or could not affect the staging of carnival this year. From the onset it was clear some bands could not possibly have their costumes and material ready, even if a domestic carnival could be considered. Not only had visitor travel been affected, so had shipping, particularly from Asia.
With carnivals all over the world relying on an integration of music and the performers themselves, not only were our Saint Lucian stars, among them Ricky T and Teddyson John, now stuck at home, but with the cancellation of mass crowd events world-wide and again the closing of borders, other soca artistes would not be allowed in Saint Lucia to perform for some imaginary “domestic carnival.”
It is sad that in 2020 we are still playing the foreigners/visitors card and referencing tourism as an “unnecessary evil.” It’s more than sad, it’s close to suicidal. Imagine if Broadway plays had to rely solely on Manhattanites, and Disney World solely on Floridians! It is undeniable that every major festival and cultural activity in the Caribbean, as in the rest of the world, rely on visitors. It’s a simple fact of life. At any rate, real life!
Additionally, how can we discount that Saint Lucia carnival is now the go-to event for thousands of Saint Lucians in the diaspora? And so, on March 27, 2020 after meeting with the carnival stakeholders and having considered diverse views and options with the possibility of staging Saint Lucia carnival at a later date this year, a decision was arrived at.
A press release based on a draft with major input by the CBA was issued. It read in part: “Taking full account of the economic and public health implications associated with the spread and containment of COVID-19, the Government of Saint Lucia held several consultations with representatives of the carnival community, regarding the best possible strategy for Carnival 2020 . . . the Government sought a broad consensus that would serve the best interests of the festival’s presenters, promoters, participants, producers and partners. It was generally agreed that the global environment was still highly unpredictable and that nothing should be done that would compromise local efforts at containment.”
Several issues which helped shaped the discussions leading to a final decision were highlighted including: international travel restrictions; reduced disposable income of patrons (due to the loss of jobs); availability of government funding for Carnival 2020; availability of sponsorship support; carnival stakeholders responsibilities.
Moreover: “Considering these issues, the Government of Saint Lucia, while recognizing the cultural and economic importance of the festival, has decided that it would be in the best national interest if Saint Lucia Carnival 2020 is postponed to July 2021.” It was also pointed out that “in keeping with this decision, the Saint Lucia Carnival Bands Association has agreed that its members will present their 2020 portrayals in 2021, and indicated that pre- paid purchases, deposits, and other similar payments will be honoured.
No surprise the decision was met with some disappointment by carnival enthusiasts but that was tempered with a high level of support and understanding, judging by the comments and feed- back in the local, regional and international press and online. Then came July, and particularly during what would have been the penultimate carnival week, social media lit up once again with virtual replays of Saint Lucia Carnival, including exciting calypso and soca events. (Consideration was also given to having scaled down events. A larger scale event was also proposed by one individual who for now shall remain nameless.)
As I conclude I ponder, whether the aforementioned comments connected to the hosting of the large event I mentioned? Or, is there discontent within the carnival collective on the agreement to postpone carnival, or were the comments simply coming from under a hat of entitlement? I recall the years preceding 1999 when there was much back and forth about changing carnival from a pre-Lent event (first quarter of the year) to June- July. Those who believed we should not be hosting our cultural event “for foreigners” were quite vociferous with their disdain. However, in the end good sense prevailed. It is sad that 21 years later some of the selfish sentiments are being resuscitated!