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Pottersville in Goodwill one day after Maria
Pottersville in Goodwill one day after Maria

The fury of Hurricane Maria, one of the most dangerous storms ever experienced; the damage, the destruction, the devastation, the homelessness and hopelessness, all lead to independence celebrations the likes of which the country has not seen since the winds of Hurricane David swept the island in 1979, one year after Dominica attained political independence from Britain.

For many, it will be a celebration like they have never seen, and hopefully, never will again.

However, many, like government unofficial spokesman Tony Astaphan, have no doubt that while Maria might have crushed lives, it could not take away the spirit of nationalism.

And they are convinced that this spirit will come to life as when the country observes its 39th anniversary of independence this Friday.

"I think Dominicans are going to celebrate a strong country. We may not have all the pageantry and expenses we've had in the past. I don't know, but I think we are a proud people, people who worked hard, volunteering nationally in the ports and in their constituency, people should come out to celebrate," a reflective Astaphan told The Sun.

"I think people should celebrate the great work the government has done. We have a lot to be proud of even if we have a long way to go still."

Government nemesis Crispin Gregoire has expressed similar beliefs, agreeing that, while the situation is not ideal, Dominicans will go into independence on Friday with smiles on their faces and brimming with pride.

"But I think there is an undercurrent of insecurity. They're not sure where the country is heading. People are still concerned about their homes and feeding their families. So while people are brimming with national pride there they are still uncertain," Gregoire said from New York.

It was a criticism of government's handling of the post hurricane relief and recovery programme.

Gregoire believes that the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, is seeking "to get political advantage from international assistance" by turning the relief effort and country's recovery into a naked politics game.

"My view is you'd want to set the foundation for a unity of all forces in Dominica - political forces, civil society, the private sector, the churches – we need a huge coming together and government should lead that," he said.

"The prime minister needs to be a statesman and not to allow this thing to fall into a partisan thing. They should utilise people who have skills, even if they do not support the party . . . and all of this denigration of each other is no longer [tolerably]."

Government has made it clear that independence celebrations will go ahead, albeit a lot more low key affair.

There will be a praise and worship session at Windsor Park Sports Stadium, along with cultural performances, invocation by religious leaders, a parade of uniformed troops, and an address by Skerrit.

In keeping with the current state of affairs, the theme is, Building a Brighter Future Together.

Despite the widespread devastation suffered when the category five hurricane battered the island in the dead of night on 18 September, Astaphan said the rebuilding has been progressing and the country is doing well when compared to other destinations that were hit by hurricanes Irma or Maria.

"We have made progress, we have made significant progress in terms of attracting relief, we have had some logistical difficulties at the port . . . [but] lights are coming back slowly, water coming back a bit more rapidly in some areas, so by and large I think we have done well," he said.

The reconstruction stage is beginning, and several international agencies and countries have pledged monetary assistance, not least of which the World Bank which has promised over $US100 million.

However, Astaphan defended the omission of the opposition from the process, arguing that they forfeited their chance when they used the opportunity given to them after Tropical Storm Erika "as a Trojan horse for political and partisan purposes".

"The experiment failed. Prior to that and since then they have done nothing more than try to destroy the name of the country and the government. Those of us who support the party have lost complete trust in the opposition.

"And I fully support the prime minister. He was the one who was elected to govern. No one on the UWP [United Workers Party] was elected to govern and they can complain as much as they want, they have forfeited their right to be part of the nation building that is going on now," he said.


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