Pierre Charles at a press conference
Pierre Charles at a press conference

ROSEAU, Dominica. January 12, 2004 (Sun)-One of the first things I do when I arrive home from an overseas trip is to turn on my computer. More often than not, there is no earth shattering development since I lost contact with cyberspace. Whether I am en route to Dominica, or this occasion, Miami, I do not expect to be overwhelmingly surprised by what I learn when I turn on my computer. Today was different.

Several email messages carried the sad news of the Prime Minister's passing.

This is an occasion of epic proportion. Extremely sad, yet epic in the sense that it may amount to a seismic shift in the political landscape.

How sad the loss and heavy the sorrow felt by his family and numerous supporters. One gets the sense of "daja vu all over again", to quote Yogi Berra. For it was not long ago that Pierre Charles took over from the deceased Prime Minister Rosie Douglas whose untimely death cast a dark cloud of sorrow over a struggling na¬tion.

I never got the opportunity to meet Pierre Charles in his capacity of Prime Minister. My earliest memories of him was as the young athletic looking President of the Youth Council whose office was located across from the New Chronicle where I worked in the tumultuous 70's. But over the past few days he featured in one way or other in various anecdotes which make the news of his death at this time seem rather eerie.

While not meaning to take way from the sadness of the occasion, it was just last week that a tasteless political joke was making its rounds on the internet: In the Windwards, the mischievous joke went, there are three 'doctors' and one 'patient', or some variant on that theme. Its reproduction in communiqués among the Dominican diaspora produced a ground swell of pas¬sionate opinion which is perhaps representative of the political fault lines in Dominica.

And just last night, before I left Dominica for Miami, I ran into Attorney General Dyer and some others at the Port of Call in Roseau. The topic of the Prime min¬ister, his health and his place in the political equation in Dominica, came up for discussion. And I agreed with those who opined that the Prime Minister was vastly underestimated, that he showed political courage and resolve when he agreed to the economic stabilization effort; that he is an honest man whose lack of a tertiary education did not diminish his ability to provide effec¬tive leadership; that the alternatives to him within his Labour Party were not attractive and that those who were calling on him to be replaced, a 'doctor' in par-ticular, would not inherit the level of trust and honesty that `Pierro' was believed to possess.

So the timing of the death of Prime Minister Pierre Charles, amidst the political turmoil in Dominica, a ' general election around the corner, the IMF imposed austerity measures in place as part of an economic retooling effort, and deep divisions within the country as to the wisdom of the current course, make it an espe¬cially significant event, in addition to the sadness that all feel.

And yes, it seems like yesterday when circumstances were similar, that Pierre Charles walked on the stage to fulfill the role of lead actor, replacing the departed Rosie Douglas. He seemed like a transitional figure at the time: The unassuming head of a coalition government, the least of all evils, both perceived and real. And with his death, the deck of cards has been reshuffled, as it were.

Real life political drama such as the death of a prime minister often looks like a work of fiction, an interest¬ing plot laid out by a very gifted writer. This was the case with Franklyn and Winston, an account of the interplay of the giant personalities of Franklyn Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and their friendship, set against the backdrop of World War II and their respective roles in the defeat of Nazi aggression. I devoured the book over the Christmas holidays in Dominica. The account of the death of Franklyn Roosevelt, the popu¬lar four term president of the United States at a time of war, was fresh in my mind when came the news of the death of prime Minister Charles. In the book, the death of Winston Churchill followed almost two decades af¬ter Roosevelt, after a life of political ups and downs, and yet, leaving behind a legacy of valor that has made him immortal. The book left me with the impression that political leaders at great moments in history are chosen by the Creator to carry out a certain mission. And then they bow out gracefully when their mission accomplished.

I can hear some saying that it is foolish to mention Pierre Charles in the same story as Winston Churchill and Franklyn Roosevelt. No effort is made here to compare him to these men. It will be left to Dominicans to determine Pierre Charles' place in his country's history. And for this, we may have to wait years. I just find it somewhat uncanny, that at the moment I am consumed with the story of the death of Franklyn Roosevelt and Winston Churchill up come reports of the death of Pierre Charles. That is weird, and more so the more I think about it. Pierre Charles may well have been a transitional (more than) a transformational, figure. If he left a mark, history may well record it as one of political courage. His decisive action on the economy, he spent his political capital when others may have cowered. In his apparent simplicity and lack of achievement at the tertiary education level, he may have set the benchmark for the 'doctors' who are seeking to replace him.

By Julius B. Sampson, Miami, January 6 2004