Senator Danny Lugay
Senator Danny Lugay

New police action this weekend against opposition politicians raise fears of home grown versions of Haiti's Tonton Macoute and Grenada's Mongoose Gang

Back in 1959, the Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier established a special operations unit within the Haitian paramilitary force that committed systematic violence and human rights abuses to suppress his political opposition. The Tonton Macoute, as Haitians named the unit, was responsible for unknown numbers of murders and rapes, brazen attacks on, and the disappearance of, Duvalier's political opponents.

Similarly in Grenada, between 1967 and 1979, Eric Gairy, the premier and later prime minister, formed his private militia known as the Mongoose Gang, which silenced his critics, broke up demonstrations and murdered opponents.

Fast forward to today and opposition politicians, observers and critics of the Roosevelt Skerrit regime are warning that Dominica is well on its way to mirroring Duvalier and Gairy. "We had the Tonton Macoute in Haiti, years ago we had the Mongoose Gang in Grenada [but] we never thought we would see the day when we have our own version of the Tonton Macoute and the Mongoose gang," said Lennox Linton, the leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) in a statement via Facebook on Sunday.

Linton's conclusion is based on an incident on Saturday, 15 August, during which Daniel Lugay, the member of parliament for Roseau North, was allegedly forcibly removed from his vehicle at Morne Daniel. According to Lugay and Linton - whose versions on the incident had neither been confirmed or denied by police up to press time on Monday – they, along with a third person, were in Lugay's car on their way from a funeral and were dropping Linton home near the new apartment which Skerrit now occupies. He was stopped by members of the prime minister security detail and was "abducted" and taken to police headquarters before he was later released without charge. The Roseau North MP said the police advised he was being taken in for questioning because they had "received credible information that some persons were posing a threat to the prime minister's residence".

It was the latest in a series of incidents in which police have been picking up senior members of the opposition, holding them for several hours before releasing them without charge.

"I want the people of Dominica to carefully digest this because this is the stuff that brutal dictatorships and tyrannies are made of: goon squads that act on behalf of the maximum leader, the dictator, to do whatever the dictator wants done, to deal with whatever the dictator considers to be a threat to him," Linton said in his statement on Sunday. On Saturday, soon after Lugay was released, Linton warned of ominous signs of things to come.

"The stage where people start being shot by police officers is not far off based on what I experienced this afternoon," he said.

International relations expert Crispin Gregoire, who has his political foundation in the Dominica Labour Party but is a Skerrit critic, said it was a rogue element of the police force that acted in this way. According to Gregoire, as far back as the Labour party of the 1970s there were "certain elements of the police who felt that they could act with impunity". However, he said, the situation has escalated to dangerous levels.

"In my lifetime I've seen police elements do political acts and intimidation of opponents and that's going back many years," Gregoire told The Sun. "That rogue element of the police behaviour is symptomatic of the way the country is governed - we don't have a lot of respect for law, people just do things that are clearly illegal like this. To badly handle an elected representative of the parliament in that fashion, that is really scary for the average civilian who is not supporting the government. And if they can do that to an elected member of the house, it tells me that it's a very brazen police force. But I want to hasten to add that it's not the entire police force, that there is just a rogue element within the police force that's responsible for that kind of behaviour."

The Dominica Freedom Party issued a statement condemning the "disregard for due process" by Skerrit's security detail and called on "every right thinking Dominican to condemn the aggressive and unconstitutional manner in which locals and even parliamentarians are physically abused by individuals within the Prime Ministers detail".

However, Julius Corbett, the former National Bank of Dominica and AID Bank general manger, doesn't expect oceans of voices in condemnation of this action. This, he told The Sun, was mainly because people are simply afraid to speak out.

"Skerrit has turned Dominica into a mendicant society, and as such, he is ruling with an iron fist. Everyone and sundry, including the middle class and upper-middle [class] rely on the state for survival. Because of this, Skerrit has given himself the authority to run the country as he pleases," Corbett said. "For several years since he became prime minister, he has placed his cronies into strategic positions with clear mandates to serve and to protect him. These servants are serving at his pleasure and if he is unhappy with their loyalty they suffer the consequences.

"He is an astute politician who has studied the wants and needs of the people and has exploited them to his advantage. He fears competition and manages his fears by victimisation and vindictiveness. He treats the opposition with disdain and seems to have a secret police tantamount to Eric Gary's Mongoose Gang or the Duvalier's Tonton Macoute in Haiti."

It's the sort of condition, Crispin Gregoire argued, that can lead to unnecessary violence which the country can ill-afford.

"We might end up having armed conflict," Gregoire told The Sun. "If that is the way the police is going to continue to intimidate people, who knows what will happen next? I mean, it can escalate to the point where you actually have firefights. That's what we don't want to see happen."