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Dr. William "Para" Riviere
Dr. William "Para" Riviere

By Para Riviere, Historian

[Taken from forthcoming publication by the author entitled, Inside the Rebellion: Dominica, 1979]

PART ONE

Our country's current political atmosphere is charged with allegations and accusations on the international plane and denials, locally, of the supposed involvement of Prime Minister Skerrit and his regime in breach of sanctions imposed by the world community in the recent past on the exportation of oil from the Asian nation of Iran. From Dominica's standpoint, the alleged central figure is a multiple passport-holding Iranian named Alireza Zibahalet Monfared, who was recently arrested in the Dominican Republic and extradited to his native land where he is said to be now awaiting trial for alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars. The Iranian is said to have been sold a Dominican Diplomatic Passport in the recent past, as well as spent much time in the island hiding from international law enforcement agencies. He is also said to have been on one occasion visited by Skerrit in Malaysia. The allegations go further and name two of Dominica's closest financial backers, Venezuela and the People's Republic of China, in the supposed evasion of international sanctions. International fingers have also been pointed at Greece.

Dominica's suggested involvement also concerns the alleged registration under the flag of Dominica of eleven tankers used to carry the illegally obtained oil supplies out of Iran; the People's Republic of China is said to be a major recipient of such supplies. It is also alleged that the Skerrit regime has benefited immensely in terms of millions of laundered dollars which, so it is rumoured, local and Caribbean banking institutions have now refused to process. These alleged evasions of sanctions are said to be in violation of a major United States legislation, namely, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (C.I.S.A.D.A.) passed in 2010. And reports are that the Justice Department of the United States of America is presently conducting investigations into the role, if any, of our Prime Minister in this highly publicized sanctions-evasion exercise.

Forty years ago the question of the island's participation in a scheme to violate internationally imposed sanctions took center stage. Between 1975 and 1979 the Patrick John regime was engaged in plans to breach oil sanctions imposed by the United Nations on the then Apartheid regime of South Africa. The central figure was Barbados-born, Sydney Burnett-Alleyne, a notorious gun-runner in the pay of Portuguese dictator, Salazar. Not surprisingly, the John regime denied any such involvement. And, expectedly, it dismissed the claim as fabrications conjured up by Opposition politicians. It took five years for the nefarious scheme to come to light. In June 1979 a popular uprising overthrew the authoritarian regime.

What follows is an understanding of this 1975-79 planned breach of sanctions. It is intended for two main purposes: one, to provide a template against which citizens may judge the continuing flow of events concerning the alleged Skerrit-Monfared connection; and, two, to remind us all, particularly our politicians, of the essential truth that those who forget or ignore the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.

THE EVIL OF APARTHEID

While the farmers of the island were raising their voices against continued devastation of their livelihoods by the leaf-spot disease, the John Administration was engaging itself in clandestine dealings aimed at obtaining project funding from whatever source. The leading such deal was to enter into friendly relations with the racist government of South Africa. This was to be effected through an agreement by which, in exchange for funding a number of priority projects on the island, Dominica would allow the apartheid regime facilities, including for the "promotion, stockpiling, re-sale and refining of crude oil and petrochemical products". The Agreement was scheduled to take effect on February 9th 1979, that is to say, three days before the farmers staged their first demonstration in Roseau.

South Africa was then, as it would remain until the elections of 1994 brought leader of the African National Congress (A.N.C), Nelson Mandela, to power, a notorious pariah in the international community. In 1948 the Nationalist Party had declared the principle "apartheid", that is to say, separate development based on race, to be the guiding principle of its development agenda. In practice, this meant the separate existence of the ethnic groups which comprised the nation's population, with a tiny minority of white persons at the top, the "coloured" segment in the middle and the overwhelming majority of blacks, labeled "Bantus", at the distant bottom. Two years later, a fourth category, "Asians", would be added; it encompassed Indians and Pakistanis.

For black South Africans, apartheid was a nightmare. They were forced to live, first in areas called "reserves" and, thereafter, within homelands called "Bantustans". From 1961 to 1994 more than 3.5 million of them were taken from their homes and forcibly deposited in these Bantustans, ten in number, following which their lands were sold to white farmers at peppercorn prices. So as to satisfy the labour demands of white farmers, black elements of the population were stopped from working as sharecroppers. They were divided along tribal lines. Marriage between whites and other races was banned, and sexual relations between black and white South Africans were prohibited. More than 80 per cent of the country's land was set aside for the white minority. Non-whites were required to carry a document, called a "pass", for the purpose of entering restricted areas. Separate public facilities were established for whites and non-whites. The activity of non-white labour unions was severely restricted. Every black South African was classified as a citizen of one or other Bantustan, with political rights there. And, to deny them any role in the affairs of the nation, they were denied the right to vote in national elections. In these circumstances, while white South Africans enjoyed one of the highest, if not the highest, standard of living in the world, their black-skinned counterparts existed in a state of grinding poverty and hopeless (1).

In 1973 the General Assembly of the United Nations denounced apartheid. Three years later, South Africa's police opened fire on thousands of black school children who marched in Soweto, a black township outside Johannesburg, killing more than a hundred. The marchers were protesting against the regime's education policy of forcing black Africans to learn Africans, the language of the white minority. The massacre attracted international attention, and elevated Apartheid from a national issue to a global cause. And, in the same year, the United Nations Security Council passed a Resolution imposing a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to the apartheid regime. Voluntary economic sanctions followed. Save for Ian Smith's breakaway Northern Rhodesia, its links with the rest of the Continent of Africa had long been almost wholly severed. And its business dealings with the rest of the world, including with major British and American corporations, went into the doldrums; years later in 1985 the Governments of both the United Kingdom and the United States would impose economic sanctions on the country (2). Quite obviously, the racist regime, placed in these circumstances, was in great desperation to find new friends, allies and, in particular, trade partners. And, to achieve this, it was prepared, literally speaking, to pay an enormous price.

Notably, despite the economic predicament faced by the island Edward LeBlanc, John's predecessor, had taken a principled stance-against Apartheid South Africa. And, as a result of that stance, his Government would pass a resolution in the House as follows:

"Whereas the State of South Africa practices a system of racial segregation, repression, subjugation, torture and imprisonment commonly known as apartheid;

And whereas apartheid and its sinister implications to the black peoples of that country and indeed for human relationships throughout the world, has been condemned by the United Nations, the Security Council ad by all the more liberal governments of the world to no avail.

And whereas such condemnation and the exclusion of South Africa from major sports events throughout the world has not caused that State to modify its policies and such policies are not being put into practice in those parts of Africa that are dominated by white governmental regimes;

"And whereas representatives of the African National Congress have in person appealed to various governments in the West Indies and elsewhere for resistance to liberate the black peoples of Africa from the oppression of apartheid;

"Be it resolved that this Honourable House places on record its condemnation of the oppression of the black peoples of Africa under the system of apartheid or any extension or modification of it, and approves a contribution in the sum of $1,000.00 to the African National Congress to aid it in its work of liberating the black people of Africa from the bondage of apartheid.

"And be it further resolved that this Honourable House sanctions the making of grants by Government not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) to such organizations as Government is satisfied will use the grant for the purpose of liberating Black peoples from the oppression of apartheid …" (3).

His successor Patrick John, entertained an opposite perspective. The Prime Minister's plan to establish friendly relations with South Africa burst into the open in 1979. But it had been in the making for more than three years. Ten participant entities were identified by name. Registered in the United Kingdom were Dominica Development Corporation; Planet Earth Development and Finance; Federal Bank of Dominica; Ian Wilkinson and Partners, a firm of Consulting Engineers; Kendall and Dent; Promoters Conglomerates. In the United States was registered the Caribbean Southern Corporation; in the Caribbean island of Grand Turk, International Monetary Corporation; and, in Barbados, Alleyne Mercantile Bank. Two companies, namely, Roberts Construction Company of South Africa, and South Africa Coal, Oil and Gas Company were registered in South Africa.

The architect of the connection with South Africa was Barbados-born Sydney Burnett-Alleyne. Burnett-Alleyne obviously played upon Prime Minister John's desperate need of finance to prop up the island's tottering economy, to persuade John that he was in contact with sources of easily available money. And Burnett-Alleyne's record as a gun-runner in the service of the regime of Portuguese dictator, Salazar, must have provided credibility to the Barbadian's assurances (4).

Copyright ©William Para Rivière, 2017