Home Commentary Open forum CRIES OF 'COLONIALISM' A SIGN OF SIEGE MENTALITY

CRIES OF 'COLONIALISM' A SIGN OF SIEGE MENTALITY

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Dear Source,
Attorney Mark Hodge, who decries the idea of a federal fiscal officer taking over the territory's pursestrings and who recently aired his views in a local paper, says: "This proposal represents a departure from representative government and a step back toward colonialism."
Ah, the dreaded colonialism. It will perhaps come as a surprise to some that "colonialism" has essentially two meanings, neither of which can by any stretch of logic be applied to the relationship between the United States and the United States Virgin Islands. The term can be pressed upon a nation that has a policy of grabbing colonies, for whatever reasons. Great empires were and are created by colonialist adventures. The word also comes to bear when describing the taking of a relatively weak country or people by a power whose mission is to make money through economic exploitation. It seems unlikely that the mainland is eager to get hold of our valuable mineral deposits, vast agricultural resources and great reserves of hard currency, so its colonialist thrusts must be part of national policy. Since there is not a shred of evidence for such a charge, we are delighted that Hodge has put his finger on it. Independence now!
Hodge's companion argument seems to be that we would be losing "representation" and "self-determination" by having the federal government attempt to stop, or at least slow down, decades of corruption and malfeasance. If the Organic Act is changed to accommodate a fiscal ombudsman, he argues, we are doomed to an eternity of tyranny and jack-booted repression. He then goes on to fret about the delegate to Congress having no vote on the floor of the House, making it impossible to ever change the law back to get rid of the "fiscal officer."
I may be wrong, but aren't there several hundred other representatives among whose voting strength our delegate's opinion, should he or she have a vote, would be a minnow in the sea?
Hodge bears a locally venerable and hallowed surname, so he should be intimate with the history of the territory. The Organic Act was passed in the mid-1930s, revised in 1954, and tweaked several times since then. We didn't even have a delegate until 1969 — after we had already won the right to elect our own governor. To pretend that Virgin Islanders have no influence in Congress is flapdoodle.
The Burghers of Charlotte Amalie are terrified every time some event occurs or suggestion is made that seems to threaten their hold on power and its attendant emoluments. They fortify the battlements with buzzwords like "racism," "colonialism," "self-rule" and other hot-button terms that seek to mislead and create suspicion. Is it any wonder that Gov. Charles Turnbull once told a visiting high-school class that his proudest achievement in office was to keep the federal government from taking over? This siege mentality is common coin among the Defenders of the Ruling Class.
Finally, Hodge gets all mixed up between slavery and colonialism, which although often conflated, have no internal connection. "We must never forget," Hodge solemnly intones, "that every step we've made away from colonialism was the product of blood, sweat and tears of generations of Virgin Islands." Like what? The first Organic Act did not come about by blood or tears, although a few lawyers might have lathered up some sweat.
On July 3, 1848, an uncertain number (some say one, others four or five) of slaves were shot by extremely nervous and ill-commanded Danish soldiers at what is now the western gate to Christiansted. That blood was shed for emancipation, not against the curse of colonialism. The Frederiksted Fireburn was appalling in its loss of life and its grisly aftermath of executions and imprisonments. But it was neither an anticolonialist uprising nor a slave revolt. It was a labor insurrection, and without the slightest diminution of its place in our cultural history, the Fireburn had little to do with colonialism. To connect by suggestion the sacrifices of the enslaved or the rage of the repressed 30 years later is to manipulate history and trivialize the truly heroic.
The election by popular vote for governor, a dramatic historical achievement still beset by controversy, was vouchsafed by Congress at the bidding of the Paiewonsky administration. No blood, sweat or tears characterized the struggle, just a few three-Martini lunches in the District.
Churchill's famous "Blood, Sweat and Tears" speech, his first to Parliament at the outset of World War II in which he warned of a long and costly struggle with Nazism, was to prepare his nation for the final fight over the very survival of Britain and democratic institutions around the world, not some annoying fiscal officer snooping around Downing Street. Methinks the lawyer Hodge doth protest too much.
Robert Hoffman
St. Croix

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