Friday, 10 October 2014

MJI: 'ARREST ME OR LEAVE ME ALONE! STOP THE HARASSMENT!!!' Big Tourism Gov't vs The Gros Islet Boy



“Arrest me or leave me alone, but stop harassing me.”

That’s Moses Ishmael, the proprietor and manager of Gravity, the most popular of the late night clubs in St Lucia. A few weeks ago, he was awoken at six in the morning by a squad of heavily armed officers, some in ski masks. A couple of months before that, he got the same treatment. Ishmael says that police have been harassing him in his vehicle and at his home for the last 30 years.

The last time, they took him down into custody for possession of a single round of ammunition. Of course, as the owner of a late night business, Ishmael has a legal firearm, so the round of ammunition was not enough reason to take him down, far less keep him in jail.

“I’m like a scapegoat for the police,” he said. “I work from 10 in the morning to five or six o’clock the next morning. I’m a night life man – that’s my thing. So sometimes cocaine people come and spend their money here. But that’s not my business. I have never seen a cocaine dealer work hard. That’s not how they are. The kind of people in coke are people who don’t want to work hard. I work too hard for what I have. But the police are just continuing to harass me.”

It’s not just the police.


Ishmael’s MJI Hotel was once the hottest small property on the island. By aggressively targeting the local market with events like pool parties, Ishmael made MJI grow from the one room property he acquired to more than 50 rooms.

Unfortunately, his aggressive expansions violated the permissions granted to him by the planning department. Lots of other developers do it. The difference is that very few other developers get stalled for years. Very few other developers see their projects crumble slowly before their eyes while the planning department punishes instead of penalizing an entrepreneur. And there is a reason for that: The Planning Department is supposed to encourage development, not stall it. When encountering a builder who is out of control, they are supposed to help curb the enthusiasm while finding ways to allow the project to continue. If Planning were to arrest every development where a builder exceed his permits, there would be no development in St Lucia. Perhaps no development anywhere in the world.

So what, really, has Moses Ishmael done to deserve such special treatment?

Or perhaps, what hasn’t he done?

It’s not as though there aren’t known drug dealers who get all the assistance they need from planning on their real estate developments.

"Are you talkin'a me? Are you talkin'a me?"



Freedom Bay could get Cabinet to override the Planning Department’s rejections and objections to building a big hotel doomed to failure in the World Heritage Site. They formed a four person committee, rewrote the rules to suit themselves and then shoved their approval down Planning’s throat.

Freedom Bay can get any politician in Flambeau or Labour to do anything for tourism. But Moses Ishmael can’t get his own government to help him bring his small hotel back from the dead.

Moses Ishmael can’t get the Planning Department to do anything but give him grief, as his little local MJI Hotel turns into a derelict building right before everyone’s eyes.

Instead, he gets harassed by police, day in, day out.

They think he’s a drug dealer. And so, for 30 years, they have harassed his ass, pulling him over on the highways, showing up at his house with storm troopers of death and ransacking every bit of his personal reputation that they can.

Up to two weekends ago, they woke him early in the morning to play their little games. They got a licensed firearm and a single round of ammunition. They took him down for the round of ammunition, disturbing an entire day of work.

Because, as if to them, Moses Ishmael, a man who hustles from six pm to six am so he can profit from his love of night life, is St Lucia’s biggest drug dealer.

As if they don’t know who the really big drug dealers are.

As if they are not on the payroll and they don’t know that Moses Ishmael, innocent or guilty, is just a scapegoat for the real cocaine kings and collaborators in parliament, in government, in the private sector and in institutions like the police, customs and port authority. (Poor guys. The best killers among the cops get down in rank so that they stay under control. Their strength is their weakness.)

Like Moses says, cocaine dealers don’t work. Why would they? The kind of person who takes cocaine seriously has every incentive not to work hard. With few exceptions, when they set up a business to wash the dirty money, they don’t even take care to make the business look like it is a success.

Furthermore, St Lucia’s real drug dealers never really get harassed by local cops without pressure from American, British and French law enforcement. They never get charged, much less go to jail. In spite of the fact that Bordelais Correctional has no shortage of inmates convicted of drug offenses, there are no millionaires in jail.

And yet, cocaine’s local kings are all multi-millionaires and cocaine is a multi-billionaire dollar industry that passes billions of dollars’ worth of ‘goods’ and cash through St Lucia and its ports every year.

And both the ruling party and the opposition party have found themselves courting investors whose profiles suggest that they may be the only thing in the world worse for a small democracy than the power of cocaine’s corrupt cash.



Imagine a tourism industry where investors partnered with local land owners instead of just buying them out and fencing them off.

A tourism industry which saw the World Heritage Site as something to be developed, not just exploited.

A tourism industry that strove to achieve Sir Lewis’ simple thesis: local raw materials and labor multiplied by foreign investment equals true wealth for all the partners.

What a thing that would be.

Unfortunately, that’s not what is happening in St Lucia right now. What is happening is a big sell-off, facilitated by two political parties. Instead of selling eggs, they are selling the goose. Instead of selling authentic St Lucia, they are selling the beaches and all the prime real estate and trying to turn it into something that it is not.


And to make matters worse, the tourism industry and the governments that facilitate it are stifling local investors, to the point of setting police on them.

You think I lie?

Ask Zion Henry, whose had to fight to keep his land out of Freedom Bay’s hands.


Ask  Moses, who had endless cops descend on him, looking for drugs, instead of co-operation from the tourism ministry and hotel sector.

Ask Joe, the boatman who nearly lost his contract with Sandals to a big charter company owned by the father of a former tourism minister.

Meanwhile, it seems that almost every new hotel that comes to St Lucia is built to fail. And why not? It’s far easy to fail than to succeed. And when managers and real estate hustlers fail, they make their millions anyway. The local politicians get the jobs that translate into votes and the kickbacks, anyway. The lawyers, engineers, architects and other professionals all get their cut, while pretending that they didn’t know how dirty the money was. (Their blindness assuring their silence.)

The real John Kennedy.
Kicked out of Montenegro, corruption capital of Central Europe.
He's aiming to buy a couple hundred acres north of Anse Chastanet.
And the only people who lose are the investors, especially small ones from pension funds in North America and Europe who get suckered by real estate hustlers pretending to be tourism investors.

And of course, the locals who lose their patrimony. Like the farmers who lost the Black Bay lands for nothing. Like the Praslin fisheries damaged by the doomed-from-the-start Le Paradis project.

Like Moses Ishmael. An ordinary St Lucian, doing what he loves. We are not the I in Tourism. We're just the 'u'. We can't just be allowed to succeed on our terms. Somehow, there must be a fight down.



  1. I say to Moses Ishmael and to you too Flogg Bloger as my mother would say: "Pwen cher, yiesh mwen" Ahn la wout sa cher.

  2. That is a great piece of work Jason Sifflet. It provides much food for thought. It raises the spectre of a Saint Lucia where the Saint Lucian will find himself outside (in his own country) looking in within one generation or less if the pace of the fire sale of our patrimony is not halted.

    It is indeed shameful that the local is regarded as an interloper in an industry where he should be a partner in its overall development. I suppose our role in the industry has been clearly defined - housekeeper, groundskeeper, waiter, server, cook and we have no business venturing any further.

    All the failed projects which were announced with great fanfare and wild boasts by the so called investors and the chest beating of local politicians were predicated on fraud, dirty money, and the fleecing of folks who worked hard for their money only to see it disappear by these fraudsters.

    They ususally close shop and go looking for their next victim. The government in its desperation to provide jobs just open the country's purse and tell these "investors" : "please rob us" and as hell they do. Time for a new paradigm in tourism and tourism related investment.