Statement to the Nation
By Hon Gaston Browne
Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
On Monday, 9th August, 2021
My fellow Antiguans and Barbudans
I returned home today, cutting a brief one-week holiday with my family in St Lucia.
Since my wife and I were already there to carry out official duties, associated with my current chairmanship of CARICOM, we decided to vacation there.
I learned of yesterday’s events after they occurred.
I could not remain away from home and on vacation when political trouble-makers and known criminals are trying to subvert, undermine and destroy our country and the interests of our people, by misleading innocent people.
Yesterday’s incident, in which protestors deliberately violated the laws of the land, applicable to all citizens, and defied the instructions of law enforcement, who were seeking to protect the welfare of the population, was politically organised.
Ironically, politicians, who have inoculated themselves against the ravages of COVID-19, continue to prey upon the erroneous belief of some unsuspecting persons, that the COVID vaccine is harmful to them, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
These politicians, who have made themselves safe, encouraged persons to not only risk their health and their lives, but to break the laws of our country with impunity, to create anarchy and instability.
They were quick to appear on the UPP-aligned radio stations and on social media, condemning the Police and inciting disorder and lawlessness.
Undoubtedly, their primary objectives were to light fires of confrontation and to promote disturbances.
They would see Antigua and Barbuda burn to ashes, just to grab the power they abused for 10 awful years; to enrich themselves, ruin the economy, harm the livelihoods of thousands of families, and pauperise our people.
Let there be no doubt, that the political organisers of yesterday events wanted no peaceful protest; it was a pre-meditated response to undermine the laws and health protocols, to create conflict, chaos and confusion.
Our country is just emerging from almost a year and half of severe economic decline, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That pandemic ravaged our tourism dependent economy, yet the Government steered the nation through it with great skill and success.
We kept all public servants employed and paid.
Though frequently late, we satisfied pension payments; and we reformed and modernised our health system, to contain the coronavirus, saving thousands of lives.
We also expanded our country’s socio-economic infrastructure and brought our nation to the point where we can open up the economy, providing more employment and improved prospects for the future.
These achievements are regarded as serious blows to the already disgraced and decrepit opposition politicians, who have offered no vision, no leadership prospects and no opportunities to the people of our country.
So, they and their criminal political activists, have taken advantage of persons, who fear the anti-COVID vaccines, by manipulating them into unnecessary confrontations and conflicts.
Lawlessness is what the UPP knows; disruption and disturbance are their traditional methods of operation.
They used these illegal violent tactics in 1968, in 1979 and again in 2003 to destabilize our country.
And we saw these reprehensible dinosauric tactics employed yesterday, including the involvement of criminal elements, who are well known to the Police.
Their main focus is to retard the economic recovery of the nation and to create instability and insecurity from which they think they could gain political advantage.
They are now disingenuously claiming that what happened yesterday was an assault on democracy, and on the right to peaceful protestations.
This claim is untruthful.
In making that claim, they are again attempting to mislead and deceive the people of our country and others abroad.
My Government does not fear, or discourage peaceful and constructive protests within the confines of the law.
We welcome peaceful protestations, as we see them as potential opportunities to continue to realign our policies, in resolving differences and satisfying the requirements of our people.
Indeed, the persons, who were protesting against vaccines, were used to protest needlessly.
We have made it abundantly clear that no one – absolutely no one in our country – will be vaccinated if they do not wish to be.
We uphold that right and respect it.
With regard to the Rastafarian community, we also recognise that their religious belief rejects vaccinations.
I have said in various fora, we are not challenging those in the Rastafarian community who follow their faith.
They are free not to take vaccinations.
There is absolutely no compulsion that anyone should be vaccinated against COVID-19.
However, as a government, we have an obligation to protect the wider community.
It would be a highly irresponsible – if not, a reckless and careless government – that does not seek to protect the population of the country from infection by a deadly virus.
All that we require, is that front-line workers and public servants, who do not wish to be vaccinated, take a free test every two weeks.
This is to control the spread of the disease, in the event they contract the virus and to provide responsive medical interventions to avert possible hospitalization and death.
What, therefore, was yesterday’s protest about?
Why would anyone protest against so-called mandatory vaccinations that do not exist?
Why protest against a vaccination that you are not required to take?
Clearly, the question must be asked: whose purpose is being served by this unnecessary and ill advised protest?
The answer could be easily discerned from the articulations of UPP leaders, who attended the illegal gathering to urge the protestor on.
They also made a public call to lock down the country, evidently to plunge our people into further hardships.
The facts of the matter, concerning yesterday’s events, are as follows:
An application was made by known UPP supporters, to hold a march to protest against vaccination and continuance of the health protocols including the wearing of masks.
But it is well known, that under the COVID-19 protocols that have existed for over a year, as a result of the pandemic; no unauthorized gatherings larger than 25 persons are permitted, and, even then, only with social distancing and the wearing of masks.
This was not a political recommendation of the Cabinet; it was a legal requirement, of the health authorities, who have been fighting a courageous battle to contain the spread of the coronavirus, to save lives and livelihoods.
It is well known that large gatherings can be super-spreaders of the virus, therefore they are legally prohibited.
Consequently, the Police were obliged to deny the application for such a large gathering and a march, for the protection of the wider society.
Notwithstanding the denial, the organizers defied the Police and not only gathered, but attempted to march without permission and without masks and physical distancing, in deliberate violation of the regulations.
To the credit of the Police, its officers exercised great patience and restraint.
They repeatedly urged the persons in the gathering to disperse, pointing out that were violating the laws and COVID regulations.
It was only after the politically aligned ringleaders of the crowd began to agitate; disregarding the Police urgings, refusing to disperse and inciting the gathering to march without legal permission; that the Police was forced to use tear gas to disperse them.
It should be noted, that the Police had to protect themselves from projectiles and put out fires, that were started by these violent protestors in violation of our laws.
The Police made a judgment call on their own volition, as they are obliged to do as law enforcement officers.
I should emphasize, that whereas we stand firmly in solidarity with the police; no government minister gave any order to use tear gas, and I was certainly not aware of it until after the incident occurred.
However, no reasonable person could expect the Police, faced with aggressive persons, openly violating the laws and putting the community at risk, not to exercise the judgment for which they are trained in certain perilous situations.
The fact that the Police had to resort to using tear gas to disperse the illegal gathering was unfortunate.
But this action was due to the aggression of protestors, open violation of the laws; the defiance of Police warnings, as well as, the threat posed to the wider community.
And, again I ask, for what purpose?
Why protest against a vaccination you are not required to take?
My fellow citizens, innocent persons were used and abused by unscrupulous politicians, aided by criminal elements, who believe that they can benefit from disturbance, disruption and destruction.
That is their modus operandi; to destabilize our country for partisan gain.
They claim that democracy is at risk.
Our Democracy would certainly be put at risk, if the police fails to uphold law and order within our society.
They have a duty so to do.
There is no legal violation, or any infringement of a right not to be vaccinated; for that right is upheld for all.
Nor is there any violation that would necessitate curbing any peaceful and lawful protests; because the right to such protests is respected.
Those rights have been upheld at the weekly pickets at the office of the Prime Minister, where the police routinely provided protection for the peaceful demonstrators.
What is clearly evident; democracy is now at risk, because desperate political figures have joined with known criminal elements, to violate the rule of law and promote lawlessness, in the hope of ruining our country for their own jaundiced political purposes.
Political violence and savageous behaviors have no place in our democracy.
Therefore, we should continue to collectively resist the aggression of those who seek to undermine the rule of law and to create chaos and confusion in our society.
My dear country men and country women, we must remain eternally vigilant against the violent excesses of the partisan few, who continue to operate in the dark and shadows to destroy our country.
We, the well thinking people of our country, cannot allow opposition politicians and their criminal followers to succeed; so that they could ravage and pauperise us again, with their gross incompetence and unmatched corruption; in which they squandered hundreds of millions of dollars of our scarce resources.
Let there be a pellucid understanding: vaccinations are not compulsory, nor mandatory in Antigua & Barbuda.
The right not to be vaccinated is fully respected.
Front line workers and public servants, who do not wish to be vaccinated, merely have to test every two weeks at no cost, in the interest of their own health, their families, their co-workers and the public with whom they deal.
Nothing can be more reasonable and responsible than that.
As a caring and responsible government, we are doing all we can, to protect lives and livelihoods and to fully recover our battered economy in the shortest possible time.
So, I call on all our people not to be duped, deceived, or fooled by these failed politicians, trying to use the fears of the innocent for their own political gain.
We have an economy to recover, a country to rebuild and a people to continue to protect and empower.
Let us set ourselves to that constructive, productive and beneficial task and not to be distracted by these losers, loafers and charlatans, who are seeking confrontation to destabilize our beautiful twin island state.
Let’s focused exclusively on rebuilding our country and advancing its people.
Let’s forward together as one nation, one people, with a common destiny.
God bless you and God bless Antigua and Barbuda