Darcus Howe watches the fall of a Bird

How the West Indies cricket disaster toppled an old and oppressive dynasty

The game of cricket moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform, particularly in the Caribbean. The Antigua Labour Party has ruled that island state for more than 50 years. The party, in turn, has been run by the Bird family. Papa Bird became prime minister on independence from Britain in 1981. He was followed by his son Lester in 1994. Other Birdies held cabinet posts, ran the public broadcasting system and much else. The Bird dynasty literally owned the state.

Over the years, there were some startling revelations. The government had facilitated shipments of arms to South Africa's apartheid regime and to the Medellin drugs cartel in Colombia. Lands were seized by ministers and sold for personal gain. Every single ministry was packed with party supporters. Millions of dollars were paid to electors to secure votes. Opposition members were repeatedly jailed. Government agents once burned down the offices of Outlet, an opposition journal for which I often wrote. In two separate election campaigns, my friends and I raised funds to purchase printing presses. They were destroyed. At the docks, supporters of Bird's party once lifted a brand new printing press to a great height, and then dropped it. Tim Hector, ex-editor of Outlet and a former prisoner of the regime, died of a heart attack a couple of years ago, worn out by his battles against the Birds. His wife was mysteriously murdered, her head severed from her body.

My contacts on the island thought the Bird dynasty would win a reduced majority in elections held on 23 March, but that it would remain safe and sound. Brian Lara, captain of the West Indies cricket team and a man of enormous popularity in the region, moved house from Trinidad to Antigua, providing Bird with a feather in his cap.

Then came that ignominious West Indian defeat at the hands of the touring English team. The transformation was magical. Electors shifted allegiance at once. The turnout soared to 90 per cent. Of the 17 seats contested in Antigua, the opposition won 12. Both Lester Bird and his brother Vere, the agriculture minister, lost their seats. Baldwin Spencer, leader of the United Progressive Party, became prime minister.

The Bird regime has been toppled, after dominating island politics almost continuously since the 1930s, and Antiguans may breathe the fresh air of true democracy at last.

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