A new vision of prosperity is needed

  • Speaking out: Robert Pires allegedly commented that Portuguese were brought to Bermuda because blacks after slavery did not want to work (File photograph)

    Speaking out: Robert Pires allegedly commented that Portuguese were brought to Bermuda because blacks after slavery did not want to work (File photograph)

Two contrasting ideas that underscore a tale of two cities: the Premier’s speech about market intervention, and Robert Pires’s purported comment that Portuguese were brought to Bermuda because blacks after slavery did not want to work.

The two comments may be far apart and seemingly unrelated, but underneath there is a premise that the Portuguese’s present success is related historically to their willingness to work hard and the economic malaise of blacks at present is because of their laziness.

It is not hard for Mr Pires to come up with that theory because he is young and of that post-1960 generation that benefited from the unheralded affirmative-action period launched in the late 1950s onward into the 1970s. People of my generation witnessed a different era when, if blacks were considered second-class, as per Eva Hodgson’s book, then the Portuguese would have to have been considered third-class — and were certainly treated as so.

If you looked into the marketplace or even Nonsuch Island back in the 1950s or 1960s, there was strife in their community. There was signs of progress that were budding. However, a prominent businessman and leading car dealer had no reason to lie to me when he shared that he was called into the bank by an officer of the Bank of Bermuda, was given £100,000 and was advised to buy property and go into business. He was not the only one,

It was no coincidence that the Esso station at Riddell’s Bay opened while Raynor’s Garage, whose application was in long before, had to go court to open.

Nor was it a coincidence that on the second day after the Theatre Boycott that the most successful block plant, which was owned by a black man, Edward Simons, was bombed by two mighty blasts of dynamite, never to be reopened again.

We do know who opened block plants after that. Now this was not necessarily bad news because we can see after 60 years that affirmative action really does work. This was the reason in the early 1970s why the black caucus was formed and brutally slammed down black members such as Arnold Francis and many others who saw the credit and opportunity being slashed in their own community — others were given opportunity while their political handshake gave them nothing but betrayal.

I don’t speak with animosity; all of my children are part-Portuguese either by Rego or DeSilva and I encourage them to celebrate all of their heritage.

The historical truth on the original need for Portuguese workers was more related to the nature of the Bermuda economy, as opposed to whether or not blacks after slavery wanted to work. If one wants to say that during slavery they had no choice as to where they worked, but after slavery they as free people could choose where they worked, that would be a bit closer to the truth.

The facts are that during the 18th century at any point one third of the Bermudian workers were employed directly at sea in seafaring, while the next third were employed on land but in trades related to seafaring, and the rest were in land trades including building, farming, etc.

By far those trades relating to the sea were more lucrative. The former slave would have naturally chosen the more lucrative field to employ themselves if given a choice. Therefore, the Portuguese filled the void in the lower-paying jobs of agriculture, fuelled by the expanding population. Forty years later, there was another critical shortage, but this time for construction workers, and the Government brought in persons from the West Indies. It wasn’t because the Bermudians were too lazy to work.

I like to take personal responsibility and not lay the blame continuously on someone else for my own misery. Yet I do recognise the lethal blow inflicted on my community; I would be a fool not to recognise it. Therefore, all of the energy — rather than focusing on the weapons that took my community down — I focus on those weapons that will restore dignity and bring back sustainability and the family pride that gave us the strength to rise beyond slavery.

David Burt’s speech was not laced with market terms or even the approaches that the market would see as sustainable. However, he had the brevity that previous governments never had the strength or conviction to even utter.

I remember once Grant Gibbons saying there is unfinished business and that was as far as his lungs and thorax could go, but this premier has said, “I want to see supermarkets” — in other words, true market intervention. He did not say affirmative action, but what he meant was directed action.

I am old enough to see and remember where my community stood and where the Portuguese community stood. It is not from reading history or my parents telling me; I was in the marketplace in the early Seventies and could watch the formation of the first truly Portuguese construction firms, and watched right on through to the early Nineties the dismemberment of what was a thriving arena for black business.

It was not because they did not want to work; it was a deliberate ploy by the banks and engineers to disconnect opportunity from them to work. All the rest is a saga by accumulation of what deterioration naturally brings. Poverty brings social malaise, deterioration of the family and family values. Now what we are accused of has become true as a circumstantial reality.

What we need is to take the high road and rebuild the ruins we find ourselves in. We need a new vision of prosperity, not built against anyone, but rather with our inclusion. It is therefore welcomed by me to have a government and a leadership that invites prosperity for everyone because that includes me.

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Published Nov 14, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 14, 2019 at 9:56 am)

A new vision of prosperity is needed

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