Cambridge Analytica, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) and Henley & Partners have featured in most Caribbean countries with Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIPs) and Saint Lucia is no exception.
It has also been established in the international press that SCL was engaged with the ruling United Workers Party (UWP) and the then Stephenson King administration during the 2011 general elections.
Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the USA and the OAS, Sir Ronald Sanders, recently quoted articles and information in his regular online column about SCL’s long history of elections in the Caribbean, naming Saint Lucia in the process. In one such article just after the March 21 Antigua and Barbuda elections, Sanders quoted international reports indicating SCL had struck a deal with the UWP government ahead of the 2011 general elections.
According to published reports that have not been denied by Stephenson King today, as payment for its election campaign services the Saint Lucia government would have handed SCL a US $1.9 million contract to mount a health campaign on “Smoking and Obesity”. But the actual charge for the health campaign would have been US$900,000 – with SCL pocketing a cool US$1 million.
The UWP lost the election, so the deal never went through. But, in essence, according to the plot, had the UWP won, the taxpayers of Saint Lucia would have paid SCL for its role in support of the UWP election campaign through the disguise of a highly-inflated government project.
What then, did SCL do for UWP during the 2011 election campaign to be promised such a hefty payday? We may never find out the entire story, but some who were involved with its planning say today that we should remember the slick “Anti-Drug National Youth Rally” staged by the government at Samaans Park just ahead of the 2011 Election Day.
The television ads, huge banners all over the country, billboards in certain neighbourhoods, decorations at the rally site, coordinated formal clothing outfits of the UWP ministers and invited party operatives – all dominated by the yellow – the official UWP colour. It was dubbed a ‘national youth rally’, but was painted and presented as a purely UWP affair. It was a disguised mind-bending event to promote UWP’s public image.
This was SCL at work for the UWP. But the big unanswered question remains: Was that event paid for with state funds?
Cambridge Analytica, established in 2013, was in Saint Lucia three years later for the 2016 general elections – again with the UWP, but this time in opposition and under Allen Chastanet.
In his rebuttal during the 2018 budget debate, Prime Minister Chastanet admitted that Cambridge Analytica worked with the UWP during the 2016 elections campaign, but claimed its role was limited to conducting polling research. But it’s hard to believe those self-proclaimed mind-benders simply disappeared in the middle of an election campaign after merely gathering data for the party. Persons in the know today confirm they in fact used voter responses to create profiles that were then used to develop targeted messages to entice those voters.
In addition to conducting polling research, it is now known that Cambridge Analytica planned, developed and managed the social media component of the UWP’s 2016 elections campaign. In fact, during the 2016 campaign, photographs were being circulated on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media of well-known UWP social media operatives (including a public servant still employed at the Customs and Excise Department) attending a Cambridge Analytica training course in London.
Henley & Partners, a firm involved in all aspects of the business of CIP worldwide, was also active in Saint Lucia during the 2016 general elections campaign. Just ahead of the June 6 poll, the firm, which is involved in a deep and competitive rivalry with Arton Capital for contracts to run CIPs marketing business in the Caribbean and other source capitals, issued a very damning press statement on the Saint Lucia CIP, which received widespread coverage in local and regional mainstream and social media platforms.
After the UWP formed the new government, Arton Capital was dismissed forthwith and replaced with Henley & Partners as the lead marketing agent for the Saint Lucia CIP!
There are other common threads that link SCL, Cambridge Analytica and Henley to the UWP, the prime minister and other important political actors and their actions here. It isn’t just coincidental, for example, that all those major players are clients of the same law firm. Malaysian investor Teo Ah-Khing, whose expansive Desert Star Holdings (DSH) project on the island is also tied to the CIP, also has the same legal representative as the CIP board. And a former UWP chairman is also the CIP’s lawyer.
Elections are never too far away, so taxpayers should always be steadfast in holding the government to account for the manner it manages the country’s scarce resources.
A disturbing trend is sweeping our country in which the UWP and the government are seen (and not only by us in the opposition) as taking care only of ‘family, friends and foreigners’.
Saint Lucians must demand transparency and accountability in the governance of our country, at all times. This is our national responsibility and we must never renege on it.
Cambridge Analytica and SCL may have claimed to have folded up, but that surely does not mean the end of their type of game. Other similar types of entities exist everywhere, all with the same intent: to influence election outcomes in the interest of paying parties.
The Saint Lucia Prime Minister’s own admission that Cambridge Analytica played a role in his party’s last campaign and in the previous one (in 2011) as well, is enough indication that the UWP, as a party, has in fact engaged external forces to intervene and interfere in the local election process by influencing outcomes.
SCL lost the game in 2011, but Cambridge Analytica and Henley & Partners emerged victorious in 2016. The cost to Saint Lucia has been quite heavy since then, the island’s CIP programme having been downgraded to relative junk status in comparison to under the SLP. The CIP Unit has also been unable thus far, with Henley & Partners, to deliver on sale of the number of passports earlier estimated to allow CIP revenues to help fund the DSH project.
With the government under pressure as a result of the crises in the health sector and its inability to address the spiralling economic and social problems, the UWP propaganda machine has been kicked into overdrive. UnitedPAC and other pro-UWP social media engines are busy applying Cambridge Analytica tactics to divert attention from the pressures facing the ruling party.
Prime Minister Chastanet has turned out to be more of an embarrassment than anything to the UWP and his leadership of the party is coming into question and challenges expected at the upcoming overdue UWP Convention (National Conference).
The level of public discontent and opposition pressure is also leading to increasing doubt about the longevity of the current UWP administration under Chastanet’s leadership, with growing speculation about elections being forced on the government long before they are due.
High-profile UWP members and supporters are also abandoning the party or voicing strong dissatisfaction with Chastanet’s leadership, including former broadcaster Jeff Fedee and now, veteran UWP candidate for Vieux Fort South Dr Ulric Mondesir.
Facing such multiple crises, the UWP will continue to need all the help it can buy or get to bend minds and influence how people think ahead of the next elections, to hopefully influence their vote. It is therefore unwise to think that the days of Cambridge Analytica are completely over. Its corpse may have been buried, but its replacement was already given birth.
‘Vigilance’ should therefore be the national watchword, as Saint Lucia continues to decline towards junk status under the UWP and Prime Minister Chastanet.
Stephen Lester Prescott