83.2 F
Cruz Bay
Friday, October 7, 2022


I hope these articles, of which this is the first, can help explain to most of the population — for most is new — the inexplicable mess that these Virgin Islands have become in the last forty years.
I make this disclaimer. This is my view, I write this without recent research and without reference. I write this from memory and from passion.
I hope that others will augment and add and contradict points and views expressed here as the idea is to inform and to prepare a consensus for us to grow into a better place. One in which most adults regard most children as 'our' children. One in which a great experiment in artificially using government to create a middle class can be seen to have succeeded and a new premise be achieved in which government is limited and downsized and has the funds to provide us with a civilized environment to enjoy the success of the first endeavor and indeed leaves room for real economic development which only reduced government, reduced taxes and reduced red tape can bring about.
I hope to explain the formation of our present police force, our school system, the reason housing projects are spread through the island with their disastrous demands on infrastructure and the destruction of old communities and the intensification of traffic. The diminution of our towns
and the thousands of deteriorating town housing in our three major old communities of Fredericksted, Christiansted and Charlotte Amalie.
When Ralph Paiewonsky was appointed Governor of the Virgin Islands there were only 36 Police Officers for the entire territory. When he left office there were 667. It was above all his desire to enable local young men to find jobs that would enable them to remain on island that so many were recruited. Remember in the early 1960s the local population was about 32,000 and it was determined that in the New York area alone there were 125,000 Virgin Islanders?
As the rapidly increasing revenues of the Government which followed the implementation of the "Mirror theory of taxation," the return of Internal Revenue taxes on VI Rum and many other transfers of federal money to the territory but also the boom of tourism which resulted from the commercial jet plane service which both shortened flying time to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and gave birth to Caribbean cruising by the ships that were displaced from the trans- Atlantic passenger runs.
Special legislation passed by Congress gave the V.I. special exemptions so that tourist could return to the U.S. mainland with significantly more duty free goods then from elsewhere.
Money poured into the local treasury and most of it was used to create jobs. To create jobs so that local people could remain on island. At the beginning no thought was given to the provision of service. It was the government job that would lift the job holder out of poverty; create opportunity and gestate a local middle class.
Returning to the Police force, no thought was given to training. To the development of a corps spirit. No highly trained officers were brought in to instill values, and certainly, adding more than 600 men to a tiny corps of 36 was overwhelming and not inductive to continuity nor tradition. This is what happened. Persons were recruited to enable them to remain on island. There was no crime problem.
The success of these programs to create a viable local middle class and the rapid increase in population from about 32,000 in the early 1960s to about 120,000 by the end of that decade created enormous new problems.
Most of the increase of 90,000 persons were from other islands brought in as 'bonded labor'. These workers and their children were initially at the mercy of their employer as the terms of their admission to the Virgin Islands of the United States were based on the guarantee of the job giver.
If the employer dismissed a 'bonded alien', the employer had only to notify immigration and the alien had to leave the Territory. The law required payment of a minimum wage of $2.75 (I write this from memory and please accept these figures as approximate) or for domestic service a
wage of $295.00 per month plus room and board.
The employers were newly arrived continentals, builders of housing and hotels, and all of the newly employed Virgin Island women who needed caretakers for their children. Few domestics were given room and board, they were paid $295 p/m and had to provide for themselves, Few gardeners were paid more than $1.00 p/h. Few complaints were made.
A 'bonded alien' who asserted legal rights found themselves without a job; immigration was notified and out they went. There were people living by the dozen to the room. Rooms that slept day time workers at night and night workers during the day. Wage slavery had returned to the Virgin Islands of the United States of America 1967 smelled of tension and trouble. 'Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind' and thus we begot the Fountain valley massacre. We turned a crime free island into a slaughter house of children.
Technically these people were bonded workers for a year, never meant to establish residency here. The situation was aggravated by the conceptual program idiotically chosen as a model for development. Oscar Gas, the economic consultant to the administration of 1960s sent by the U.S. Department of Interior used the Puerto Rican 'bootstrap' model of an export driven economy based on cheap labor. This model which Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore successfully used made sense in those countries where there existed an impoverished mass of workers. In the Virgin Islands with a tiny population the creation of shoelace factories, factories that imported material for light processing and re-export, which remained only as long as the tax holidays that attracted them and the low wages obtained from 'temporary' workers in the islands 'only for a year'. No cost of housing or schooling were considered for these temporary people as their children officially did not exist.
As these children were officially not here, they were not allowed in the public schools. The magnitude of the problem is best illustrated by numbers burned into my brain. In 1967 we had less than 4000 children in public school. In 1969 when the Federal court ordered the admission of
'alien' children to the public schools enrolment soared to 27,000 children and by 1975 to 35,000 children. They had been here all along. They had watched the exploitation and humiliation of their parents and suffered real discrimination, openly being taunted as 'garrots'.
Our teacher corps in 1967 was slightly more than 100 teachers about 80% local persons. In response to the Federal court order we needed about 800 more teachers as classes were by law a maximum of 30 students. Imagine the simple place we were. Our department of education sent a single person to the US Mainland to recruit 800 teachers, almost 1200 by 1975. No program was established. No profile for recruitment made. No document seeking persons challenged for peace- corp type environment developed. No teacher's collage or university hired to aid this immense undertaking. Tourist "Fun in the Sun" brochures were the only printed material available. No mention of the dialects of a dozen islands, of the cultural and racial composition of the community. As late as 1980 when I participated in the orientation program there were bewildered newly arrived teachers unprepared to work in predominantly black schools with children often speaking dialects of English to them unintelligible; many were un-equipped for the challenge.
The turnover rate was enormous: approaching two-thirds of each year's new recruits in the 1970s. St. Croix never could fill its need for math teachers or hold those who came. The situation in St. Thomas was marginally better.
Drop out rates were 50 percent or more of all children starting first grade. Children were failing out of Junior high not able to read. The essential problem of teaching all children to read in f
irst grade is a challenge still not met. I accuse the Education Department of intentionally then and now keeping secret this issue to prevent the overwhelming of our already over-crowded high schools. Instead of screaming about the needs of the children and forcing the local population, the various government administrations and the Federal Government to shoulder the responsibility
for the inane development program, the inane bonded alien program and the reality created by Federal court order, the Department of Education focused its efforts on the Junior High schools and ignored the primary grades where failure to read was over looked. The Department of Education was born in the pretense that the alien children did not exist and its ideology remains
afflicted with our original goals of local promotion that were natural before the changes of the 1960s created a new reality. There was knowledge; for there was pride in the number of children picked up by the night schools and by 1980 there were claims -based on what I am unsure- that 87 percent of drop outs were picked up in night school.
Taken at face value these claims that 87% 0f 50% of the children who dropped out were eventually given a basic education that still resulted in 7 percent of all children never learning to read and write. 7% of 35,000 children is more than 2000 a decade. As the larger part of our successful graduates left the islands and the larger part of the illiterates remain, we accumulated more than 6000 persons unemployable and justifiably angry.
My numbers are closer to 8,000. Not 8 percent of our over all population but perhaps 20 percent of our 15 to 35 year old! Persons — with many wonderful exceptions — who found participation in prosperity only through crime.
Frankenstein is the Department of Education who created the monsters who have since plagued this community. Even today, and since at least 1970, the large sum earmarked per student is a fiction. A fiction as for the last 30 years the amount budgeted for education per student is cut
in half by bureaucratic waste. ALL spending for schools: Salaries for principals, teachers, counselors, cooks, librarians, bussing, lunch programs, electricity, maintenance workers, school guards, books -and the list is longer- equals 50 percent or less of the school budget and Frankanstein -the bureaucratic monster producing Department of Education wastes 50 percent of the budget on itself. It is like the old nomenclature of the Soviet Union, existing to perpetuate its sense of an elite role. Personally I would close it down. Put our best teachers, peter principled out of reality, back into our schools which would be a double boost to education. Later we can return to this issue and seek out causes and solutions.
Thousands of persons dropped from school have created hundreds of drug dealers and angry aggressive thieves with a police force originally developed as an employment device without a moral, structured, trained force to deal with them. Of course the picture I paint is sadly simplified for as time has passed since the 1960s and generations of children have
produced at tender ages children and grand children; for the creations of Dr. Frankenstein were regenerating every thirteen or fourteen years whereas the graduates from high school and Universities; those thousands, perhaps 100,000 successful graduates of mainland Universities and UVI in the last forty years, our greatest achievement, who mark there generations every
twenty-five years – of these -have a number equal to the dropouts who remain, actually come back to live here?
Editors' note: Michael Paiewonsky is an editor and founder of MAPes MONDe Ltd. He served as a senator in the 13th and 14th Legislatures. He is the author of "Conquest of Eden."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.