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Fenton Ferguson and those battles with the Charles family

(Jamaican Observer)

Dr Fenton Ferguson will for the third time face a member of the famed Charles family as he seeks a seventh term as Member of Parliament in the eastern Jamaica parish, and at the top of his agenda is securing land for the landless.

Pearnel Charles Sr, who held the St Thomas Eastern seat for 13 years, was defeated in 1993 by Dr Ferguson who has held the seat since. In 2011 Dr Patrece Charles, daughter of the senior Charles, ran against Dr Ferguson and was defeated. Come September 3, Dr Michelle Charles, another daughter of the senior Charles, will face Dr Ferguson at the polls to determine the next MP for St Thomas Eastern.

Dr Ferguson said he is undaunted, but the man dubbed the six-star general said it is clear that with respect to St Thomas Eastern, the Charles family has interests outside of people representation and the senior Charles wants to be the “puppet master” for the constituency.

“I did not have a bad day relative to Patrece Charles. She challenged me in 2011 and did relatively well at the time. Michelle Charles, we have had a cordial relationship. The problem is that Pearnel Charles wants to become the de facto MP for St Thomas Eastern. If there is a dispute to be settled or an argument she [Michelle] has to go to her father to come to resolve it,” Dr Ferguson said. “If there is a third Charles coming, there must be something that Mr Charles is pushing them — his daughters — to protect.”

In relation to the Charles family’s interest, Dr Ferguson said one of the fears that people of St Thomas Eastern have is the fact that in Pearnel Charles’s tenure as MP he would have acquired property once occupied by small farmers that left them further disadvantaged.

“We are talking hundreds of acres of land… I am not fighting against him, what I am fighting against is that many of these properties were occupied by small farmers who would have been chased off these lands. The people complained that their animals have been impounded and a number of things. All I’m saying is when it comes to land I don’t believe Mr Charles has the moral authority, based on what he did in his tenure where land is concerned, to be arguing about land for landless and also fighting for them because it never happened when he was MP. They [daughters] are being pushed to protect his legacy. Not legacy in terms of his work in St Thomas but his investments in St Thomas. He would be the second largest land owner in the constituency of Eastern St Thomas at this time and therefore it is about the protection of his own interest, not the building,” Dr Ferguson said.

He added: “I believe it would be a very dark day for St Thomas Eastern to move from a position where you would have seen leadership focused on education, focused on the infrastructure, focused on developing big ideas and focused on decency and integrity. Ask the people from adjoining communities. Now you’re on the opposing side you’re saying you would be good for the people, but you would have been there owning land, persons would have had that experience of a particular time. I believe it would be a fundamental error of history to bring back a Charles in St Thomas Eastern. It would not represent any forward movement. The continuation of fighting for land for the landless is something I would regard as the Charles’s Achilles tendon. They can’t speak with any kind of moral authority on land and land for the people when their example is what it is. Land is a big thing for me — both residential and farmers land…these are lands I am willing to fight for, not just fight but to die for. I believe that after three, four, 500 years of sugar in a post-sugar industry period in St Thomas, they (sugar workers) have a fundamental right to have security of tenure for land.”

Moreover, facing the Charles family has been a mixture of varying styles of politics for Dr Ferguson.

“The father in 1993 would have had the remnants of the old politics. Patrece Charles… she had a spirited, and what I would regard as a good campaign. My present opponent has been there. She has had issues with her own people…in this present campaign they have taken down my flags and my posters. I have said to my people, many of whom are well riled up, to cool it, we will put them back where necessary. Let us not get into any kind of confrontation…They take down and I have resisted confrontation out of decency,” Dr Ferguson said.

Dr Ferguson maintained that his reputation and integrity, which he has built for over 40 years in St Thomas, is bigger than politics and though he understands that politics can become combative, his work speaks for itself.

He added that he looks forward with great anticipation to Thursday’s election, coming out the victor, knowing he has remained the people’s champion.

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