Is George Odlum still in the House?

Kenny Anthony and George Odlum (file photo)

Two e-mails reached me this week that demanded more than regular attention, and not only because they came from cherished friends. Given that there’s precious little we can do about fuel prices, other than to use our vehicles only when absolutely necessary, one wrote, and considering we are plagued by a recession without end, you would expect the nation to come together in the name of survival. “But instead of appealing to our people to tighten their belts in the national interest, our political leaders carry on in their counter-productive business-as-usual divisive way, making the usual absurd pre-election promises that they know they cannot deliver. Perhaps worst of all, some of the more educated among us see no reason to question or criticize since it’s our party leader making the empty promises.”
As for the other e-mail: “Rick, wouldn’t you say George [Odlum] never incited such irrationality among Saint Lucians as Kenny has? Our country has never been as polarized, and the anger among some of our citizens has been seething since the SLP’s 2006 defeat. There was something endearing about George and his politics, despite his foibles. Kenny seems consciously to encourage a particular kind of menace. Forgive the evil thought on my part, but I get the feeling Kenny and his brigade may not be too pleased over the present lull in crime.”
Well, so much for that! I refuse to believe the last line and I think my mischievous-on-the-occasion friend knows only too well that he overstretched the truth. On the other hand, there was nothing “endearing” about the way George squandered the love and affection and trust of the thousands of Saint Lucians who at one time marched to his drumbeat. The particularly sad story is detailed in my book Lapses and Infelicities.
The irreducible truth is that George started the polarization that now threatens to destroy our tiny and near helpless nation. George it was who first sowed the racist seeds that divided the country on the matter of tourism. We have not yet recovered from the effects. Neither have we learned the difference between slave servitude and service to the consumer. We seem to hate anyone we imagine is better off than we are and too often we expect special rewards for the poverty we invite upon our heads by our refusal to do for ourselves whenever possible. Our hands are always out begging for one favor or another; favors to which we could easily treat ourselves with the smallest effort.        George, more than anyone else, set the have-nots against the presumed haves. George it was who set off the explosion that resulted in Plywood City and the signaling burglar-bar architecture we see today in William Peter Boulevard and other Central Castries shopping areas. George is also to blame for the on-going total lack of respect for local institutions, from the church to Government House. In George’s heady heyday the country’s prime minister was ridiculed at every turn, publicly declared a thief. Government House was in the public mind transformed into a symbol of oppression and everything negative and retarding, without the smallest suggestion of a useful replacement. And while much credit is due George for the destigmatization of Creole, he forgot to remind his less educated followers that English was the language of commerce and unlikely to be replaced any time soon by  langue mama nous.
Finally, even after he had become a government minister George stooped lower than any other Saint Lucian politician has ever stooped: he encouraged his more rabid apostles to unleash a rain of human feces on opposition members during a 1979 rally shortly after the Labour Party took office. In Saint Lucia the words “leadership struggle” will forever be associated with the face of George Odlum. I could go on . . . but I need to remind my friend and others who may conveniently nurture romantic memories of George Odlum (not that he was all bad, let it also be said) that chief among his protégés was the current leader of the opposition.
Yes, Kenny was an important part of the Allan Louisy government when John Compton and his supporters were made the targets of terrorist throwers of shit bombs in William Peter Boulevard. Which is not to say, Kenny was a participant. At any rate, he tossed neither stones nor polyethylene sacks of shit. But like Peter Josie, he was part of George’s inner circle—important enough for George to have campaigned for a change in the law to permit an under-age Kenny to become a member of the Saint Lucia Senate.
Did Kenny pick up a lesson or two from George along the way? Well, it would seem he did, beginning with the first boycott of parliament by opposition Labour MPs soon after Kenny replaced Julian Hunte as party leader. Then there are the unforgettable over-heated House debates—in particular the session that gave us the ridiculous Section 166, so reminiscent of 1982 when one Labour MP threatened to shoot an Opposition colleague and with George played rounders with the Mace.
No, I would not agree that Kenny has incited more irrationality in Saint Lucia than did George in their time but he certainly has not demonstrably stood up for rationality. After all, what’s rational about his insistence that he did nothing wrong in his handling of the Rochamel matter? What’s rational about enacting a law specifically to protect the reputations of politicians when already we have on our statute books legislation pertaining to slander and libel? What was so rational about passing a Labour Code in parliament shortly before the 2006 general elections and neglecting to make it law before Polling Day? What was rational about Kenny’s claim that a law he created was unconstitutional and deserving of popular protest, including sustained civil disobedience? I could go on but I dare to say the point is made: George Odlum and Kenny Anthony—despite their well-chronicled public disagreements—had far more in common than meets the eyes of their respective jaundiced adorers!

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