Especially because we are deep into the Season of Silliness—so called because that is when the mad get particularly madding—I avoid arguments with Claudius Francis on matters pertaining to his legendary commitment to Silly Little People. From as way back as the mid-eighties Claudius and I have been special friends—regardless of the climate. Which is not to say every word between us would pass any amicability test. Sometimes we’ve refused to communicate with each other for as long as three months. I’ve lost count of the times we’ve grudgingly agreed to disagree. I hasten to add that our sometimes seismic exchanges have nearly always erupted well away from the eyes of mindless plebes.
Oh, but I know only too well many people on both sides of the political divide (actually there is in Saint Lucia no such thing; under the microscope nothing separates one from the other) would relish nothing more than to see Claudius and me engaged in a public dogfight, regardless of who ends up on the floor. Indeed, just to hear us yelping at each other would render some orgasmic, even though they understood not a word, not a word, not a word.
Yesterday morning, the host of Straight Up—that is to say, the chairman of de party of Silly Little People and President of the Senate of the Apes—by the sound of him not in a mood to take prisoners, declared to his radio audience that Andre Paul and Russell Lake had shared with apostles of the god squad something they said I’d said about the unreported arrival at George F. L. Charles Airport last Saturday of Gilbert Chagoury and other foreign individuals armed with Saint Lucian passports with expiry dates in 2018.
“Not true!” Claudius assured his own sheep. “Only one of the arrivals carried a Saint Lucian passport.” And I thought, should I break our unwritten rule and set the record straight on air? After all, I had the documents to prove who was the misleader. But there he was inviting me to call. Well, I accommodated my friend the Senate President. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get across the passport numbers that had been allotted to three of the four Arab visitors presumably back in 2013.
Listeners would’ve heard me as I supplied Claudius with details pertinent to Chagoury’s private jet and its passengers. Of course I was not surprised when the argument suddenly took a new turn. Claudius wanted to know if all of the visitors had Saint Lucian passports. I said one did not. And he asked: “Do you know when they were issued? Do you know who was in office at the time? Do you know if they were simply renewed?” I said it mattered not to me. I cared only for the fact that they were issued in 2013, more than two years before we officially started selling Looshan citizenship to those we imagine have money to burn, regardless of how obtained. Claudius neatly went into an Ali shuffle. Now he wanted to know whether I thought Chagoury deserved the special treatment accorded him by our government.
“Do you know how much good Chagoury has done for Saint Lucia?” he asked. And I considered echoing Clarke Gable in Gone With the Wind; that is, I was tempted to say to Claudius: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” But I resisted. Instead, I said I had always been concerned, as had been George Odlum in his time, about Saint Lucia’s association with Gilbert Chagoury. For now, I’ll spare readers the relevant details. In all events, and with understandables purpose, Claudius suggested my “attacks” on Chagoury had less to do with the Arab holder of the Saint Lucia Cross than with my relationship with the leader of the Silly Little People. Ah, well, dear reader, following is proof that I have never felt at ease about our largely secret association with this man whose history is easily accessible on the Internet. The piece is taken from Lapses & Infelicities!
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Background checks were very much in issue when the government announced in early January 2003 that a Mr. Gilbert Chagoury had arranged a visit to Saint Lucia by the former United States President, Bill Clinton. If too much was known about the latter, few in Saint Lucia had heard of Chagoury. It was left to the STAR to fill in the blanks, a not at all difficult task, as it turned out. Over the years the gentleman had attracted much attention to himself, as much for his business practices as for his immense wealth. According to the Washington Post, Gilbert Chagoury was “an international businessman whose Lebanese parents and family lived in Nigeria for decades.” A friend of Bill and Hilary Clinton, on 21 December 1996 he attended a White House dinner “after contributing US$46 million to a voter registration group supported by the Democratic National Committee even though he is not a party contributor.” Then there were his alleged links to at least one corrupt Nigerian regime.
By his own account, Saint Lucia’s prime minister John Compton had not heard of Gilbert Chagoury until 1995 when a local church leader introduced them. The Lebanese wanted to be installed as Saint Lucia’s ambassador to UNESCO. If Compton consented, Chagoury would “at his own expense do all that was necessary to gain the organization’s assistance for Saint Lucia’s education programs.” The prime minister acquiesced, but only on condition Chagoury also financed the appointment of a native Saint Lucian as his assistant in Geneva. The lucky individual the prime minister had in mind was Petrus Compton, at the time attached to the government’s legal department. Alas, by the time all arrangements were in place Saint Lucia’s political landscape had changed. Significantly, Kenny Anthony was the new prime minister.
Under normal circumstances ambassadors change with new administrations. Given his origins, and bearing in mind the Labour Party’s often-repeated “Saint Lucians first” policy, Chagoury worried his status might be revoked, with a consequent loss of his precious diplomatic passport that was his open sesame to doors previously closed to him. Besides, he had his eyes on bigger fish.
While on an unpublicized visit to Saint Lucia, when he was secretly feted at public expense at one of the island’s swankiest resorts, the UNESCO ambassador took the opportunity to invite the prime minister and his deputy Mario Michel to his son’s wedding in Monaco, all expenses paid. In the meantime the external affairs minister was checking into the ambassador’s background. What George Odlum discovered gave him much cause for pause. Alas, to no avail. Already, Chagoury had landed his monster catch. Not only had his wedding guests from Saint Lucia confirmed his position with regard to UNESCO, they had also made him the island’s ambassador to the Holy See, much to the private embarrassment of local Catholic Church leaders who claimed that they were never consulted about the appointment.
At Michel’s press conference convened to announce Bill Clinton’s impending three-day visit, reporters wanted to know who would pick up the tab. The minister dismissed them in customary fashion: “That’s an irrelevant detail.” Only after the president had left the island with his friend from his White House days did the government finally admit Gilbert Chagoury had paid.
As for the visit itself, most Saint Lucians, at any rate, residents in the north of the island, were happy to see Bubba in the flesh. He visited the Castries market and was a hit with vendors and shoppers alike. Despite the desperate pleas of attendant Secret Service personnel, he mixed easily with the fawning crowd. Bill Clinton also took the opportunity to hit some balls at Cap Estate’s renowned golf course. Oh, but easily the hottest ticket during the presidential visit was the special five-course dinner, after which the guest of honor posed for pictures with almost everyone who asked. You may rest assured the crowd included the prime minister and his wife Rosemary, his Cabinet with their wives and special friends, to say nothing of the prime minister’s press secretaries past and current: Claudius Francis and his replacement Earl Bousquet.
Before calling it a night, Clinton delivered a short address during which he promised to do everything possible to assist the AIDS effort in the Caribbean. No one mentioned the island’s banana problems and their connection with the esteemed visitor. It is unlikely he read the day’s STAR article entitled, A Late Memo to President Clinton, wherein the former prime minister Vaughan Lewis recalled their 1995 meeting in Barbados, when he famously informed the president that “bananas are to these Caribbean islands as are cars to Detroit.” It was the UWP leader’s expressed hope that at some time during Clinton’s visit to Saint Lucia “our political leadership might impress upon you that the difficulties I spoke of in Barbados are now upon us with full force.” Of course, nothing that Bubba encountered on his final night with the crème de la crème of Saint Lucian high society even hinted at Lewis’ concerns. In truth, the specially accoutered Sandals Grande ballroom that would later be named in the president’s honor might easily have been at the Waldorf-Astoria!