Quoth the dearly departed legendary writer and contrarian Christopher Hitchens in a 2002 essay for Slate, entitled Machiavelli in Mesopotamia: “Saddam Hussein is a bad guy’s bad guy. He is not just a bad guy in himself but the cause of badness in others.” Similar may be said of several leaders of ostensible democracies in our region but why concentrate on the mote in the foreign eye and not on the beam in the eye of our own home-made monsters?
Last Saturday a once familiar voice I’d not heard in at least four years, save for his pitches for VAT, NICE, the operations of the city council and other government initiatives of dubious value, addressed me via my cell phone, as if indeed there had been no interruption of the closeness we once shared: “Hi, I want to ask you something. And give me a straight answer . . .”
And I said: “Are you saying you’ve had answers from me that weren’t straight?”
He grunted: “C’mon man, that’s not what I’m saying. I saw this morning’s STAR and asked myself: ‘Why is he still on that man’s case?’ I mean, the guy’s gone; finished; buried.”
“Who are you talking about? What’s with the riddles?” I queried.
“That picture on the front of today’s paper, didn’t you have another shot you could’ve used? Do you have something personal against the guy?”
I continued to play spider to his fly: “Are you talking about who I think you are?”
“You know damn well I am. Why are you still writing about him. The guy is . . .”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Not current? He is paying for his sins and all that. I’ve heard it all before. You’d prefer that I wrote about someone else? Like, say, the current prime minister, maybe? Have you seen him on our back page flexing with the Terminator?”
My joke went over his head. Humor had never been his thing. “Actually,” I went on, “if you allowed your eyes to see truth you’d realize what I write about are what I consider unresolved issues of national importance.”
“Oh, I get that,” he said. “But they all involve the same guy.”
And I said: “Well, don’t blame me. In his report following the multi-million-dollar Frenwell debacle, Sir Ramsahoye underscored the man’s tendency to exclude from his official undertakings his Cabinet, senior public servants and other government advisors. On occasion he has even bypassed the governor general. Want me to quote Ramsahoye?”
“There’s no need for that.”
And I said: “I know well that you are quite familiar with it. How many times did we pore over it together? A hundred times? Two hundred times, maybe?”
“I know the report by heart. And yes, you’re right. But about this Grynberg thing. You have everyone talking about it as if it happened yesterday.”
“Would you prefer I did like the rest of you have tried to do?” I asked. “Pretend it never happened? Have you ever known me to abandon a story just because it made some people uncomfortable?” I needlessly cited several stories I’d broken over the years. I also reminded him of what I knew he knew only too well: were it not for the STAR’s limitless persistence many horror episodes about life in Saint Lucia might’ve gone unreported. Or reported minus vital details. Dale Elliott would have no Untold Stories to tell.
He concurred. But I was just warming up. “Remember how we used to discuss certain incidents involving the guy on my front page and how disgusted you were then that people like him occupied the highest offices in the land?”
He switched abruptly from low to high gear: “Actually, you’ve got me all wrong. True, I wondered if you might have a personal beef with the man that I don’t know about. That doesn’t mean I want you to stop writing about him. Candidly, you should turn the heat up even higher.”
“I’ve already explained that I’m not writing about him,” I said. “What I’m writing about are unresolved public issues in which he participated. There’s a big difference. I wrote similarly about public affairs in the heyday of Compton, Louisy, George Odlum, Vaughan Lewis, Ausbert d’Auvergne . . .”
He cut me off: “Yes, yes, that’s true. But you don’t criticize the current PM nearly as harshly or as regularly as you did his predecessors.”
“With good reason,” I said. “The current PM has been in office just eighteen months or so—and in times unprecedented. Another thing: I’ve stated on TV and elsewhere, more than once, as you must know, the policies of his administration that I do not support. Besides, you know there are issues I leave to others in the media—to the same reporters who wouldn’t touch my specialty stories with a barge pole. I’ve said countless times that I have no reason at this time to be particularly concerned about DSH. If others have, then let them pound away as they’ve been doing from the moment Chastanet first brought DSH out of the Labour closet into the open. However, I remain concerned about the sale of Saint Lucian passports, secret diplomatic appointments, our relationships with known international crooks and so on—which don’t seem to bother certain media mindbenders manqué with their own personal ambitions.”
He swerved in a new direction: “Why aren’t you writing about Guy Joseph’s direct awards?”
“Because I see no need to,” I said. “Stephenson King has already spoken chapter and verse about the subject at a press conference. He cited other administrations that had done as Guy Joseph did. He challenged any of the minister’s critics to prove he broke any laws or in any way acted unethically . . . Maybe someone will do so at the next House meeting but so far, not a word, not a word, not a word. In any event the STAR reported both on the allegations against Guy and on King’s detailed rebuttal. What’s there for me to add?”
I was unprepared for his reaction: “Don’t get me wrong, Kenny has to go. He’s a burden on the shoulders of the opposition. There are few things they can say critical of the Chastanet government that do not also expose Kenny’s countless warts. He did his own irreparable harm to this country, often surreptitiously. Philip Pierre is a good guy. He deserves a shot at being prime minister. He’s clean. I feel Saint Lucia would benefit from his stewardship.”
“So why doesn’t the SLP unburden him and set him free?” I asked. And he said: “Philip knows the man has to go. And he’s not alone. Most of the guys know Allen didn’t win the last elections, that it was their leader who lost it for the SLP. The guy is disliked for too many reasons, and by too many people. The party is aware of that—including Leo Clarke.”
“Meanwhile the election loser makes Haley’s Comet appearances at the House,” I laughed. “Sometimes for just ten minutes—or until Guy is on his feet. He shows up late for public rallies, just as he used to do when he was PM and party leader, just to bask in the sympathetic applause. Sometimes when the current party leader is at the microphone. And Pip says nothing. Remember when Vaughan Lewis had to interrupt his convention address in Soufriere to accommodate John Compton’s late arrival? Maybe Kenny was right back in the day when he took the tourism portfolio away from Pip and handed it to Menissa, on the ground that Pip was too chicken—too indecisive. Pip will have to decide soon whether he is the current cock of the walk or merely the walk!”
“He’ll surprise you,” said my newly resurrected friend. “He’ll surprise a lot of people when he decides to act. The party knows it can’t move under the weight of Kenny’s baggage.”
“It’s not what Pip knows that counts,” I said. “What matters is what he does about what he knows, and whether he can summon up the gonads openly to call a whale a whale. He’ll have to prove he’s not scared of what his colleagues, some more ambitious than Pip, might say or do.”
“All I know is a leader’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.”
“Is Pip a leader?” prodded the devil in me. “That’s the killer question. While he’s figuring that out, advise him to stay away from oily seabeds. Leave them to those who know all there is to know about the subject. The SLP’s soldiers have no defense against party detractors; no ammunition. Right now they’re firing blanks, whistling in the dark, praying people will forget the unforgettable scandals that bear their leader’s imprimatur.”
“I’ll tell him what you said about staying away from oily seabeds,” said my humorless surprise caller, chuckling uncomfortably. “Actually, I’ve already done that!”
With some luck, come 2018 some folks might well discover themselves reading less and less about a certain one-trick pony!