At a special meeting in London, opposition leader Allan Louisy had argued for an indefinite postponement of Compton’s independence plans. To no avail. Plagued by its own social and economic woes, the British government seemed to have ears only for St. Lucia’s premier, who was soon crowing on local TV and over the government-controlled radio that come February 22, 1979 St. Lucia would be an independent nation with its very own place at the United Nations General Assembly. Free at last!
In retaliation George Odlum issued a public warning that come Independence Day, St. Lucia might not be the safest place in the world and unwittingly gave credence to the widespread rumor that he was behind the bombings that overnight had turned St. Lucians into early-to-bed chickens. A visiting representative of the British government was rudely awakened from his hotel bed by an angry Labour Party mob determined to be heard on the matter of “Compton’s independence trick.” The Special Services Unit had to be called out yet again before order was restored. Later, charges were filed against George Odlum—who had led the demonstration.
Through all of that, Premier Compton prepared for his installation as prime minister of St. Lucia—even as the Civil Service Association (CSA) was gearing up for a showdown with the government over a pay dispute. Scores of teachers had gone on strike following the premier’s persistent refusal to honor the recommendations of two respected tribunals. Claiming that certain aspects of the dispute required further analysis, the government had appointed a third committee “to review the issue.” Its decision was rejected by the CSA. At a public meeting convened by the government in William Peter Boulevard in Castries, the premier complained that greedy dissidents were holding a gun to his head and demanding ten dollars when they knew only too well that all he had was five. He said he had absolutely no intention of seeking another bank loan in order to accommodate irresponsible strikers. More to the point, he said he was “not about to take from the have-nots to give to the haves!”
When strikers among his audience heckled, Compton reminded them that they were free to quit the public service: the business of the country was getting along just fine without them. Moreover, if they persisted in their unreasonable demands they would soon discover that there really was more than one way to skin a cat. Finally, the premier ordered protesting government workers who were still serving their probationary period to return to their jobs the next day—or face dismissal. That ultimatum served further to swell the ranks of the strikers. By week’s end, more teachers had voted to skip classes in support of island-wide protest marches that often included the Labour Party’s George Odlum and Peter Josie.
If the United Workers Party brass read the portentous signs, none was man enough to call their leader away from his Independence Day preparations and warn him of the gathering storm clouds. By February 19 Castries was teeming with journalists from all over the Caribbean, Canada, Europe and Japan. The BBC’s Martin Bell arrived with video equipment and camera crew—and fell in love at first sight of the loquacious Odlum. Everywhere Odlum went, the Englishman followed: Marchand Road, Soucis, Morne DuDon—ghetto areas where the SLP paragon was most popular. Every explosive pronouncement that fell out of Odlum’s well-oiled mouth was dutifully recorded, replete with the supportive rhetoric of beaming market vendors and suitably intimidating dreadlocked followers of Jah—for broadcast the next day in London.
While Odlum made headlines at home and abroad, the de jure leader of his party quietly went about his normal shop-keeping business in Laborie, his native village and his constituency. Allan Louisy had made a point of absenting himself from Odlum’s anti-Independence marches. Louisy had stayed away from the CSA demonstrations, so he was about as hot as yesterday’s news. No one called on him for on-camera interviews; no one asked for his thoughts on St. Lucia’s problems. All roads led to George Odlum and his costumed performers who seemed never to tire of making street theater at first sight of a reporter. London’s Financial Times had clearly suggested Louisy was leader of the St. Lucia Labour Party in name only. According to the newspaper, the opposition party was split into two warring factions, one led by a “sixty-one-year-old retired judge” whose politics were strictly middle of the road, the other controlled by the island’s “most radical trade unionists.”
The Times had been prescient enough to predict that the SLP would pose “little threat to Mr. Compton’s government” at election time, thanks to the opposition’s “contradictory and often vague policies”—as if crystal-clear policies had ever guaranteed election victories in the Caribbean, or for that matter, in the U.K. It is likely that the British government was thinking as clearly as the Times columnist when, over the protests of St. Lucia’s opposition party, it decided to grant Premier Compton political independence.
On the morning of February 20, 1979, some one hundred festive individuals gathered at the West Indies Associated States Secretariat in Castries, at the special invitation of the government, to celebrate in advance the installation of John Compton as St. Lucia’s first prime minister. The select group comprised foreign and native dignitaries, visiting journalists and local media personnel, to say nothing of the more voracious animals of St. Lucia’s social jungle. When lunchtime came and the guest of honor still had not shown up, Tourism Minister George Mallet stepped forward to deliver the official word of welcome. Mallet apologized for the premier’s non-appearance, blamed it on “emergencies” that of late seemed to crop up almost hourly, then assured all present that never mind the doomsayers of the opposition party, “St. Lucia was economically vigorous and looking forward to a record tourist season,” now that the government had secured the services of a gentleman named Ignatius Atigby. He had arrived from his native Nigeria only the previous afternoon and would be on hand to answer any questions other newcomers might wish to ask about St. Lucia and its people.
Then the minister offered a joke: He would be happy to answer questions relating to his office, he said, but only after the next day’s press conference. He didn’t wish to find himself “accused of stealing anyone’s thunder.” After all, this really wasn’t his show. It was Mr. Compton’s. Mallet promised the scheduled press conference would provide journalists with ample opportunity to discover how really wonderful was the leader of the government—contrary to opposition propaganda. He reminded the gathering that it was Compton who had “rescued St. Lucia from the retarding grip of colonialism, nursed it through a delicate period of Associate Statehood,” until finally the island was ready to take its place in the international community.
As if to underscore what earlier he’d said about the island’s economic health, Mallet invited the assemblage to feast on free Heineken, Johnny Walker Red, rum punch, fried fish and chicken, breadfruit balls and other local delicacies specially refined to caress the foreign palate. The booze was a gift from the local Heineken brewery— management of which included the government’s parliamentary secretary. The rest of the day’s fare was donated by the grateful owner of the island’s most popular tourist oasis and hamburger joint—an American expatriate. The party broke up late in the afternoon. Long before that Mallet had left to prepare for the arrival at Vigie Airport of Princess Alexandra and her husband Angus Ogilvy. The princess would represent her cousin Queen Elizabeth at a special Independence ceremony two days later. If the local constabulary had nursed fears for the safety of their royal visitors, the Scotland Yard security men who came to St. Lucia a week or so in advance of Princess Alexandra and her entourage had found no cause for alarm. Darkness was already embracing Castries when the state limousine drove through the city with its royal passengers, en route to La Toc Hotel. The princess may or may not have recognized the decorative lights along William Peter Boulevard and Bridge Street. They had once brightened London’s Oxford Circus at Christmas—before they were purchased by the St. Lucia government, reportedly at a cost in excess of $100,000.
The arrival of Princess Alexandra did not attract hordes of excited, cheering, calypso-chanting, flag-waving natives. On the other hand, neither did it draw the massive protest demonstrations that had been promised by the armchair strategists of the opposition party. The dozen or so half-naked Rastamen who carried anti-independence placards proclaiming the wrath of Jah had kept well within their own turf, well out of the royal vision. By 10:30 the next morning some sixty exuberant journalists had jammed the conference room at the Halcyon Sands Hotel, west of fabulous Vigie Beach in Castries, some loaded down with video paraphernalia, others, well, just loaded. At 11 a.m. the government’s public relations officer, Willie James, informed the gathering that the prime minister designate had been held up by yet another emergency. The reporters didn’t seem to mind the delay; they were in a party mood—and the hotel’s free rum punch was flowing. Shortly before Compton arrived, Willie James announced that only the visiting journalists would be permitted to question the prime minister designate.
“What’s that supposed to mean, man?” asked Jeff Fedee of St. Lucia TV. Ernie Seon, a local freelance reporter, suggested that the government’s public relations officer couldn’t possibly have meant what he’d said. Of course, Seon knew better. In fifteen years St. Lucia’s premier had held fewer than half a dozen meetings with local reporters. Those who requested an audience with the premier were told by his secretary to address their questions to the government’s public relations office. The island’s two radio stations—Radio St. Lucia and Radio Caribbean—were in effect little more than transmitters of government propaganda. News bulletins were broadcast only if they originated at the government’s PR department.
Jacques Compton, the premier’s cousin and manager of Radio St. Lucia, was especially touchy about news items that tended to suggest Premier Compton and his cabinet ministers were fallible. The premier did not have a blood relative at Radio Caribbean, but its foreign owners knew better than to broadcast information critical of the government. Radio Caribbean could not operate in St. Lucia without a license. And whether such license was granted depended wholly on the petitioner’s relationship with the government. At the Halcyon Sands Hotel, seated at a table loaded down with microphones and recorders, the living monument to Savile Row wizardry who was about to become St. Lucia’s first prime minister apologized to a roomful of journalists for his late arrival. Flanked by PR men Willie and Timothy James, a stone-faced Compton said: “All right, gentlemen. I’ll take your questions now.”
A forest of hands shot up. One man rose from his seat and was about to introduce himself when Compton cut him down: “I thought I made it clear that this press conference was for visiting journalists only. Not for local reporters!” His audience groaned. The diminutive Willie James jumped to his feet, his PR smile desperate not to appear sheepish. “Gentlemen, please,” he said, palms held high, as if to ward off the negative force. “We agreed the prime minister would speak with the local press in due . . .” The reporter was still on his feet. “But that’s the whole point,” he protested. “I’m not local.” He held up a press card. “Here’s my ID.” Willie took it, then passed it on to his boss for further inspection.
The reporter was no stranger to St. Lucia, or to Willie James. Not for nothing had he once rated among the most zealous supporters of the United Workers Party. Six years earlier, he had been an assistant editor at the Voice, the island’s oldest newspaper—until Compton enticed him away with a job at the government’s public relations office. Shortly after the 1974 elections, however, Compton had reneged on his promise of a scholarship and a disappointed Gregory Regis had packed his bags and left to study radio journalism at Toronto’s Ryerson Institute. Four years later, by which time Regis had graduated, the St. Lucia government had again seduced him into accepting a position at home, this time as news editor at Radio St. Lucia. Alas, Regis was destined for further disappointment. He had been at his desk just three days when he clashed with his employers. And all because he had permitted a statement by an official from the ministry of agriculture to be broadcast over RSL. The official had said, in reply to a reporter’s question, that he had no idea why the minister of agriculture was attending a conference in Guyana; the minister had not seen fit to inform him. That was all—but enough to earn Regis a right telling off by the peripatetic minister upon his return home.
Regis landed in more trouble after he informed RSL listeners that a police warrant had been issued for the arrest of a local playboy—a friend of the government—who was suspected of having absconded with over $100,000, swindled from trusting St. Lucians.
A news item that featured George Odlum was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. The Labour Party radical had announced during a public rally that Premier Compton was about to reshuffle his cabinet. The announcement was premature, as Regis was well aware. However, in an effort to set the record straight he had quoted Odlum during his lunchtime broadcast—but with a strong denial from the premier. The news program had barely ended when the government minister in charge of broadcasting called Regis to his office and ordered him to cease reporting news that had not been submitted by the PR department. Later, RSL’s news editor was suspended, without explanation—in the same way that the station’s broadcasting board had earlier been dismissed without explanation. As things turned out, Regis never returned to Radio
St. Lucia. Instead, he went to work for CBC, in Toronto. And now he was home again, ready to cover his former employer’s for-foreigners-only press conference—ostensibly for Canadian consumption.
St. Lucia’s prime minister designate carefully studied the CBC reporter’s press card before returning it to Willie James, who passed it on to its owner. Finally, Compton decided to continue with the business at hand. “All right,” he growled, eyes focused aggressively on the ceiling. “Go on, ask your question.” “In view of the atmosphere surrounding the Independence celebrations,” Regis began, “do you have a plan for reuniting St. Lucians?” Compton was still studying the ceiling. “What do you mean?” he sniffed. Regis reworded his question and Compton told him that he and his government had done everything possible to bring St. Lucians together—”despite the enemy within.” A Barbados journalist asked why the government had chosen to seek Independence from Britain without the backing of a referendum. With a motion of his right hand, Compton brushed the question aside. “That’s irrelevant!” he sneered. When the reporter persisted, Compton said: “The way our Constitution is set up, well, any obstructionist can adversely affect a referendum.”
Someone inquired about the prime minister designate’s relationship with the leader of the opposition, Allan Louisy. Compton refused to comment. Then the BBC’s Martin Bell raised his hand. When Compton nodded, Bell asked: “Why are you unable to discuss the opposition party without obvious acrimony?” Compton jumped to his feet, as if one of the microphones on his table had suddenly turned into a cobra. “You!” he shrilled, bloodshot eyeballs on open display, right fore-finger pointed accusingly at the
BBC reporter. “Yes, you talk about acrimony? You came here for just one thing. That’s right. One thing only. You came here looking for mud. Why don’t you lift your eyes to the stars!” An unfortunate figure of speech, in the circumstances. After all, the star was the symbol of the St. Lucia Labour Party. Compton’s “enemy within.” Compton said it was clear to him that the BBC man didn’t give one damn about what was really going on in
St. Lucia, judging by the reports he’d filed since his arrival. (Not to mention the company he’d kept. Yes, yes, the UWP’s janissaries had made certain Daddy Compton was kept abreast of Martin Bell’s movements in St. Lucia!)
“The opposition claims . . .” Regis was once again on his feet. Compton cut him short. “I’m not interested. We’ve been here fifteen years and we’ll be here for another five . . . and another five after that. You can tell that to your friends!” “I only wanted to ask . . .”
Compton’s hands flew to his temples, his eyes shut tight, as if he’d suddenly developed an unbearable headache. “I am not prepared . . . No sir, I . . . next question, please!” Trevor Simpson of the Caribbean News Agency wanted to be told how St. Lucia would benefit from independence. Compton said he had grown impatient with that question. So Regis offered something fresh. “Would you care to tell us what the national debt is at this time?” Compton adjusted his tie and cleared his throat before replying. “I don’t know,” said the prime minister designate, who was also the minister of finance. For once he’d looked into the reporter’s eyes as he spoke—almost threateningly. At this point Martin Bell walked out with his camera crew. Regis had a final question: “What about your plans for St. Lucia’s social development?”
“What does that mean?” asked Compton. “That’s too broad a term. Social development? Define it.” The reporter suggested that perhaps he could cite an example but Compton would have none of that. “No examples,” he sniffed. “Just define your term. I’ll offer the examples.”
“Well,” said Regis, “there have been charges that the Hess Oil project is encouraging rampant prostitution at Cul-de-Sac. How do you propose to deal with that problem?” St. Lucia’s prime minister designate had finally caught a ball he could run with. He knew his supporters would be glued to their transistor radios, taking in the press conference live, rooting for their leader regardless, fully expecting him to slay this quisling dragon who had dared to sully the good name of St. Lucia. Compton fully intended not to let his supporters down. Judging by all he threw at Regis, you’d have thought the St. Lucia-born reporter had identified Compton’s mother as one of the Cul-de-Sac whores!
Meanwhile, in William Peter Boulevard, the disgruntled schoolteachers and maybe a score of sympathizers, unaware that their movements were being closely monitored, were getting ready to sling more mud at the prime minister designate. No one seemed particularly concerned about the blue truck that was parked but a hundred yards from where the teachers were preparing for their meeting. Nicknamed “The Cage” by the local Rastafarian community, the wire-meshed vehicle had once served as transportation for transgressors who had been sentenced to incarceration at the Castries prison. Lately, however, “The Cage” had become synonymous with Compton’s Special Services Unit—and unspeakable police brutality.
The teachers had not actually presented their first speaker—they were still trying to correct a problem with their public-address system—when the SSU attacked. Within seconds the normal happy-hour lunchtime atmosphere of William Peter Boulevard was replaced by the sounds and smells of a war zone as shoppers, children on their way home from school, other curious bystanders and swearing CSA members fell over each other in their desperate efforts to escape the choking tear gas and swinging police clubs—and all of that within range of the BBC’s cameras! Later, Compton would announce that Martin Bell had known in advance that there would be trouble in William Peter Boulevard and that was why he’d left the Halcyon Sands Hotel early. Bell’s BBC colleague, Roger Cook, vigorously denied Compton’s allegation and took the opportunity to point out that St. Lucia’s prime minister designate had only himself to blame if his Halcyon Sands press conference had not lived up to his expectations. Compton had overreacted to run-of-the- mill questions, said Cook.
Where the Illustrated London News was concerned, it was a pity that the leader of St. Lucia’s government had chosen to attack the British press. Journalists, like prime ministers, had a duty to perform. But Compton had clearly indicated by his attitude toward the reporters at his press conference that he did not share the view that a democracy had to be synonymous with freedom of expression for all. Compton came back fighting: During a televised address to the nation on the eve of its Independence, the prime minister designate appealed for peace. His black and white TV countenance lit up by the excitement of the occasion, he proudly acknowledged—in his own inimitable fashion—the presence in St. Lucia of the various representatives of the international community.
“To share with us our joy on this day,” he crowed, “they come from as far away as Australia and as near as Martinique and St. Vincent. The ancient nation of China with its 800 million population will be represented, as will the new nation of Tuvalu with its population of 12,000.” Swollen with pride, he went on: “For the next few days it may be truly said that St. Lucia, perhaps for the only time in our history, will be in the center of the world stage.” He could not resist a swipe at the opposition party: “They have asked you to conduct yourselves in a way that can only bring shame upon our country and cause us untold harm in our international affairs. From all I’ve heard and seen, I know that such counsels are being ignored. I know that the good sense of the people of St. Lucia will prevail as we show the world that beautiful face of ours, that beautiful smile, that charm and courtesy, those good manners . . .”
On the evening of February 21, 1979, even as Princess Alexandra was dishing out medals to some of the island’s more notorious peace relics, SSU sharpshooters, who had earlier taken their positions on the roof of the nearby Geest banana shed and other strategic points along Faux-a-Chaud Road, were keeping a sharp lookout for trouble, ready to eliminate the smallest threat to the Queen’s peace. But Compton needn’t have worried. The ceremony ended shortly after 12:30 a.m. without a shot, save for the blanks fired by the special police guard of honor. Throughout the ceremony, Radio St. Lucia’s Margaret Robert-Steele had kept sleepy eyes awake with tantalizing minutiae from the ceremonial site, gleefully noting along the way that the prime minister’s wife and their lovely children were “simply exquisite, even though it’s way past their bedtime.” By all that Ms. Robert-Steele dutifully reported, she might just as well have been covering a carnival queen show. Everything had gone exactly according to schedule. At any rate, where Compton’s Independence committees were concerned.
For others, however, it was an altogether different matter. The cardboard revolutionaries who had taken on the task of prematurely terminating the flag-raising ceremony were, when it was time to carry out their assignment, too high on Dutch courage to stand up without assistance. Another squad led by a well known city sot had managed to knock-out several private telephones at the northern end of the island but their prime target, Radio St. Lucia, had continued to broadcast the Independence proceedings island-wide— without interruption. Too late, the would-be saboteurs would discover that they had cut down the wrong utility poles. The two-storey Radio Caribbean building had also been marked for demolition. But the born-again Che Guevara who had volunteered to effect the big blowup remembered at the last moment that his employment situation was such that the smallest assault on the station would send “The Cage” racing to his door. Alas, enough to cool anyone’s revolutionary zeal. Then there was the Castro clone who, with his toothless chauffeur, had set out with a carload of gelignite but had been forced to abandon his mission—thanks to his antiquated transportation that had overheated and stalled when he was within sight of his target but too far away to do anything about it. It had taken both men almost an hour to offload and stash their deadly cargo—by which time the Independence ceremony had been safely concluded.
The crew that had drawn responsibility for putting out the lights at the ceremonial site had been equally effective. At first sight of the SSU, these dedicated defenders of “the people’s revolution,” had decided that it made no sense at all to expose their hides to machine gun fire while their “comrade leader” sequestered himself miles from the battlefield, snuggled up with his fat-assed libidinous alibi.
The preceding is from Foolish Virgins by Rick Wayne