I would not be at all surprised to discover most Saint Lucians under eighteen have not the slightest idea who was George F. L. Charles, let alone that Henry Giraudy was chairman of the United Workers Party for most of his adult life and had vacated his chair only when he departed this world. There are several reasons why both men should be remembered and just as many for why they are not. But that, as I say, is for another inquiry.
The last mentioned, the upper half of the nation’s most highly regarded law firm, was especially famous in his time for his undeniable arrogance, his pungent sarcasm, his biting wit and his unflinching determination never to suffer fools gladly. I once questioned him about preparations for an upcoming UWP convention, in particular about what his party leader and the nation’s premier John Compton planned to say on the occasion. I was then his personal assistant.
Typically, Giraudy was in no mood to address what he considered piffle. “Why are you intent on making so much of this?” he asked from behind his idiosyncratic sneer. “Party conventions are just rara. Their sole purpose is to excite the troops. Supporters come out to drink and have a good time. Nobody shows up to listen to serious speeches.”
Meanwhile the opposition party’s conventions were infamous for their drunken brawls that did not always involve over-heated floor members.
Last Sunday evening, as I took in the Saint Lucia Labour Party’s 64th Conference of Delegates from the best seat in the house; my house, that is, I thought about the long-deceased one-of-a-kind Giraudy—especially when party secretary Leo Clarke (conspicuously out of uniform), in his role as audience stimulator, was at the microphone directing the seated audience to demonstrate its appreciation for the dedicated young men whom he said had toiled through Saturday night and most of Sunday morning to transform a section of the normally blah Castries Comprehensive School, so that it resembled an over-rouged miniature version of the room from which multi-millionaire televangelist Joel Osteen reaches out to his countless faithful followers the world over.
By all I saw on Sunday, local political conventions still are rara. Yes, admittedly slicker and glitzier than in the relatively primitive time of Giraudy, but a pig is a pig is a pig—whether plastered with red lipstick. The one significant difference is that today’s party raras are presented in real time on TV. No longer are they exclusively for the bibulous “troops.”
These days without borders everyone—including potential foreign investors such as Robert De Niro—is exposed to the irrational exuberance, the mindless threats, the transparent perfidy, the fragile hyperbolic pledges of love and brotherhood and unity that in the heyday of Compton and Giraudy were not only relatively private, but were seen and heard by mostly forgetful eyes and alcoholic ears.
On Sunday the first speaker of special note was introduced by an absolutely sober and red-to-da-bone Senate president Claudius Francis, who was himself introduced by the newly knighted party chairman Julian Robert Hunte (still classy after all these years) at the behest of party secretary Leo Clarke whose almost cherubic face and enigmatic smile reflected neither fatigue nor the stress of the times.
The off-duty, neatly suited-up Senate president was professionally comfortable. After all, he was hardly a barracuda out of water in front of microphones and fellow residents of the Red Zone. He informed his audience at the re-imaged school, as well as other home-based citizens interested enough, for whatever reasons, to stay in touch via HTS, that the afternoon’s imported special guest had been a leader of men for more years than many of our politicians can count to; that when he was a practicing physician he had often ministered to his patients without charge.
In short, that the diminutive Denzil Douglas was an all-round righteous kinda guy, quite likely without sin. (Trust HTS’ Lovely St. Aimee Joseph to stick a pin in that particular hot-air balloon with her off-stage question about two troublesome Vote of No Confidence propositions hanging over his head!)
He spent most of his time at the lectern burnishing the brass that already Francis had calculatedly rendered blemish-free. After all, Douglas too had elections on his mind. He prated on about the unyielding patience of the 40,000 people of St. Kitts-Nevis, the vast majority of whom had stuck by him through thin and thin.
He implored fellow Labour apostles to follow his people’s example and stand by their man, come what may (as if already that were not the national idiosyncrasy, especially in the season of chicken-and-rum).
Douglas bragged about how he had reduced his island’s debt-GDP ratio from 200 percent to 95, pledged further to reduce the figure to 80-something by next year. But for time restrictions, I mused, might the aptly named Ms. Lovely have asked the Caribbean’s “longest-serving prime minister” who was responsible for the St. Kitts-Nevis economy when the debt-GDP ratio stood at 200 percent?
Might this information-starved nation have learned the vital difference between debt-GDP ratios of 200 and 95 percent, and, for that matter, 80-something percent? By IMF measure a country with a debt-GDP ratio of more than 50 percent is well on its way to the Hades of failed states!
By the way, didn’t the IMF have St. Kitts-Nevis in its castrating iron grip until quite recently when the government resorted to selling out Kittitian citizenship to folks with Middle East names and irresistible billions of dollars in their suitcases? Remarkably, Douglas was on Sunday mute on the controversial matter of Economic Citizenship. Could recent international repercussions be the reason?
No surprise that VAT (an IMF-inspired initiative) came in for some serious shilling by Douglas. (The problem for the functioning mind was that it could not easily shake off the history of the Value Added Tax in Saint Lucia, in particular its miraculous metamorphosis from “an oppressive law, anti-poor and anti-worker” to rectifier of all disasters great and small!)
And so we came to our own miracleman: Kenny Anthony was never more telegenic. Never more dramatic. Never more confident in his ability to mesmerize “the masses.” The lectern and the TV cameras were in obvious confederacy to conceal his considerable avoirdupois from the critical eyes among his audience, seen and unseen. So at ease was he that he actually teased Shawn Edwards—one of his more impressively put together Cabinet colleagues—about his own recent weight gains.
Not once did he stumble over a malaprop. His smooth-as-chilled-Grey Goose delivery of every monosyllable, every simplistic notion, every herniated justification for madness, hinted at countless hours of intense rehearsal in front of his kindest shaving mirror—to the extent that all that reached his audience was the seductive sound of spontaneity. And while with the rest of the choir he had pledged to keep the red flag flying high, for once he waved no soppy red rag.
After the first few minutes the fact that he was reading from a prepared script no longer registered on the viewer’s mind. This was Kenny Anthony at his most beguiling, by which I mean to say he had never been more dangerous. (A gaga Jimmy Fletcher would further disturb the more discerning among their audience with his lispy confession that he felt singularly fortunate to have been afforded the daily opportunity to study his gifted boss up close and, well, he had good reason to warn the less lucky that we had more Kenny surprises coming!)
We need not spend much time analysing the party leader’s introductory remarks, actually a short eulogy at the recent passing of Hilford Deterville QC, a “lost teacher, mentor and friend,” not to say an SLP “champion, a loyal soldier . . .”
Let us instead consider the vital question that, by his own account, the party leader had put to his officers: “What does it mean to be Labour?” Among their alleged responses: “To shape the destiny of the poor and marginalized; to protect and promote the welfare of those unable to do so for themselves; to improve the quality of life for the less fortunate.” Not much different from what you might hear coming from any other political group here and elsewhere; as innocuous as it was predictable.
There was also this line that set off my built-in alarm bells: “To close the gap between the haves and the have-nots.” He continued generously to share with the world (who can say for certain the US State Department reps in Barbados and further afield were not among them?) his officers’ solicited sentiments: “Being Labour means having a social conscience.”
I wondered at this juncture how many citizens had imagined themselves members and supporters of a party strongly opposed to Labour policy, but were—by virtue of having a social conscience—unwitting staunch supporters of Kenny Anthony, Philip J. Pierre, Alva Baptiste and other declared flyers of the red flag!
This one had me, screwed-up back and all, rolling on my living room floor. By Kenny Anthony’s arresting account, a party honcho had actually reassured him that he considered it his “duty to guard determinably the image of my party, its leaders, its policies, its achievements; to be honest with my party but to be careful with my criticisms of my beloved party.”
What was so funny about that? On reflection it’s not all that hilarious. In 1998, at a La Pansee get-together shortly after he assumed office, the new prime minister had excoriated at least one long-time stalwart for publicly discussing SLP policy sans permission. The prime minister had later demonstrated the consequences for not towing the party line without question: he fired three senators who had dared, in the best interest of the people, not to support a government resolution to guarantee a $4 million loan for a bankrupt airline operated by well known SLP hacks.
I could go on in this vein but then who knows better than the SLP rank and file what their leader meant on Sunday when, through a parrot’s beak, he repeated his barely disguised threat to members reckless enough to criticize their “beloved party,” whether at a Senate meeting or in a newspaper article.
The SLP leader and prime minister recalled a visiting Jamaican finance minister telling his party “no yawning gap between those who have too much and those who do not have enough to survive.”
The local leader and prime minister neglected to mention who would be responsible for determining which Saint Lucians had too much and which had too little. Exactly how much was too much? Might the answer be among the Kenny surprises earlier hinted at by Jimmy Fletcher?
Thanks to the director of audit and her Performance Audit Report on the Public Assistance Program of March 2012, we know “indigents are those among us without the basic nutritional requirements for survival.” Also, that “poor” defines “those without the monthly $423.83 a Saint Lucian household should spend if it is to meet its basic food and non-food requirements.” The report had also revealed a significant increase in the number of Saint Lucians categorized as poor.
I am unable to glean from any government department or literature the precise amount in a citizen’s bank account that would mark him or her as one of “those who have too much.”
On the other hand the party leader and prime minister took the opportunity at his televised convention to explain what differentiated Saint Lucians, one from the other; the good from the bad and the ugly.
“The Saint Lucia Labour Party came from the struggles of our workers against colonialism and the plantocracy,” he said with his straightest face. “The UWP came from us; born of intrigue, opportunism and disloyalty.”
Came from us? Did the party leader mean to say an opportunistic and disloyal SLP had given birth to the political equivalent of Rosemary’s Baby? Had he been lecturing before a UWI gathering, Professor Anthony might well have been required to tell his students who or what comprised “the plantocracy” against which his party forbears had heroically struggled. But this was no student body at the reworked Castries Comprehensive. This was rara, with all the glitz of a Hollywood production.
For the record: the Labour Party was nonexistent when a time-keeper George Charles, his fellow unionists and other unattached Saint Lucians courageously decided no longer to tolerate their less than ideal working conditions under colonial bosses. To suggest a yet unborn Labour Party, on its own, had fought the good fight is as untrue as it is indicative of a natural inclination to divide Saint Lucians, the easier to rule them; a devilish ambition that could come only from individuals with the blood of slave-plantation owners in their veins!
The indisputable truth is that we are all Saint Lucians. We were never in a position to choose our skin colors. However, we can elect to improve our suicidal attitude toward one another; to appropriately modify our methods by which to get into office. To hold on to views dictated by others with their own demonic motives is nothing short of self-enslavement.
As for the earlier cited references to those who have too little or too much, only a few weeks before his party’s latest convention, the SLP leader and former educator, speaking as the nation’s beleaguered prime minister, had observed that 72 percent of the work force were without the qualification that might’ve allowed them to take advantage of jobs in their own country.
One year before he took office, this prime minister’s immediate predecessor Vaughan Lewis had famously noted that the state of a country’s workforce is directly related to its education system. Moreover, that our workforce was not good enough to perform what in 1995 the rest of the world considered “menial work.”
But the prime minister’s address before his captive audience was not all specious, divisive, selfish and all-around demeaning. In at least one instance he spoke the whole truth: “There is no doubt that the one issue that transcends all other issues that is on the mind of every citizen is the state of our economy.”
Yes, dear reader, I too recognize the atrocious grammar. But rest assured the prime minister delivered the line as if accompanied on guitar by Andres Segovia. Let me repeat: his performance at Sunday’s convention was masterful, almost hypnotizing. Which is not to say his speech was anything but mediocre, insulting even to the intelligence of a 12-year-old George Charles Secondary student, and absolutely revelatory.
The last quoted line was immediately followed by this: “We inherited a broken economy from the UWP and our job is to fix it”—a particularly specious statement, ring of truth or not.
The Kenny Anthony government did not inherit a broken economy. What it did was contribute to the crash, as had earlier administrations, for the same reasons that go back several years.
Consider the following, taken from a Budget address by Prime Minister John Compton: “Honorable members will note that the already high cost of administration continues unchecked and demands completely unrelated to this country’s ability to pay continue to be made . . . Because so much of the recurrent revenues are being absorbed in wages and salaries, Saint Lucia is forced to borrow, not only for capital projects but to borrow to meet salaries and wages.
“But loans must be repaid if we are to maintain the credit-worthiness of our country. Since 1979 the governments of both parties have been attempting to buy industrial peace by borrowing to meet demands which the revenues are unable to meet. But we cannot continue to buy industrial peace by borrowing ourselves into bankruptcy, the consequences of which all will suffer.” The address was delivered on 26 May 1987.
Now fast-forward to 10 June 2014. Prime Minister Kenny Anthony is addressing the nation on the same issue of governments buying industrial peace with borrowed money: “For some time now, this government has been spending much more than it collects in revenue. The result is that government has had to borrow more and more to finance its operations. unfortunately more and more of government’s revenue has had to be directed toward paying salaries to public servants and repaying its debt. This is neither healthy nor prudent. Sadly we have arrived now at the point where the operations of government cannot be sustained without some adjustments.”
The prime minister revealed our debt-GDP ratio in June was 73.6 percent when it should be no higher than 60 percent. Most studies had revealed, he said, “that whenever the debt-GDP ratio is higher than 55 percent it hurts the growth prospects of the country.”
The chickens that Compton saw coming back in 1987 had inevitably arrived home to roost. Uninterrupted mismanagement of the nation’s meager resources by successive governments has brought us to where we are today. According to a recent IMF report, our country is now among the region’s poorest, expected this year to record 1.1 percent negative economic growth.
What’s more, our elected leaders and their hand-picked representatives at home and abroad seem unable to attract investors; no surprise, bearing in mind that we’ve advertised ourselves on the Internet as wall-to-wall crime-ridden, and surviving only on taxes.
But governments, in this part of the world especially, are noted for passing the buck, metaphorically and otherwise. On Sunday the prime minister blamed his immediate predecessors, from whom his government had “inherited a broken economy.” But most of all, the government blamed “the Chastanets”—a calculated euphemism for any citizen perceived as a supporter of the party that Allen Chastanet currently leads, conceivably with support from his businessman father Michael.
Of course this is the same Michael Chastanet in whose hands the current prime minister had placed the then National Development Corporation and on whom the government had heaped national awards for his exemplary work in the field of commerce.
On Sunday, reminiscent of his remarks relative to Richard Frederick’s 2006 entry in the political arena, this is how the nation’s prime minister referenced the Chastanets, with countless astonished eyes looking on, including business eyes:
“The detractors are now clearer in our sights. We see them clearly now, the enemies of progress who wish to take us back to the days when only the well-to-do mattered. I state unapologetically, the entry of Allen Chastanet into the leadership of the United Workers Party has seen the most divisive and class-driven politics in our country since the independence of our country in 1979.
“Now, Chastanet wants to wear the crown of glory of Sir John Compton. What perfidy. When Sir John suffered his indignities at the hands of the Super 8, Allen Chastanet never uttered a word of condemnation or disapproval. It never mattered to him that he was a minister because Sir John appointed him first a senator and then a minister. I firmly believe that it is not accidental that two of Sir John’s most vicious attackers, Guy Joseph and Ezekiel Joseph, are now Allen Chastanet’s closest confidants and allies. No greater betrayal of Sir John could there be.”
Ezekiel Joseph a “most vicious attacker?” The UWP’s wimpiest chairman?
Doubtless for his own pernicious purposes, the prime minister never named among Sir John’s vilifiers Richard Frederick, whom the SLP had declared in 2007 the leader of the so-called Super 8.
Then again, in his final Radio St. Lucia address before the 1997 general elections (reproduced in At the Rainbow’s Edge) this was how the SLP leader referred to Vaughan Lewis: “The UWP has tried to convince us that their party has changed. They have promoted Vaughan Lewis as the change. The UWP has indeed changed but it is clearly a change for the worse. Never before have we seen such vindictiveness, such narrow-mindedness, such pedigreed arrogance, mauvais langue and maypwis.
“Many had hoped the entry of Vaughan Lewis into the political arena would have signaled a higher level of public morality and a higher tenor of political discourse and debate. There are some who thought that he would have attempted to clean the rot, cut the patronage and excise corruption. Instead of rising to his historic opportunity, Vaughan Lewis sank to the lowest common moral and intellectual denominator. Even Sir John Compton in his worst moments never sank so low.”
But we were recalling some of the SLP leader’s remarks on Sunday: “If Chastanet remains as leader until the next general elections, then I can tell you one thing: this election will not be one between supporters of the Saint Lucia Labour Party and the United Workers Party. It will be an election between the Chastanets and the Saint Lucia Labour Party.”
The war declaration reminded of John Compton, who, prior to the 1997 general elections, had said: “I spent a lifetime fighting against what the Barnards stood for in Saint Lucia. I will not stand idly by and allow another Barnard to take control of this country and destroy my lifetime’s work!” Alas Compton had paid the supreme price for his obsession with keeping the nation out of Kenny Anthony’s hands.
The SLP leader’s final statement at Sunday’s convention: “The UWP is a party which was once described as the United Wreckers of the Poor by one of its main spokesmen today: Peter Josie, when he used to be one of us and before he traded the red shirt of Labour for his bright yellow suit of the Flambeau. That description still applies today . . .”
Alas, again the SLP leader suffered a memory lapse. The credit that he so generously handed Peter Josie was undeserved. As Sir Julian and Steve Anius well know, it rightly belongs to Neville Cenac, who had often declared himself “Coeur Labar”—until he decided he could take Labour “no more.”
Shortly after winning the Laborie seat in 1987, the secretly terpsichoreal Cenac gracefully Fred Astaired across the floor of parliament’s ballroom over to the UWP!