He took his place between United Workers Party MPs Stephenson King and Desmond Brathwaite and suddenly it was they, not the most recent convert to the faith, who appeared out of place. Meanwhile the “betrayed” House opposition tried to carry on as if nothing unusual had occurred. Later one of them would say he had been surprised to realize he felt absolutely nothing, that Neville Cenac’s defection from the SLP had finally been “anticlimactic,” that he’d always known, never mind all the showboating years, that UWP was carved on what passed for Cenac’s soul.
On the other hand, and by his own admission, Neville Cenac had for longer than anyone suspected been suffering in silence. Nevertheless he had strongly resisted all efforts to install Julian Hunte in the safe seat Cenac had occupied since 1982. Those who expected him to take easy the recent publication of the SLP’s shadow cabinet (it featured him as community development minister, despite his repeated requests that he be considered for the foreign affairs portfolio) obviously were delusional. As Cenac saw it, Hunte’s announcement had been deliberately calculated to rub his nose in the dirt; to humiliate him publicly. No other reason made sense—and it proved the straw that finally broke the back of Chandelle Molle.
His defection had caught the SLP with its pants down, desperate denials notwithstanding. What they imagined was that the designated shadow community development minister would’ve, well, remained in the shadows. It had never entered their heads that Cenac would be brave enough, or reckless enough, to risk handing over to the United Workers Party, which he had famously renamed “United Wreckers of the Poor,” the constituency that everyone considered the SLP’s most reliable stronghold: Laborie. As one insider put it shortly before the surprise announcement: “He crosses, he dies!”
Last Sunday this reporter visited Laborie to sniff the atmosphere. It turned out Cenac had earlier been having private talks with the constituency’s main sources of influence (the still smarting former prime minister Allan Louisy was and was not among them, depending on whom you asked). More than a few of the villagers were of the view that “if it happens” Cenac’s defection, in his circumstances, would be more than justified.
And what precisely were his circumstances? Hunte had lied about Cenac, tried to steal his constituency from under him, I was told . . . allegations that would be repeated by the man himself when he delivered his “broken promises speech” the day after my visit to Laborie. By all he said, however, the broken promises had less to do with the people of Laborie, the SLP and its ideology than with Cenac himself. Which is hardly surprising. It was no secret that local politicians have always been like prospectors for gold. Wherever they imagine greater prospects lie, that’s where you’ll find them.
At the risk of opening another can of worms, let’s revisit (the record is worth checking out if you’re too young to recall or were uninterested back in the day!) Julian Hunte’s departure from the United Workers Party in 1972, after claiming less than brotherly treatment at the hands of the island’s premier, whose wife is the sister of Hunte’s wife. How about Hunter J. Francois’s sudden departure from the UWP? He, too, wanted to be premier. Remember? Face it, folks, politics in Saint Lucia is a never-ending slapstick comedy, to be taken seriously only by the principal actors. Alas, many on the sidelines imagine themselves also important figures behind the scenes. The most recent House debate was further proof of that.
So now, what’s there to think of Neville Cenac’s latest move? Labour supporters predictably will condemn it as opportunistic and self-serving at the expense of his constituents and their party. UWP followers, on the other hand, welcome it—despite their leader’s dim view of floor crossers, expressed right after the first of two general elections less that eight weeks ago. There is no good reason to suppose that if tomorrow Louis George, Stephenson King and Romanus Lansiquot offered to skip over to Labour, Hunte and company would refuse them entry. Politicians have hides thicker than the walls of Fort Knox. And as soulless.
Cenac courageously faced the jeering crowds outside the House on Monday and Tuesday, doubtless self-convinced that in two weeks all will be forgiven and forgotten. Remember when in 1979 Peter Josie was called every nasty name imaginable? When Compton’s face was turned into a spittoon? When the once beloved Henry Giraudy, Romanus Lansiquot and Clendon Mason were stoned in the city? Remember when George Odlum was revered, and Winston Cenac ridiculed for his alleged role in the notorious $10,000 bom story? Remember Allan Louisy’s trials and tribulations?
While we’re busy remembering the heroes-turned-villains and the reverse, spare a thought for young Carol Hunt, Police Superintendent Alphonse, Charlie Boo, Darnley Norville and the unfortunate daughter of gas-station owner Volney—all homicide victims; all long forgotten.
Think, too, about Yamaha: while his hands were handcuffed behind him, he had so threatened the lives of three police officers that they were left no alternative but to shoot him several times and dump his body in the sea at Vigie. An inquest cleared the cops of anything unlawful.
To return to Neville Cenac: While many may not have cherished all he said recently (“It’s not that I don’t love you, I just couldn’t take any more!”), there can be no denying he delivered his lines with the skill of a Shakespearean actor—sotto voce, dramatic pauses, arresting inflections and all. Maybe he’d been rehearsing a long time. Or perhaps what we heard was a politician finally speaking from the heart!
As I write comes the announcement from the Office of the Prime Minister that Mr. Neville Cenac has been appointed Saint Lucia’s next Governor General!
Editor’s Note: The preceding (save for the last paragraph) first appeared in the STAR of 6 June, 1987.