ST. LU­CIA’S ROCKY ROA

The Star (St. Lucia) - - 36TH INDEPENDENCE -

By

JRick Wayne ohn Comp­ton had not al­ways kept his prom­ises to the elec­torate. Shortly be­fore the 1974 gen­eral elec­tions, the pre­mier had taken a full hour to as­sure Ra­dio St. Lu­cia lis­ten­ers that the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, hav­ing com­pleted un­der­ground ex­plo­rations at the is­land’s drive-in vol­cano, had promised to trans­form the area into a source of cheap geo­ther­mal en­ergy. Soon, there would be work for ev­ery­one, he said—from truck driv­ers to con­struc­tion la­bor­ers. How­ever, the promised good times would ma­te­ri­al­ize only if St. Lu­cians re­tained the Comp­ton gov­ern­ment. For­eign busi­ness­men were chary of in­vest­ing in a com­mu­nist cli­mate—such as would over­take St. Lu­cia in the event of a Labour Party victory.

Some­how the list­ing UWP ship of state had man­aged to sur­vive the elec­toral storm of 1974, but no amount of hot air was suf­fi­cient to trans­form the hiss­ing Sul­phur Springs vol­cano into the promised horn of plenty.

By the end of 1976, sev­eral omi­nous mes­sages had been de­liv­ered to—and ig­nored by—St. Lu­cia’s Pre­mier Comp­ton: Tourism, in which his gov­ern­ment had in­vested much des­per­ate faith, to the ex­tent that agri­cul­ture had been al­lowed to plum­met to a dis­tant sec­ond place on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s list of na­tional pri­or­i­ties, was, to say the least, co­matose. Poor ho­tel fa­cil­i­ties, food short­ages, un­re­li­able wa­ter and elec­tric­ity ser­vices, in­dis­crim­i­nate work stop­pages, to say noth­ing of the is­land’s rel­a­tive in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity, had all con­trib­uted to the decline of the in­dus­try. Street and tourist-re­lated crimes were up. Van­dal­ism was ram­pant. And Cas­tries rocked with the sound of al­most nightly bomb­ings. Ham­strung by un­der­trained per­son­nel, barely func­tional il­lit­er­ates and party pol­i­tics, the St. Lu­cia po­lice blamed the crime es­ca­la­tion on Hou­dini con­victs at the Cas­tries jail and on the bur­geon­ing Rasta­far­ian pop­u­la­tion that the gov­ern­ment claimed was op­er­at­ing in con­so­nance with op­po­si­tion politi­cians, in par­tic­u­lar, with Ge­orge Od­lum and Peter Josie. Be­fore long the po­lice had de­clared war on the al­leged of­fend­ers—to the de­light of the Cham­ber of Com­merce. Mean­while, ba­nana pro­duc­tion on the is­land had all but ceased. Ob­vi­ous con­trib­u­tory fac­tors in­cluded hur­ri­canes, drought, the high cost of la­bor and fer­til­izer, to say noth­ing of rock bot­tom prices paid by Eng­land, the erst­while “mother coun­try.” St. Lu­cia’s ba­nana in­dus­try had never fully re­cov­ered from the ef­fects of strikes or­ches­trated in 1973 by Ge­orge Od­lum and Peter Josie. When Comp­ton re­lieved Ge­orge Mal­let of his agri­cul­ture port­fo­lio shortly be­fore the 1974 elec­tions, it was gen­er­ally as­sumed that the pre­mier, in pri­vate life a suc­cess­ful farmer, had de­cided to take charge of what was con­ceiv­ably the gov­ern­ment’s most im­por­tant min­istry. In­stead, the job went to Ira d’Au­vergne, who had twice been re­jected by the elec­torate. Then Comp­ton de­clared 1975 Agri­cul­ture Year. That an­nounce­ment was fol­lowed by phatic noises about a re­vised school cur­ricu­lum de­signed to “en­cour­age a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of lo­cal food.” Thou­sands of tax dol­lars were swal­lowed up in the pro­duc­tion of col­or­ful news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ments, ra­dio dis­cus­sions and “con­scious­ness-rais­ing” ses­sions with the is­land’s farm­ers. Alas, seven­teen spe­cial com­mit­tees were not enough to bring about the muchad­ver­tised grand food ex­hi­bi­tion that was to have cli­maxed Agri­cul­ture Year. The baby that project manager d’Au­vergne de­liv­ered to Daddy Comp­ton was still­born.

Mean­while, Ge­orge Od­lum and Peter Josie con­tin­ued to add to John Comp­ton’s prob­lems. At the con­clu­sion of a li­bel case that cen­tered on al­le­ga­tions the pre­mier had ac­quired Crown Lands for his per­sonal use, Od­lum had been or­dered to pay a record $60,000 in dam­ages. Af­ter­ward, out­raged Od­lum sup­port­ers had taken to jeer­ing at the pre­mier and his wife at all public ap­pear­ances. It was in this highly com­bustible at­mos­phere that the pre­mier of St. Lu­cia had an­nounced his in­ten­tion to seek in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain. Al­most im­me­di­ately, there was strong re­sis­tance from the op­po­si­tion party— par­tic­u­larly from the rad­i­cal Od­lum-Josie wing. They called on the pre­mier to set­tle the in­de­pen­dence ques­tion by a ref­er­en­dum.

When he re­fused, the SLP rad­i­cals led protest demon­stra­tions is­land-wide, which of­ten re­sulted in clashes with the heav­ily armed Spe­cial Ser­vices Unit. At a meet­ing in Lon­don, op­po­si­tion leader Al­lan Louisy had ar­gued for an in­def­i­nite post­pone­ment of Comp­ton’s in­de­pen­dence plans. 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 St. Lu­cia 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 SSU had to be called out yet again be­fore or­der was re­stored. Later, charges were filed against the leader of the pack, Ge­orge Od­lum.

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 show­down with the gov­ern­ment over yet an­other pay dis­pute. At a gov­ern­ment rally in Wil­liam Peter Boule­vard, 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. When strik­ing public ser­vants in his au­di­ence heck­led, Comp­ton re­minded them that they were free to quit the ser­vice.

Fi­nally, the pre­mier or­dered protest­ing gov­ern­ment work­ers 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. 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 lo­qua­cious fel­low Ox­o­nian Od­lum. Ev­ery ex­plo­sive pro­nounce­ment that fell out of his rad­i­cal mouth was du­ti­fully recorded, re­plete with the sup­port­ive rhetoric of beam­ing mar­ket ven­dors and suit­ably in­tim­i­dat­ing dread-locked 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. Lon­don’s Fi­nan­cial Times had clearly sug­gested Louisy was leader of the St. Lu­cia Labour Party in name only. The pa­per pre­dicted the SLP would pose “lit­tle threat to Mr. Comp­ton’s gov­ern­ment” at elec­tion time, thanks to the op­po­si­tion’s “con­tra­dic­tory and of­ten vague poli­cies.”

On the morn­ing of Fe­bru­ary 20, 1979, some 100 fes­tive in­di­vid­u­als gath­ered at the West Indies

Prime Min­is­ter John Comp­ton In­de­pen­dence Cer­e­mony but it Party’s Ge­orge Od­lum who as f in­de­pen­dent Saint Lu­cia’s fir

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