AD TO IN­DE­PEN­DENCE!

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

As­so­ci­ated States Sec­re­tariat in Cas­tries, at the spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion of the St. Lu­cia gov­ern­ment, to cel­e­brate in ad­vance the in­stal­la­tion of John Comp­ton as the is­land’s first prime min­is­ter. When lunchtime came and the guest of honor still had not shown up, Tourism Min­is­ter Ge­orge Mal­let stepped for­ward to apol­o­gize and de­liver the of­fi­cial word of wel­come. He also as­sured the gath­er­ing that never mind the doom­say­ers, Lu­cia was eco­nom­i­cally vig­or­ous and look­ing for­ward to a record tourist sea­son, now that the gov­ern­ment had se­cured the ser­vices of a Nige­rian gen­tle­man named Ig­natius Atigby who had ar­rived in St. Lu­cia the pre­vi­ous day but was ready to an­swer any ques­tions.

Mal­let promised that 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. 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. Dark­ness was al­ready en­velop­ing 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 for over $100,000.

The princess did not at­tract hordes of ex­cited, cheer­ing, ca­lypso-chant­ing, flag-wav­ing na­tives. Nei­ther did she en­counter mas­sive protest demon­stra­tions as had been promised by the arm­chair strate­gists of the op­po­si­tion party. The dozen or so half­naked Ras­ta­men who car­ried anti-In­de­pen­dence plac­ards pro­claim­ing the wrath of Jah had kept well within their own turf. 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, 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 was serv­ing free rum punch. 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 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. The is­land’s two ra­dio sta­tions—Ra­dio St. Lu­cia and Ra­dio Caribbean— were in ef­fect lit­tle more than trans­mit­ters for 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 Sav­ille 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 un­re­lated PR men Wil­lie James 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. Not for lo­cal re­porters!” His au­di­ence groaned. The diminu­tive Wil­lie James jumped to his feet. “Gen­tle­men, please,” he said, palms held high. “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 James took it, passed it on to his boss for close in­spec­tion. The re­porter was no stranger to St Lu­cia. He had once been an as­sis­tant edi­tor at the Voice 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, the St. Lu­cia gov­ern­ment had again se­duced him with 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 af­ter he 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 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. RSL’s news edi­tor was suspended, with­out ex­pla­na­tion. Soon af­ter­ward, 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. Fi­nally, Comp­ton de­cided to con­tinue with the busi­ness at hand. “All right,” he growled, “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?”

“What do you mean?” Comp­ton sniffed. Regis re­worded his ques­tion and Comp­ton told him 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 ref­er­en­dum. Comp­ton replied: “The way our con­sti­tu­tion is set up, any ob­struc­tion­ist could’ve ad­versely af­fected 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.

n: He presided over the 1979

was the newly elected Labour for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter de­liv­ered rst ad­dress be­fore the UN’s as­sem­bly.

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