IS OUR NATION STUCK IN REVERSE?
Should the late United Workers Party chairman Henry Giraudy (pictured) pay a return visit, how much of what passes for cyber-age politics would surprise him?
For over four hours earlier, a mobile public address system had titillated the city’s collective imagination. The beleaguered United Workers Party had much to tell its supporters and the organizers of the night’s event were determined to guarantee their star performer a full house. The party’s underground agents, for the last two weeks, at least, had been spreading the inside word on the meeting’s main theme. Long before curtain time, even inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison must have heard: Tonight Compton for Julian Hunte!
The sacrificial lamb had also heard. Once praised by his party colleagues for his several talents, in particular for his ability to organize, since his resignation from the UWP his name had abruptly turned to mud. Such was his ingratitude toward the party that made him, his former colleagues now said, he could no longer think straight. He’d forgotten that even without a college education, he had married the daughter of Saint Lucia’s first governor, Sir Frederick Clarke—as indeed had Premier John Compton before him. The son of a lowly house painter, too much success had driven him mad, they insisted. He had become over-ambitious; overaggressive; a troublemaker with scant regard for those who had done him nothing but good.
Trouble between Julian Hunte and the UWP executive had been brewing for at least two years. As Mayor of Castries and leader of the Castries City Council Hunte had responsibility for the maintenance of the city’s streets. Which was why he had been the target of much vituperative criticism from frustrated motorists for whom driving on Jeremie and Bridge Streets had become a nightmare for pedestrians and a most expensive roller-coaster ride for drivers—considering the cost of spare parts.
Imagine then the wall-towall relief that Thursday evening when an obviously elated Mayor Julian Hunte appeared on TV to announce he had received from Central Government the funds that would facilitate the imminent restoration of two of the city’s main streets. The day following his well-received announcement, however, a press release from the office of Premier John Compton told a completely different story. It acknowledged the patience of Castries residents who had long suffered while waiting for the Castries City Council to carry out promised street repairs. Finally the premier had little choice but to take the project into his own hands. The premier’s statement ended with his promise that soon their burdens would be lifted.
By Friday evening it was clear Premier Compton hadn’t just been talking. All along Jeremie and Bridge Streets there were bulldozers, trucks, road scrapers, and other roadbuilding equipment at work on the potholed streets while scores of nothing-better-to-do passersby looked on in slackjawed amazement, speculating as to why in the first place the premier had allowed the Castries City Council to mess around with what was obviously beyond its scope.
The road builders stayed on the job throughout the weekend, way into the late hours of Sunday night. Come Monday morning the job had been completed. Gone were the gaping holes and the mini-precipices that had claimed countless front axles and ended many a pregnancy. At every turn grateful citizens talked about the premier’s timely intervention. On the other hand Hunte felt only humiliation. But he refused every invitation to comment to the press. Privately he told friends that for several weeks he had been negotiating with road contractors. Finally, he had met with the premier at his official residence in Vigie. Together they had gone over different plans submitted by contractors. They had discussed costs and an agreement sealed. A local contractor would undertake the restoration work that had stumped the best talent at the Castries City Council. It had been a very relaxed, amicable discussion between two men who were married to sisters and just happened to be the leaders of their country: Premier John Compton and Mayor Julian Hunte had talked late into the evening, even as their wives exchanged anecdotes in the Compton kitchen.
By Hunte’s account he and the premier were happy finally to shake hands over a soon to be resolved headache. Repair work on Jeremie and Bridge Streets was expected to start five days later. Hunte had actually gone on TV to announce the good word—having notified his favorite contractor of the official decision to engage him. There had been no further word between Premier Compton and Mayor Hunte. Indeed, two years would pass before they shared another word!
Hunte was at work in his office the day after his TV appearance putting together a press release similar in content to his radio announcement when a staffer from the government’s public relations department told him Compton had already issued his own related press announcement that a Jamaican company already engaged on the Pigeon Point causeway would undertake the road repairs.
The Jamaicans would be supported with equipment and personnel from the Ministry of Works. Either Premier John Compton had worked out a less costly overnight deal with the Jamaican contractor or he had decided deliberately to embarrass Hunte.
Based on what he’d learned from his source at the government’s public relations office Hunte had tried desperately to contact the premier at his office. A secretary said he had stepped out. Hunte called the premier’s official residence. A maid informed the mayor that Compton had left with his wife on an unplanned weekend stay-over in St. Vincent. The Castries mayor never received from the premier an explanation for his aboutface. For that, Hunte would have to wait until that unforgettable evening in William Peter Boulevard.
As usual, party chairman Henry Giraudy was first at the mike. All around the podium the faces of well known UWP hacks reflected the mood of the evening. Anticipation lit up their eyes. After the several weeks of body blows their party had received, especially from the Saint Lucia Forum and the Voice, their thirst for revenge would finally be satisfied. As editor of the newspaper, I was considered the UWP’s enemyin-chief, and responsible for Hunte’s resignation from the party.
Although we had become close friends since my return home after several years in California, I had not been especially kind to Julian Hunte. It was simply that—unlike his party colleagues—the mayor was always accessible to the media; he was never short of quotable responses. He never insulted an interviewer’s intelligence with obvious coverups. Hunte was not incapable of laughing even when the joke was on him, unlike his difficult to reach and humorless party colleagues. Hunte was always good copy; extremely mediasavvy.
Henry Giraudy had worked hard at organizing his meeting. He had insisted also on the premier’s presence although Compton would’ve preferred to be elsewhere on the particular evening. The premier knew only too well what would be the impact of what he was expected to say publicly concerning his personal relationship with Julian Hunte. Already the sisters Janice Compton and Jennifer Hunte were engaged in a cold war, having chosen to side with their respective husbands in what was essentially a political struggle. But Giraudy had been adamant. He insisted that affairs of state had to take precedence over personal considerations.
So it was that a visibly uncomfortable John Compton arrived on the UWP’s William Peter Boulevard platform, his assigned job to rip apart his relative by marriage, limb by limb. His party executive demanded nothing less. Also present and conspicuous on platform was Darnley Norville, eager to please in his new position as party secretary. Only a year or so earlier Hunte had consoled him with expensive champagne and kind words after his disastrous performance in the city council elections. Of the nine UWP candidates, eight had proved victorious. To say poor Darnley took his defeat badly barely approaches the sad truth.
Also down to perform were Allan Bousquet and his potbellied brother JMD, his eyes as always shut down to f/I6, a wily crocodile feigning sleep. Then there was Hollis Bristol. He had always played second fiddle to Julian Hunte, whether at the Castries City Council as deputy mayor or as vice to Hunte’s president of the Saint Lucia Cricket Association. Present, too, was Joseph Desir, oozing bile. Only a few months earlier he had grudgingly relinquished the Mayoral Chain to Hunte.
The crowd was cheering even before Giraudy opened his gold-filled mouth. He put up his hands, palms facing the large and impatient audience at the front of his platform, his signal for silence. On this particular night not one Giraudy word would fall on unhearing ears. And count on it, the party chairman had more than a few words to deliver! He waited until the cheers had subsided to a satisfactory level before he started his delivery:
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is good to see so many of you here this evening. It proves once again that when your party has something to say to you it can bank on your turning out to hear us. Over the last few weeks you must have noticed the concerted attacks against your party by a certain newspaper. I don’t have to say which paper . . .”
The party hacks required
no hints: The Voice! The Voice! Voice la en chou Rick Wayne! Again Giraudy raised his hands. “It seems you know better than I what’s going on in this city,” he chuckled. “I shall proceed nonetheless. Recently, you read that Mr. Hunter Francois, who is without a doubt the Caribbean’s best Minister of Education, has resigned from your government. We hated to see him leave. But he has served for many years. We will miss him. Yes, we will miss Hunter Francois.”
A deathly quiet had fallen over the massive crowd. They knew someone was about to be crucified; knew his name. But what exactly had he done wrong? That was the question that had brought them to William Peter Boulevard in droves. In near funereal tones, Giraudy continued: “No doubt the Honourable Premier will have more to say about Mr. Francois. But there has been another resignation . . .” More kwéyòl expletives peppered the air: Hunte. Salop la! En chou mamaye. Dee nou about Hunte, souceur ah!
The gross profanity seemed to take by surprise the gentleman lawyer in Henry Giraudy. But he recovered quickly. Once again he raised his hands. This time the response was not immediate. The party chairman carried on regardless: “Ladies and gentlemen; let us not lose our heads. I understand your anger, your disappointment . . . but please let us be ladies and gentlemen, unlike certain people from whom we expected better.”
Either the reference was a tad too subtle or it was drowned out by the noise. “Yes,” he said, “His Majesty Julian Hunte . . . has decided we’re not good enough for him anymore . . . so he has resigned. And his personal public relations man at the Voice has determined this is such important news it could only be carried on the front page of the paper. Then again everything Hunte does is big news for the Voice. You’d think Julian Hunte, not John Compton, was Premier of St. Lucia. Perhaps Mr. Editor has the names mixed up. He spent his life away from St. Lucia. But Hunte must know he is not Saint Lucia’s premier. Not yet. The premier of Saint Lucia is . . .”
John Compton! roared the excited audience, conceivably loud enough to be heard as far away as La Clery.
“All that talk on TV . . . anyway, ladies and gentlemen,” Giraudy went on, “as you can see, there are other speakers waiting to address you. I’ll be back.” His place at the microphone was taken by Hollis Bristol. Much of what he said was rooted in cricket and before long his several no-balls had bored the earlier riveted crowd. Now they argued among themselves. Fights broke out among them, until finally nearby police personnel intervened. At the end of his 20-minute delivery Hollis Bristol had proved beyond doubt that as a follow-up act to Henry Giraudy he sucked! In his turn the always jocular Allan Bousquet justified his reputation as a merciless enemy of the Queen’s English. He was followed by ex-Mayor Desir, whose obvious bitterness rendered him near incoherent. He started out by wishing the audience a good evening then proceeded to guarantee they would not. Five minutes into his delivery I turned off my Panasonic tape recorder.
I was particularly interested in what JMD Bousquet had to offer. The central figure in a matter involving stamp fraud a year or two earlier, JMD had also come in for much public criticism from the Forum group and George Odlum’s Crusader. The paper had for several weeks earlier been accusing the government’s Labour minister of corruption involving work permits and suspect foreign businessmen.
Since replacing Chris Cox at the Voice, I had become a close friend of JMD. More than once he had gotten me out of bed with an early morning phone tip-off about
an official plan to sink my dinghy. Sometimes he’d call to plead with me to persuade George Odlum to ease up the pressure on him. JMD was undecided as to whether he liked or despised Julian Hunte. He repeatedly acknowledged Hunte’s talents, often praised him for standing up to John Compton.
JMD had not intended to take part in the public assassination of Julian Hunte’s reputation. The way he told it to me, there was every chance Compton and Hunte would kiss and make up before long. Where would he be having joined in the conspiracy to publicly denigrate the premier’s relative by marriage? Perhaps Saint Lucia’s most experienced politician, JMD waddled up slowly to the microphone, as if contemplating the easiest way out of his predicament. He had been called upon to speak. So speak he would in the name of party loyalty. But his heart was not in it. As the crowd waited impatiently, JMD Bousquet slowly adjusted the microphone to his barely five feet two inches. Then he lowered his green felt hat further over his eyes. He coughed nervously, fidgeted with his pants pockets—obviously killing time. At last he too wished everyone a good evening and began his unscripted speech.
JMD Bousquet was legendary as a word weaver. With his audience eating up what he said, he magically knitted a verbal maze around them that had neither beginning nor end. He spoke for over thirty minutes and said nothing. At any rate, nothing that could be held against him should the premier and the mayor decide to bury their hatchets in someone’s back. Neither could it be said that JMD had gone out of his way to boost Hunte’s reputation. As he returned to his chair, JMD Bousquet looked over at me standing at the side of the platform—and winked. I swear!
Henry Giraudy took his time announcing the next speaker. Like a prompter cuing up some second-rate actor in a school play, he reminded the premier that regardless of their relationship Hunte was to be treated as a traitor to his party. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the ever suave party chairman began, “it gives me untold pleasure to introduce the man you’ve been waiting to hear . . . our own beloved leader . . . who has done so much for all the people of this country . . . even those who are now ready to turn on him like snakes in the grass. Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pride that I bring you the Premier of Saint Lucia, our own John Melvin Compton.”
The audience applause rattled the boulevard business houses. And yet Compton seemed unshaken. He approached the mike as if in a trance. He appeared wooden, moved mechanically, like a punch-drunk fighter with too much booze in his belly. He seemed lost. Even with two thousand adoring eyes eating him up, still the most powerful man in the land could not bring himself to connect, eyeball to eyeball, with his audience. From his elevated perch he looked way over their heads, looked right, then left and down at his shoes before speaking his words of welcome. Even after all these years, he did not sound quite Saint Lucian. Neither could you tell by his accent that he was born in the whaling community of Bequia, St. Vincent, and arrived here for the first time with his Saint Lucian mother at age 15. He was educated at St. Mary’s College. Later, he travelled to Curacao to work at an oil refinery at a time when employment opportunities at home were particularly scarce and the Netherlands Antilles were recruiting labour from the several Caribbean territories.
From Curacao, John Compton journeyed to England where he earned a law degree. He returned to Saint Lucia in 1953 to set up office on High Street, Castries. It was there that he would get to know the people who eventually lifted him to political prominence.
A particularly successful politician—one yet to taste defeat at the polls after 22 years in Saint Lucia’s House of Assembly—John Compton still does not exude the selfconfidence that should be synonymous with his history. His manner at the microphone reminds of a diffident newcomer to politics. Tonight will be different. The busloads of supporters transported free from Micoud, Dennery and Deniere Riviere will see to that. Not a single stone has Giraudy left unturned. Hardly had the salutatory words left his lips than the crowd erupted: “Good evening, Mr. Premier. We love you!” It is the push-start that John Compton has been praying for. It promises to be a good evening after all!
But not for Julian Hunte! But first there was some fulsome praise to deliver: “The chairman told you earlier that Mr. Hunter Francois has resigned from the government,” Compton said. “That is true. He came to me in my office, we discussed his reasons. I didn’t want to see him go. I tried hard to change his mind. But in the end I understood. I accepted his resignation.”
He turned, signalled and someone handed him a glass of water. His throat relieved, he went on: “Of course, Hunter Francois has always been a gentleman. A fine gentleman. Unlike certain people. I am not at all happy bringing out my family affairs to this platform. It’s not my style. But I have no other choice. It hurts . . . When a member of your family has a grievance, you expect him to come to you, sit with you, talk with you. You don’t expect him to plaster your family matters all over a newspaper.”
His voice cracking, eyes awash, Compton bravely set out to do what duty required him to do. “Julian Hunte and I married sisters,” he croaked. “We used to sleep and eat at one another’s homes. We visited each other regularly. I had such great dreams for Julian. I cannot go on forever. I saw him as my successor . . . But Julian has always been too ambitious; too aggressive; too much in a hurry. He cannot wait his turn. I could have passed a law to have him removed from the mayor’s office. You notice he resigned from the United Workers Party. But not from his office. He is still the Mayor of Castries . . . I could have passed a law. But I won’t . . .”
Giraudy’s planted party hacks were at it again: Pass a law! Kick him out! Salop la! “No,” said the Premier of St. Lucia, waving both hands. “We won’t pass a law. We’ll leave it to you, the people, to remove Julian Hunte when the time comes . . .”
For a second or two he seemed to lose his thread. He repeated himself: “No, I won’t pass a law . . . Take his Keep Your City Clean Campaign. Just look around you; have you ever seen a dirtier Castries? Wasted money . . . And talking of money, Julian Hunte has practically bankrupted this city . . . he has already spent this year’s budget . . . and the year is far from over.”
Many in the audience were at this point wondering aloud why Compton had tolerated Hunte, if in fact he was such a negative influence on the affairs of the Castries City Council. Hunte was well into his second or third term of office as Mayor of Castries. This was how the premier explained what he referred to as the Jeremie Street fiasco:
“Hunte was always complaining, complaining, complaining. He grumbled whenever I tried to assist the Castries City Council. He felt I was only trying to make him appear incompetent. He was the all-knowing big shot and no one was allowed to do anything for fear it made Hunte look bad. Ask the other councillors. Hunte had to do everything . . . and then he would report to the Voice and get his picture in the paper. Well, I felt the people of this city had suffered enough. I decided to take the matter under control . . . and you now have a beautiful street you can be proud of . . . Ladies and gentlemen, this has not been easy for me . . .”
He seemed to have difficulty getting his words out: “Ladies and gentlemen, I had such big plans for Julian . . . but . . .” A white handkerchief materialized in his hands. He lifted it to his face. And then Chairman Giraudy moved in, embraced the premier and walked him back weeping to his chair. Compton had more than made up for his shaky start.
Compton had delivered! The preceding is taken from It’ll Be Alright In the Morning by Rick Wayne, available from STAR Publishing Company, Massade, Gros Islet.
There is no doubt that as fine a lawyer as was Henry Giraudy, what he was best appreciated for, even by his political opponents, was his chairmanship of the United Workers Party!
Primrose Bledman was a close friend of John Compton – and paid the price.
Julian Hunte was Mayor of Castries when the author first encountered him. His relationship with George Odlum took its toll on Hunte’s immediate family and on many who expected him to live in the shadow of John Compton, whose wife is the sister of Jennifer Hunte.