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?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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