The first time I interviewed Louis George
The former Minister of Education Mr. Louis George, on Thursday morning January 2,
passed away at his Micoud residence following a long illness that cost him both his legs
and confined him to a wheelchair.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the forthright MP at his ministry in January 1988, less
than a year after the April 1987 general election. His victory in the battle for the Micoud
North constituency had barely been confirmed when a shocking rumor caught the wind,
especially in Castries: following negotiations with well known Labour Party campaigners
Louis George had agreed to cross the floor into the Red Zone!
Always a fiery and controversial figure, and amidst persistent rumors he planned to dump
the UWP, Mr. George had declared during a rally that politics was “a way of life in Saint
Lucia.” Moreover, that many long-neglected supporters were “no longer prepared to
settle for crumbs” and were seriously reconsidering their loyalty to the United Workers
I was present at a televised press conference 100 days after his 1987 election victory,
when Mr. George said the not yet declared Nobel winner Derek Walcott had taken more
from Saint Lucia than he had contributed to Saint Lucia’s development.
Not even his Cabinet colleague Romanus ‘Billy’ Lansiquot was safe from Mr. George’s
often caustic comments. At one point he told reporters the health minister’s fund-raising
efforts on behalf of Victoria Hospital were proving a pain in the neck to other
organizations that depended on the generosity of local businesspeople.
“Everyone is saying he or she has no money left after contributing to the hospital fund,”
he said. Then there was the time the Cabinet colleagues clashed over Mr. George’s
remark that “just because Butch Stewart has employed some Saint Lucians in a few
menial jobs doesn’t mean he runs this country!”
At his own subsequent press conference Mr. Lansiquot reminded his fellow MP that there
was “no such thing as a menial job!”
As I say, my 1988 interview with Mr. George took place on the evening of 26 January, a
Tuesday, at his ministry, then housed on the top floor of the Adjodha Building, corner of
Micoud and Laborie Streets. I found him quite different attitudinally from his other party
colleagues who were, for the most part, distrusting of the press. Indeed, he demonstrated
a radicalism more synonymous with the opposition Labour Party, then led by Julian
Hunte (a recent recipient of a knighthood!).
STAR: It seems to me you don’t quite project the established image of the UWP as the
businessman’s party. Have you been told this before?
George (chuckling): Well, yes. Some people have asked outright how I became involved
with the United Workers Party. My enthusiasm has much to do with my commitment to
the people of my area. I came in at a time when Rodney JnBaptiste was on his way out.
There was much talk about who should take his place and I don’t mind telling you the
choice of Louis George didn’t sit well with certain people who imagined they had a say
in the matter.
Before all of that I had been a teacher at the Micoud Secondary. Because of certain
frustrations, I quit in 1977 in favor of a lucrative job with Geest Industries, following
studies at the Eastern Caribbean Farming Institute in Trinidad. I decided to go into
politics in 1982, after much pressure from people who had been impressed with my
record as chairman of the Micoud village council. The matter of which party I should
represent was never an issue. Micoud is predominantly UWP; the choice was automatic.
But I’ve always insisted on being my own man, while adhering to party principles. In the
final analysis it’s the electorate I must answer to; not party bosses.
STAR: Especially after the most recent elections you were publicly perceived as one of
the young Turks; one of a group of four or five determined to redirect the UWP, if not
take it over completely. What happened?
George: When we came in . . . I’m talking about Eldridge Stevens, Peter Phillip, Brian
Charles, Clarence Rambally. I mean, here we were in a 14-3 situation. I was always
pointing out to the other guys the fact that we were moving into a new era of politics and
if we were going to effect any changes, we had to stick together. We, well, there were six
of us. We successfully negotiated with the more established people in the party the matter
of discussions involving only Cabinet members. That was not a popular topic, as you can
imagine. The departure of Phillip, Rambally, Stevens and so on had a negative impact on
the future of our party.
STAR: The public considers you quite controversial, especially after your statement
about politics in Saint Lucia being a way of life.
George: I was surprised my comment about biscuits and crumbs proved so controversial.
It was widely interpreted as a threat. Maybe that’s because I said it at a time when there
was so much talk about the 9-8 election result. But my intentions were honorable. I think
it’s only fair to say the Micoud constituency has always supported the United Workers
Party. The dissatisfaction I spoke of is no longer a private thing. People are now asking:
What’s in it for me? You go to Jamaica or Trinidad and you don’t have to be told which
constituency is the prime minister’s. For fifteen years, Micoud has been represented by a
prime minister. But what do you see there indicative of that? By my statement, I meant to
get across the warning that I was not prepared to pay for things beyond my control, things
that prevented me from delivering my promises to the people who had elected me.
STAR: Did your statement cause you internal problems?
George (chuckling)): Oh, no. Not at all.
STAR: How about your line about politics being a way of life?
George: It was a pointed remark, aimed at the shadow education minister.
STAR: But you’d said it before at a rally.
George: It had nothing to do with nepotism. Politics is what it is. I didn’t make it so. It’s
an acknowledged reality. A man’s political future depends on how voters perceive him.
The reality is I am more likely to break my back for the people of my constituency than I
am for the people of Gros Islet, even though I want all of Saint Lucia to prosper.
STAR: How difficult is it to get the government’s message to a people still as illiterate as
George: Illiterate or otherwise, people have expectations, especially where their children
are concerned. Our main drawback centers on the unavailability of funds. Practically all
the things people want demand money: schools, playing fields, jobs and so on.
STAR: What do you say to people who fail to understand you shouldn’t have more
children than you can afford to house, feed, clothe and educate?
George: My views regarding our increasing birthrate are well known. The illiteracy
situation doesn’t help. But we also have to deal with superstition and religious beliefs. I
talked with someone in my constituency about the number of children
she was producing. She said: “You see me, when God wants me to stop having children,
STAR: At what point does the government say to the church: Hey, preach your stuff
preacher man but we are going to run the country as reality dictates! Most
people are not into this business of silently ienduring horrors in hopes of reaping their
reward in some afterlife. It’s a fantasy that has meaning only on Sundays!
George: Here’s another reality: a politician’s future depends on how his constituents
perceive him. This country is largely Roman Catholic. Politicians who ignore that fact do
so to their detriment. You introduce measures you believe are for the benefit of all the
people. But then the church disagrees. What do you do? Politicians really find themselves
between the devil and oblivion.
STAR: The birthrate isn’t the only fly in the ointment. There is also our country’s
appetite for alcohol.
George: I’m very concerned. I share the health minister’s [Romanus Lansiquot] views
regarding to local alcohol consumption. Some situations were allowed to reach the point
of no return. Now, there is need for drastic remedial action, regardless of how unpopular.
Alcohol has found its way even into the school system. We’ve taken some decisions:
schools are not permitted to hold functions where alcoholic beverages are served. But
there’s the problem of young people consuming alcohol off the school premises. We are
counting on parents to play their part, as well as vendors and the police.
STAR: It doesn’t help that the legal drinking age is 16. In the States it’s 21—even though
you are allowed to drive at 17.
George: Is that so? That’s certainly is worth bearing in mind. It doesn’t help that Radio
Saint Lucia daily bombards the population with encouragement to consume more alcohol.
Some of those ads are aimed directly at our most illiterate.
STAR: Then again the government benefits from the sale of alcohol. Without support
money from the alcohol producers there’d be no local sports activities.
George: Recently we had a mock parliamentary session during which the problem of
teenage pregnancy was debated. We need to step up our activities. We need to shock the
public into a new awareness of our problems, including drug abuse and alcoholism,
which affect the whole country. We will have to decide whether the revenue gained from
selling alcohol is more important than the nation’s health!