By Trevor Sudama
December 07, 2010 – newsday.co.tt
I myself was involved in the struggles of sugar workers in the sixties and early seventies. I was a candidate of the United Labour Front in the 1981 General Election in a sugar growing constituency.
It was a party committed to the protection and advancement of the welfare of the workers. I was a founding member of the United National Congress in 1989 which had as one of its guiding principles a responsibility imposed on the state to so influence the ordering of economic affairs that sustenance is available to all. And the sugar workers deserved some priority consideration given the fact that their loyalty and support ushered Panday into national politics and eventually into Government.
The course on which Panday had embarked went against the grain of my own political conviction. The manner in which Panday handled or rather failed to handle the problem of Caroni (1975) Ltd and the well being of sugar workers constituted a damning failure of leadership. His refusal to consider a restructuring proposal for Caroni (1975) Ltd which would have addressed not only the issue of viability with a measure of state support but also the critical question of the provision of employment options was unforgivable.
His decision to place the fortunes of sugar workers in the hands of persons of a primarily technocratic and business orientation who had no empathy with the plight and struggles of sugar workers was unpardonable. His reluctance to communicate with sugar workers and their unions of the necessity for measured change and a reformed view of the industry was a serious dereliction of duty. His conviction that the disposal of the assets of Caroni (1975) Ltd to the private sector would have resulted in increased investment, output and job opportunities was delusional since the private sector was primarily interested in immediate returns and profits and job creation was a secondary consideration, if at all.
In the light of the above, I had come to the conclusion that by 2001, no doubt under the pervading influence of the oligarchy, Panday had assumed an uncaring and indifferent attitude to the plight and future of sugar workers in an increasingly precarious economic environment. In fact I considered it a gross betrayal and an act of neemakharamism of which he generously accused others.
But the agenda of his leadership would become more apparent by June 2001 when the elections for positions on the UNC Executive were held. Duprey’s point man, Carlos John, was endorsed by Panday and his wife for the second highest post in the party —that of Deputy Political Leader. Clearly Duprey and the oligarchy were not content with wielding considerable influence behind the scenes. They were emboldened to seek high leadership position in the party itself and thus set the agenda for its direction and decisions. For those of us who laboured to build the UNC, the objection to Carlos John as Deputy Leader was based primarily on two grounds.
First, his association with the party was quite recent. In fact months before, he was a member of the PNM and his business group supported that party. He was a stranger to the UNC’s struggles and challenges and was unacquainted with its development and philosophy. He, therefore, could not emphatise with the aspirations of the vast majority of its members.
Secondly, Carlos John was the political face of Duprey and the oligarchy and represented primarily the interests of the dominant business element in the country. If he occupied the position of Deputy Leader, it would signal a virtual surrender of the party to the oligarchy. The oligarchy was already involved in the selection of candidates for the parliamentary elections of 2000 and the assignment of ministerial portfolios thereafter. Since Carlos John’s candidacy had Panday’s blessings, it constituted a second betrayal of the party and the ethos on which it was founded.
The propaganda clandestinely issued by Panday and disseminated by his minions was that the election of Carlos John as Deputy Leader would give the party a multi-ethnic face and therefore would make it more attractive to the electors of the East/West corridor. This claim was as specious as it was unconvincing.
The real reason was that Carlos John would be the most appropriate link between Panday and Duprey and, if elected as Deputy Leader, could be anointed to act as Prime Minister in Panday’s absence.
When the membership became used to this scenario, it would not be too difficult to propose Carlos John as the substantive Prime Minister when Panday contemplated ascension to the Presidency in 2002. But in this event Carlos John would continue to be under the political tutelage of Panday and thus, as President, Panday would not only be the de facto Prime Minister but would also enjoy all the status, privileges and perquisites of the Presidency. And Duprey’s business and financial interests would be safeguarded. It was envisioned as a neat arrangement both for Panday and the oligarchy. However, events did not quite turn out as anticipated, much to the chagrin of Panday. And his gamble to call General Election in December 2001 was the beginning of his demise.