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THE HOYOS FILE: Eyewitness: political memories are made of this

Pat Hoyos

THE HOYOS FILE: Eyewitness: political memories are made of this

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If you asked me what I might find myself curled up with over Christmas time, never in a million years would I have suspected that it would have been anything associated with the name of Harold Hoyte.
But there I was, at every possible moment, tearing myself away from the computer and real work, not to mention wife and family, to devour relentlessly the pages of Eyewitness To Order And Disorder, the weighty (in more ways than one) volume of Barbadian modern political history by the pre-eminent journalist of our times.
Emails were left unread, replies left unsent. BUSINESS AUTHORITY columns were late (okay, maybe not for the same reason), my usually gregarious self seemed to have been overtaken by one who preferred solitary confinement, usually sitting on the porch with the dog, who thought I was there for the purpose of keeping her company. She instead was keeping mine as I tried to finish off the pages.
Alas, reality intruded and the task was not completed, as this 300-plus-page volume is so fascinating in many parts that I found myself re-reading in places where some of the characters in the storylines were new to me, or some of their motives seemed to have come out of Mr Hoyte’s more recent research for the book.
In an afterword, Harold Hoyte gives maximum praise to Albert Branford for setting up each scenario which led to order or disorder in Barbadian politics or public events, plus several others who helped along the way and way beyond the call of duty. His generosity of spirit is admirable.
But it can be deceptive, in a very positive way. I thought I knew a lot of these stories, from being around for most of them and following them in THE NATION and other media, hearing the gossip and so forth.
But the professional recapping of each topic flows so easily, thanks to Mr Hoyte’s ability to write in clear, simple prose without losing his sense of awe or excitement, that this would be enough to warrant purchasing a copy if you are a student and want a quick update on a variety of topics for further follow-up or research, or just want to head down memory lane with a journalistic rather than historical recounting by a master storyteller.
But what you don’t realize, until you start looking for it after a while, is Mr Hoyte’s infusion of the text with his own present-day analysis, or his adding of new insights and perhaps new information to the stories.
For example, in the quite brilliant recounting of the “sinister plot” – as then Prime Minister Tom Adams put it – to overthrow the Government in 1978, Mr Hoyte gives us the circumstances under which the media’s top brass was called to the Cabinet room at Government headquarters on Bay Street, and all that was going through his mind before and during the dramatic unveiling of the Sidney Burnett-Alleyne coup attempt.
But he adds: “I would later discover that the threat had been real, but by the time the urgent meeting was held with media heads, the entire plot had been discovered by British MI-5, and the so-called ‘coup attempt’ had been abandoned. Adams knew all that, but the temptation for him to assume centre stage had probably been too much of an enticement to resist, relishing its dramatic effect on us.”
In his recalling of the events arising out of a story published in the DLP’s party organ The Democrat in the early 1970s, Mr Hoyte says, “The Neville Maxwell disaster remains just that – a horrible disaster and a blot on the image of Barbados.”
The impact it had on prominent persons, he adds, was rivalled in the last century only by “the infamous Clennell Wickham case of 1930 in which a Bridgetown merchant, W.D. Bailey, sued The Herald for libel and was represented by Grantley Adams who won the case. . . .”
He continues: “This latter Democrat libel case, though different in nature and political context, demonstrates to Barbadians the extremes to which people in or close to political parties go to win elections; as well as the high price of spitefully seeking to besmirch the character of opponents through morally repugnant and blame-game language, solely for the furtherance of political ends.”
Another great thing about this book is that you can read the chapters in any order (or disorder), because they are sufficient in themselves. You can pick and choose where to dive in if you are interested in being reminded of a particular controversy (the Pelé murder, for instance), or you can work on a grouping of chapters as provided (for example “Personalities” or “Prevarications” – each section is titled with a word starting with the letter P, for some no doubt Personal reason); or you can read from the first page to the last like you would a novel. It’s your choice.
However you do it, you will find it worthwhile, as this is written for the average intelligent reader. As for what has been left out (another writer has bemoaned a missing chapter on the invasion of Grenada), I guess we could all think of many other subjects that could have been covered, but I think it is unfair to look at a volume that contains 338 pages of accurately researched and engagingly commented-on material, divided into seven sections and 32 chapters, and, like Dickens’ Oliver, call for “More!”
Eyewitness, I think, fulfils the mission of the work as outlined by the author in his preface that “This is a collection that attempts to speak to the heart of Barbadian political happenings over 50 years, 1959 to 2009. Yet it is not a history of Barbadian politics over that period.”
Now, if you will excuse me, I must go finish up reading Chapter 6 (The Cheques Election).
I congratulate Mr Hoyte on his outstanding book and recommend you all buy and read your own copy. Eyewitness reminds us of how far we have come as a nation. It is the stuff political memories are made of.
Here’s wishing all of the BBA’s readers a happy and successful New Year, remembering that however you define success, it is not only about money.