'Butch' Stewart: You pick him up, you lick him dung, him bounce right back…

By Anthony deSouza

Monday, December 18, 2017

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It was interesting to follow the attacks by Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne on Gordon “Butch” Stewart and Sandals' Antigua resort in what was clearly an unprecedented, unilateral and unprovoked decision to rescind a negotiated agreement with a previous Administration.

But it was even more interesting to see that while Prime Minister Browne was doing his best to sully the reputation of his largest investor and the single biggest contributor to the island's economy, Stewart continued to win accolades for his role in holding the region's economy together.

After taking 46 major awards and tons more of lesser-known ones throughout his business career, the Sandals Resorts International chairman inevitably won the biggest of them all, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation's Global Legends of the Caribbean Award last month.

Barely two weeks before, Stewart received the RJRGleaner Hospitality Jamaica's inaugural Pioneer Award, significant especially because it was bestowed by his arch-rival in media and presented by the business icon himself, Oliver Clarke.

Earlier in the year, Stewart claimed the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award honouring him for 50 years of yeoman work in building regional tourism from the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit, organised by the Burba Hotel Network in association with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association, at the JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami, Florida.

It's obviously going to take far more than a Gaston Browne to shake the formidable reputation of Jamaica's Butch Stewart, who is widely regarded across the Caribbean. Compare that, for example, with Browne's own reputation, which was shaken by bribery allegations.

Odebrecht, a giant Brazilian construction firm, is under international investigation for reportedly bribing several South American and Caribbean leaders to facilitate or cover up money laundering activities. An Odebrecht lawyer on the run in Spain, and who said he handled the bribery payments, alleged in the newspaper El Pais that Gaston Browne received three million euros. The Antiguan leader has strenuously denied the claims and has filed a suit against the newspaper for defamation.

But Browne, while claiming to have been exonerated by the newspaper, has so far failed to provide proof of this exoneration, which is supposedly on the basis that El Pais had acknowledged that it had not corroborated the information from Odebrecht's lawyer.

Browne may be as pure as the driven snow but, as a leader, he needs to do more than give his personal assurance of his exoneration. It is his country's reputation which is also at stake. He needs to provide the letter from the newspaper for the Antiguan and Caribbean public to see.

Indeed, it was Browne who fired his tourism minister, Michael Asot, within hours of his detention in London, even before the minister was able to prove innocence or guilt of any wrongdoing, saying that he would not abide even the appearance of corruption. What a double standard.

So, in the battle of reputations, the little-regarded Browne, and Stewart who has just been recognised and applauded by a United Nations agency, are not in the same class.

Browne is struggling to shake off one allegation which has severely hurt him and remains hanging over his head until today. In the case of Stewart, as the Jamaicans like to say, immortalised by ska legend Prince Busta: “Yuh pick him up, yuh lick him dung, him bounce right back; what a hard man fi ded.”

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