Don Corleone, he of a high place

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It is a line with which we are all familiar – a benevolent-sounding promise, but one loaded with a not-so-subtle threat and much malevolence.  It is uttered by the iconic Marlon Brando, playing Don Vito Corleone, the Godfather of the fictional Corleone crime family. Seemed, Corleone’s godson, Johnny Fontane, is a singer whose career has hit the skids, and he is convinced that if he gets a major part in an upcoming blockbuster movie, it will prove to be the boost to stardom that he needs. Unfortunately, the studio boss, Jack Woltz, has refused to consider Fontane for the important role. Fontane complains to Godfather Corleone who tells him quite calmly that he will convince Woltz to give him the role. Corleone then utters the following unforgettable words, “This Hollywood big-shot is going to give you what you want . . .I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse!” Hmmmm!

Of course, the line is dangerous because it sounds innocuous – “An offer he can’t refuse”sounds rather generous and similar to “A deal he can’t pass up – something so magnanimous that the person to whom it is offered cannot help but say, “Yes, I’ll take it!” But ‘caveat emptor,’ so to speak. Let the person to whom the seemingly gracious offer is made, beware. The offer is a command! You will do as I say, because to do anything else will likely get you killed. Those who have seen the movie will remember that the aforementioned studio boss again turns down Fontane, and wakes up the next day to find the severed head of his prized $600,000 thoroughbred horse in bed with him.  Hmmmmm! Talk about a grim warning!

In like manner, we find life imitating art. Seems, our Don Corleone is doing his best Marlon Brando impression, all he needs is to don a tuxedo with a black bowtie and a cummerbund. Anyway, our Don Corleone, he who has always professed, to anyone who will listen, that his offers are most generous and compassionate, recently made one such offer to the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA). Again, with emphasis on his beneficence, and his most marvelous and wonderful compassion, he waxed lyrical about how much he cares for the pilots and that he is doing the best that he can for them – a fifty percent compassionate payment, “take it or leave it,” of land, cash and bonds. Story done! Seems, our Corleone is playing hardball, albeit with a cynical smile. He does that a lot. He will pretend to be folksy-folksy and good-natured, but if, much as Shakespeare’s Shylock once mused, “He can but catch you once upon the hip, he will feed fat the ancient grudge that he bears you. . . .”The pilots are learning a tough lesson, leaving them to describe the Don’s suggestions as “unfortunate,” particularly his decision to slam the door shut on further discussions.

As you can imagine, an earlier Don here in the Caribbean would have been tickled by our Don’s aggressive and unyielding stance. We’re talking about the late Dr Eric Williams, he of a high place in Trinidad, who was once quoted by the Mighty Sparrow in GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE, as saying, “I am going to do what I feel to do / And I don’t care who vex or who feel blue / I am no dictator, but when I give an order / De matter must go no further / I have nothing more to say / And it must be done my way / Come on, come on, come on, we be done for the day . .  .” YIKES!!!

The pilots are caught between a rock and a hard place with our Don Corleone’s uncompromising and belligerent tone and attitude. Notwithstanding the fact that Marlon Brandon would have been proud, they are hardly amused. Said they in an open letter to the Don, as reported in yesterday’s DAILY OBSERVER by our Shermain Bique-Charles: “We are very disappointed that your caring Cabinet (Oh, the sarcasm!) was not convinced by you to award the fifty percent on entitlements. You stated that you understood the gravity of the situation, and you stood by your word. . .”Hmmmm! Talk about ‘playing warri’ with Don Corleone and getting ‘no-seed,’ or rather, much less than they’d bargained for.  

Meanwhile, they have a whole host of unanswered questions, such as when will the thirty percent cash be available, how will the funds be doled out, and where are the supposed plots of land located? Said they: “The lack of details and structure make it impossible for most to make an informed decision. We are left to believe that the government does not fully appreciate the dire circumstances that we experience every day.” They shared that the Don’s supposed compassionate offer, was hardly compassionate because of the non-recourse approach, demurring, “If this were truly a compassionate offer, we should not have to sign away our rights to any proceeds from the sales of the company’s assets.” Hmmmm!

We are not sure what the pilots mean by that last sentence, because as far as we know, the beleaguered Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) does not have much by way of assets to satisfy its many creditors. And if there were to be any sale, it would be a bargain-basement sale of the three aircraft that it owns. LIAT has very few assets that can be liquidated. Not much money to be had there, bearing in mind the fact that the total of the severance and entitlements owed to the pilots is anywhere north of EC$120 million.

Interestingly, to add fuel to the conflagration, the administration’s financial wizard, he who fancies himself to be a pitbull, the Godfather’s consigliere, told the pilots that they have only one month to take the offer. After that, all bets are off.  They could eventually get significantly less than the fifty percent that is currently on the table. (The Consigliere once commandeered a public meeting along with his Boss of all Bosses (capo di tutti capi) and belligerently told public sector workers who were aggrieved over their monies, words to the effect that, ‘If dey tink dey bad, just strike ‘gainst his government!’ They did not!  

The pilots are clearly confused and uncertain as to what to do next. They are calling for clarifications and the sort. Don Corleone has told them to simply ‘Take the offer and run,’ never mind their misgivings and the fact that they are seeing LIAT blow through money on a dubious vanity return-to-the-skies scheme. We feel their pain and angst! Hopefully, come the next election, they and their families will remember the offer that was rammed down their throats roughshod, with a sly cigar smile, a la Al Capone. If you recall, Capone once infamously said while chomping on his cigar, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me!” Good grief!

It’s a Faustian bargain! Don Corleone is being kind! Folks, run like hell! Sigh! Oh for a truly kinder and gentler leadership!

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