Dark Clouds Over Paradise

At the end of August each year Notting Hill in West London receives a high octane shot of the exuberance and positivity of the colour, culture and creativity of Trinidad and Tobago (TT) in the form of Europe’s largest street carnival. Regardless of England’s weather residents of London are treated to a soca soaked occasion redolent of the tastes and traditions of the Caribbean. Sadly, following on from the recent London riots the two days of festivities will end earlier than usual and see a far larger police presence, something that for the TT Diaspora will have some distinctly unpleasant echoes of what is happening back home.  For Trinidad and Tobago is currently under a state of emergency. No amount of azure sky, crystal clear waters or sun-kissed beaches can hide the fact that these seemingly idyllic islands are going through difficult times. 
If the Government is intent on rooting out “lawlessness” and has its heart set on some moral crusade it must surely begin with those it selects to serve in positions of high office.
Following on from a concentrated spate of murders, some 11 in 48 hours, the President of Trinidad and Tobago issued a proclamation on Sunday 21st August 2011 declaring that a State of Emergency (SOE) had come into effect. For several days following on from this announcement there was considerable confusion as to whether it applied to the entire country or not and this confusion was added to by the fact that a subsequent Curfew Order was meant to only to apply to specified “hot spots”. As if a State of Emergency from 9.00pm – 5.00 am curfew were not serious enough information has subsequently emergence that elucidates something of the disorder that enveloped a decision meant to bring about order. At the point when the decision to act was taken the Commissioner of Police Dwaine Gibbs was in Brazil, something that came of a surprise to the Police Service Board (whom Commissioner Gibbs is required to notify if he intends to travel out of the country). Coincidently the Deputy Commissioner was also out of the country at the time. As for His Excellency President George Maxwell Richards, he was presented with a fait accompli and had no choice but to ‘sign’ the State of Emergency which had already been put in place for 15 days (unless extended by Parliament) on the orders of Prime Minister the Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar. 
The exact reason for the current action is still something for considerable conjecture. Drug smuggling, money laundering, gang culture and corruption at the highest levels have gnawed away the islands’ for years. The current government is adamant that the decision it has taken is for the good of all law abiding citizens. The country’s High Commissioner in London, HE Garvin Nicholas is robust in his defence of the decisions made by the People’s Party Coalition, which since May 2010 has made up the Government in Port of Spain; “We are endeavouring to tackle a man-made disaster and we will employ all the necessary forces to deal with those criminal elements threatening our society.”. Nicholas is keen to make it clear where he believes the blame lies; “...our Government is determined to address the problems allowed to grow under the previous administration ...we are committed to investing in the police, in youth recreation programmes and play areas and in tacking crime...”. As a trained lawyer Nicholas plays a straight bat and on the question of the criminality he states; “ is our intention to go after the minions of gang leaders, if you deal with them the gang leaders can no longer operate..”, such sophistry seems somewhat at odds with the line taken by the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who has made it clear that the “big fish” are most definitely in the Government’s sights.
Whilst the Government of Trinidad and Tobago may wish to appear tough on crime there are those within its ranks who might not fully subscribe to its rhetoric. The sudden spike in killings was not the only reason why a State of Emergency was called. During the days and hours leading up to the decision two shipping containers were unloaded and discovered at Port of Spain and these were found to be crammed with weapons and ammunition. Whilst being guarded by three police officers and five army personnel one of the containers went missing. Senior military sources have confirmed that cctv footage of the perpetrators of this crime is currently being examined in the hunt to apprehend both the culprits and recapture the armaments. Such a brazen act whilst bordering on the farcical is a sinister reminder of the dark days of the previous State of Emergency twenty one years ago when there was an attempted coup.
Prime Minister the Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar has defended the draconian stance taken by her government. Earlier this week she was defiant whilst speaking at a ceremony at Clifton Tower, Port of Spain:
“Make no mistake about it. This Government will remove lawlessness at every level from the society. It is time to bring discipline back, it is time to revive traditional values, and it is time to instil and even insist for rules and regulations, law and order. There is no room for compromise on this.”
For those at the very heart of Government such posturing is seriously undermined by a seeming moral malaise that is in danger of undermining the Administration at nearly every turn. The usually ebullient, genial and ever artful the Hon. Austin “Jack”  Warner – of FIFA fame (some might prefer “infamy”) may be endeavouring to keep a somewhat lower profile of late, but he remains firmly in control of the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure – a ministerial portfolio with possibly the largest budget and the greatest scope for corruption. Whilst ‘Teflon’ Jack is no longer a big shot at FIFA, he certainly wields enormous influence in the Caribbean and effectively bankrolled the United National Congress (the largest partner in the Coalition) in the two most recent elections and smoothed their path to victory last year. Over a year into the Administration he may now wish for a return on his ‘investment’. Amongst other of his dealings mystery surrounds how the financial statements for the Warner owned Emerald Plaza Hotel at St Augustine’s invariably remain so very healthy even though the hotel rarely ever sees more than a handful of guests. Some have suggested that Warner has perfected the art of alchemy, managing to turn bass metal or some other substance into gold (or TT dollars). Ever the workaholic, the wealth of evidence he is believed to have amassed on colleagues will no doubt prove a handy ‘insurance policy’ in these turbulent times. 
If the Government is intent on rooting out “lawlessness” and has its heart set on some moral crusade it must surely begin with those it selects to serve in positions of high office. For a country that has the dubious privilege of being a key route for the trans-shipment of narcotics it does its’ reputation no good at all having Anil Roberts as Minister of Sport, an individual whose increasing reliance on cocaine has evidently clouded his judgement to such an extent that he believes that it is acceptable to use tax payer funded government transport to ferry his lover around. No doubt Roberts feels quite safe for now at least as he has the patronage of a bibulous Prime Minister whose alleged recreational activities include hosting more and more audacious ‘bunga bunga’ parties using Government buildings and hiring caterers and escorts. Whilst strenuous efforts are being made to keep the drinking and immorality out of the public eye, such misconduct raises serious questions about judgement and the fact that much of what is going is being paid for from the public purse.  High ranking public servants shudder at what is currently taking place and it is clear that such licentious behaviour brings the entire Administration and the country into disrepute. Furthermore, such activity makes individuals far more susceptible to blackmail and so the target for the ‘big fish’ eager to ensure that they remain untouchable. For all the fact the Government seeks to portray itself as a rainbow coalition, there is already bubbling discontent over the Indo-isation of many of the ministries that has unpleasant shades of that which has caused so much tension in Guyana over the years.  Whilst the Augean Stables remain uncleansed the earnest endeavours of statesmen such as Winston Dookeran, Minister of Finance and former Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT) will go largely unnoticed. It would appear to be a damning indictment of the current political elite, that there are so few individuals who have managed to resist the temptation to put their hands in the till.
Politicians are politicians and there will always be those who sadly fall well short of the ideal, just as Opposition parties will seek to make capital out of any government hitting a rough patch. For those having to endure the State of Emergency and the curfew there are very legitimate concerns. Whilst big businesses have the connections, reserves and extensive portfolios to weather a drop of income over several weeks or possibly months to the small outlets, clubs, bars, restaurants, taxi drivers, street vendors and those who normally work or have to travel during the curfew hours this is a time of considerable hardship. Should the current situation drag on there is a very real chance that some law abiding citizens will be driven to criminality as a direct consequence of the action taken by the State. To date there has been no mention of compensation, although Government Officials are said to be giving thought to this matter. Economic belt tightening has seen a raft of social programmes slashed including those connected with Special Education provision and counselling of adults infected with HIV. HE Garvin Nicholas, sitting comfortably in his beautifully appointed official residence in Hampstead, London may wish to believe that social funding has not been cut, but a wealth of information would appear to tell a somewhat different story. The Police, the Public Service Association (PSA) and other government employees have threatened strike action for a while and for the time being at least the State of Emergency staves off that particular problem.
The current government has been eager to tackle the issue of crime and has used its substantial parliamentary majority to successfully steer an Anti-Gang Bill (2010) onto the statute books. It is worth noting that a range of human rights concerns raised by Amnesty International in a report on Trinidad and Tobago (31st July 2011) have largely been dismissed by the current Administration. The issue of the excessive use of force by the Police gives further cause for concern about the State of Emergency as the SOE removes important protection measures under the Law. Rounding up known criminal elements or the ‘usual suspects’ might play well to the gallery, but could well result in further injustices. As for the Curfew, well statistics already show that a very high percentage of the murders in the islands take place during the day. For all the current measures on 26th August there were three killings in an area of Trinidad known as Bangladesh. Since the introduction of the SOE and the subsequent curfew, thus far the Police have made nearly 500 arrests and have confiscated weapons and several hundred rounds of ammunition.
In the current febrile atmosphere many people are rightly anxious about their physical safety and economic security. Rumours and speculation is rife. The Government is well aware that it has a duty to protect the people. Some people whilst happy to see a no-nonsense approach to criminality fear that a Government under pressure over its handling of the State of Emergency will seek to “play the terrorism card” in order to excuse its actions and bolster its position. One thing is for certain and that is that the fall-out from the events of the last week will be substantial. Little wonder then that the good people of Trinidad and Tobago have so little reason to party on the anniversary of Independence Day this year. 


More by :  Mark T. Jones

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Views: 3355      Comments: 13

Comment So Jack Warner has finally 'resigned'. I doubt that he will be prosecuted as he probably knows too much. These are sorry days for those who are meant to serve the people. Those in power seem more concerned with protecting themselves than taking the country forward. Trinidad and Tobago could be such a marvellous country, but is being sold short at nearly every turn. Venal politicians, a toothless judiciary and a supine media that has yet to carry out any serious investigation into criminality and corruption in high places.

Jalvinder Kaur
22-Apr-2013 14:17 PM

Comment When I first read this article I felt really shocked and more than a little angry with the author, but the more I have thought about it, the more I am convinced that it is precisely what we need. Ever since the State of Emergency began I have been waiting for an explanation of what is going on and the Government has been evasive and hidden behind the crime issue. I had hoped that the radio stations at least might have had phone-ins and talk shows, but now I discover that the Government has in effect bought all the relevant slots, the papers too seem incapable of probing and asking legitimate questions. Now we have a State of Emergency that looks like going on at least until December.

I am proud of my country, but I am not blind. Many of us have been bought off for too long, we have accepted what is going on. Do those that sit in the Red House really expect us to believe it is all a case of outside elements? Ministers have fallen short, there are serious issue over procurement contracts and yet people seem only to believe all that the Prime Minister sees fit to tell us. Thinking for ourselves does not make us traitors and satirical cartoons are not the weapons of terrorists. Whilst some of what Mark Jones has written may be unpalatable to many of us, I have a feeling he has held a mirror to our Government and we are seeing a true reflection of it and something of ourselves. One thing we must not do is just dismiss all this as rumour and speculation, because if we do we will never move forward. There are rotten apples in the Government and they need to be rooted out. I hope that all of us rather than shrugging out shoulders or laughing it off will start to hold our elected officials to account. Trinidad and Tobago deserves better.

18-Sep-2011 07:52 AM

Comment I live in trinidad and Canada. I was in trinidad when the state of emergency started. The fear that people felt before the soe was high, After it was called there has been some relief and HOPE that something if finally being done to clean up our country.
I am very disappointed in this article especially from a foreign writer critizing our Government. Does he have proof for all that he is saying. We have been hearing those rumours, it is nothing new. As a matter of fact in every country you hear rumours about government officials. We are a small country yes, but give us a chance and stop knocking our government, work on your government. We need positive critisism at this time not negativity from an outsider.
Continue to do your work and help your country out of the mess it is in.

15-Sep-2011 10:42 AM

Comment Here in TT we have been sleep walking towards this crisis for sometime. The more I think about it the more I feel we all must share some of the blame. For years we have accepted mediocre and self seeking leaders and put up with a media largely owned by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. I have read this article several times now and what strikes me is the fact that our own media seems incable or unable to bring us the news that matters. Where are the investigative journalists or have they or their editors been threatened or bought off too? I take it this writer is a foreigner, yet they seem to have shed more light on our own situation that those whose claim to report what is going on. An extremely sad state of affairs.

11-Sep-2011 01:28 AM

Comment If everything said in this article is true, then I have to wonder if this SOE was set up as a distraction so that we will not focus on the fact that our treasury is being emptied and that this present Government knowingly intends to hand over an empty treasury to the next successful Government. This SOE was meant to make me feel safe and now all I feel is FEAR, I am afraid of the criminals, now, the Police, the military, the Government. The criminals are now the ones who have legal authority to hold guns, and enter my home with the law of the land on their side. We have to face the truth, WE AS CITIZENS NO LONGER HAVE ANY PROTECTION FROM CRIMINALS (BIG FISH) NOR THE POLICE and THE ARMY (we are at their mercy). Every day more and more reports of abuse at the hands of Policemen and the army are taking place and I ask myself this question don't they have families too? The people of Trinidad and Tobago are known for their tolerance but how far are they willing to be pushed. The 'small businessman' is suffering. What are THEY going to tell these people when they cannot feed their families?..if indeed..this SOE was put in place to prevent some major upheaval (due to guns being found in containers and one of those containers which was guarded by the military is now missing) then I have to say that the Government need not worry anymore about the criminals behind bars they are few....however...what will the present Government do about an entire nation of people that they may have offended..The Police officers and the army are but a small percent of the population.

09-Sep-2011 11:56 AM

Comment where was this writer 5 years ago when the problem was being developed? I live in TT and the USA and i do have a clear sense of what is going on. the writer is biased and uninformed. the SOE gives us a great sense of relief. the gov't officials do need to be of high integrity. talking of integrity, the former PM says that Calder Hart is qualified to be on the Integrity Commission, Now you see the problem. SO the current government, despite being imperfect is attempting to doa lot. Like Obama, Kamla has inherited a problem created by the former government.

09-Sep-2011 10:21 AM

Comment As a resident of T&T and knowing the culture of this country I have to confess that the situation is hopeless but not serious

09-Sep-2011 09:11 AM

Comment I too live in Trinidad and I am a law abiding citizen. The SoE does not ease my frustration with the current crime and corruption plaguing my country. I could fall prey to any corrupted police/army officer because right now I have no rights and this is not a good feeling. The author is quite correct in saying that the "Crime Lords" are untouchable as most of them control a lot of the big organizations "Companies" in Trinidad and financed the current party in power.

08-Sep-2011 17:45 PM

Comment the opposition is saying that the soe is only going after one ethnic group..but if you check the people that are being murdered you will see 9o% is of the same ethnic group so who is killing who...the PNM should be glad for the reduction in murders and crime since they they will have more people alive in their strong hold areas to vote for them when next election so the PP really helping the PNM.

08-Sep-2011 13:04 PM

Comment This article has told it all. The curfew cannot last forever. I shudder to think what may happen after the curfew ends. The Prime Minister needs have a real Attorney General who would give her good advice.

07-Sep-2011 22:01 PM

Comment I think it is very clear at this point the government has proven to be ineffective once again. A state of emergency on such a small island is really not necessary. Is the police and army incapable of policing? The problem is the government needs to go after the people at the highest levels of crime (please do not tell me you dont know who it is) and have them arrested and they are too afraid to do that. How does a gun get on the island. I really don't think the young punks they are arresting are bring in guns, do you?
Time to call new elections because at this rate, we do not need riots and uprisings to have a new government.

05-Sep-2011 14:27 PM

Comment Wow, i live in trinidad, and this article raises my pours as we heard the rumours but having press censored to an extent and the hon Attorney General now monitoring social websites, i'm amazed at the information you got, and a bit troubled, there's an anger on the ground, the masses feel that a certain racial background is being targeted instead of the 'big fish' that is responsible for the million dollar drug bust and the ammunition bought in, coming on the unions waging, and police almost striking, rumours of the opposing gangs coming together behind bars and the omnimous silence of certain usually vocal persons in government past and prior, state of emergency is comforting for some, bad for entertainment biz, but what they're not telling us is scarier, the angst of the masses is scary, we've had uprisings in 1970 (Black Power) 1990 (Attempted coup) and now 20 odd years later, are we ripe for another? I surely pray not..

30-Aug-2011 22:03 PM

Comment very well said, i am truely hurt at whats going on in this country

Eustace Dyer
29-Aug-2011 20:05 PM

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