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A Culture of Life

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 21, 2008

There is a frightening scene at the end of Emmanuel Appadocca, the first novel written by a Trinidadian in 1854 in which Emmanuel Appadocca, the major protagonist and son James Willmington, an English sugar planter, breaks into his father's home in St Ann's, seizes him and condemns him to death for abandoning him while he was a child. In this novel, author Maxwell Philip, examines the implications of the lex talionis–or the law of just revenge–and seeks to understand how it should be applied in the particular circumstance.

In this philosophical novel that draws on Enlightenment ideas of the eighteenth century, Philip explores the question: what does a devoted son do when he is betrayed by his father. He says, "Nature revolts only against injustice. All things are entitled to a certain measure of justice; and the natural contract between parent and child is based on the condition that, as the former has loved the latter, and protected its infancy, the latter will yield obedience, honor and respect, and gratitude to him. Where the condition be not fulfilled, the contract, by necessity, ceases, the child becomes absolved from his obligation; and if he resents more than ordinary wrongs that may have been done to him–nay, nature calls upon him to undertake the office of avenger, and to vindicate her law."

These words ring with enormous relevance as one reads of the terrible things that are happening in Laventille and the inability of government to respond adequately to this crisis. It is as if decades of neglect are coming home to haunt the PNM and, like a neglectful parent, it can neither understand the child's torment or why he feels the need for vengeance. Anglican Bishop Calvin Best suggested that "a culture of death is being created in this country" in which life is absurd and death itself has its own grotesque meaning.

Fifty years ago the children of Laventille placed their faith in the PNM. In its greatest hour of distress, when NAR swamped the country, the people of Laventille kept the faith and supported the PNM. Today, the PNM has abandoned Laventille and betrayed the trust these children placed in them. Were he alive today, Jesus would say the PNM abandoned the people of Laventille in the "heat and burthen of the day."

While the government has set up the East Port of Spain Development Company to develop the area no one knows what their plans are. Moreover, the people of the area are not involved in their own development. There are seen as mere objects of this grandiose project rather than subjects who are involved in constructing their lives.

While lots of money have been spent (perhaps wasted is a better word) in the area no one has outlined what the issues are and how best to solve them. No transformational work is taking place and no one knows of any specific plans to stem this national blight.

Laventille is in crisis and its population is without hope. The police are afraid to enter the area, unable to restore law and order, and Laventillians have taken the law into their hands. Government's lack of transparency suggests that there are no tangible plans to deal with the inadequate housing, lack of education, unemployment, family discord and broken lives that overrun this area.

Previously, PNM fought under the slogan: "People matter." Every party member understood that development involves the satisfaction of people's needs and a determination to prepare them to face the multiple tasks that confront them. That is the spirit of PNM's 20/20 vision; a dream to achieve developed nation status by the year 2020.

PNM cannot respond to this problem adequately unless it puts out a development plan for this area; solicit the views of the national community; engage the energies of the people of the area; and then urge the national community to come together to solve the problem. It is too great a task for a company or a party to achieve. It is a task the nation must solve.

In Emmanuel Appadocca, Philip says that duty "is poised between the reward of virtue and retribution. Man has the license to choose, between either meriting the former, or bringing down the latter upon himself. The great error of your social physics (sociology) is, that you remit your penalty to a period of time, which it were unimagined, would fail to afford the principal and best effect of retribution–the deterring from crimes."

PNM should not let the desire of Laventille's people for just vengeance fall upon them. Like Meursault, the major protagonist of Camus' The Stranger, it should not let any young man of Laventille feel that the blind rage to kill washes him clean, rid him of hope and, for the first time, "in that night alive with signs and stars, he opens himself to the gentle indifference of the world."

Duty and the law of natural justice demand that PNM come up with a comprehensive plan to deal with the problems of Laventille. Laventillians must be encouraged to recommit to a culture of life.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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