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State Capture: Syrian/Lebanese Style

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 02, 2017

Last Sunday Anthony Bourdain presented a well-researched, balanced, and superbly crafted depiction of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) in his program "Parts Unknown." All the interviewees portrayed T&T as a sophisticated, talented, diverse and intelligent community. Then, without much prompting, Mario Sabga Aboud, reminded Trinbagonians about a truth they know but rarely discuss publicly: The Syrian/Lebanese, a community of approximately 5,000 people, is the most powerful ethnic group in the country.

Sabga-Aboud apologized to the nation on Tuesday for his "careless" words. They may have been careless but no one denies their truth content. This seasoned businessman says the excitement of the moment caused him to drop his guard and reveal his truth. Perhaps, the international setting was the serum he needed to expose his contempt for those of us who labor under the illusion that every creed and race enjoys an equal place in this land of La Trinity.

Once Mario's truth gushed out, his entire family went into defense mode. Gary Aboud said his cousin's sentiments "do not represent my value system or my understanding of the part I play in the development of the nation."

Gregory Aboud, his brother, offered empty sentiments in aid of the cause: "We share space in a country with many others. [T]rue power is the recognition of the rights and needs of everyone else—being proud of our [the Abouds'] accomplishments need not be accompanied by boast of power, especially in an environment where so much suspicion and innuendo exists."

Gregory believes big Brother Mario erred only in boasting about the group's power, not in its existence.

When ordinary members of the society objected to Mario's bombast, Gary concluded: "Some people naturally hate us."

Playing on the outrage of the populace, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared: [Although] we pride ourselves on being a place for every race and every face [sic]" there is a perception that "one percent of the population is 'controlling the economy' while the 'majority of us have to be fighting down one another."

Kamla is also responsible for the economic ascendency of the Syrian/Lebanese. Under the PNM and the UNC, the Syrian/Lebanese captured the state at the expense of those of us who have participated in the gymnastics of a general election every five years. Even the Prime Minister's observation, "there is no law against people seeing themselves and others in a certain way," is an unfortunate reading of this frightening situation.

Mario never mentioned how the T&T government assisted in his capturing such a large part of the state economy. He said nothing of the several contracts his companies received from the T&T government, or how the $TT 200m dollars they receive each year for transporting prisoners from Piarco to Port of Spain assist in their cash flow. Instead, he looks with scorn upon people upon whom his various businesses build their bank balance each year.

The same day CNN revealed Mario's claims, the South African government was examining how the Gupta family, an Indian conglomerate, managed to capture the South African economy, almost acting as a state within a state. In fact, the family's tentacles were buried so deeply into the state economy that by "April last, all of South African major banks had terminated the accounts of the family and close associates, citing suspicions about money laundering" (South Africa Sunday Times, June 25).

According to Laurie Dippenaar, one of Rand Merchant Bank's founders, "It's as if the Guptas are running a parallel state." Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's Deputy President, remarked: "Our country is unravelling. We cannot stand by and watch as the country sinks….We cannot allow anyone, party leaders or foreigners, to come here and loot this country. We worked hard for this freedom currently under siege."

In the South African case the Deputy President criticized his leader, Jacob Zuma, for what he considered his illegal participation in giving away the country's resources to an Indian family while the poverty of the black masses in South Africa deepens.

Listening to Mario, I wondered if any of the 23 sitting PNM MPs is willing to call for an investigation of the capture of the present T&T economy by a tiny ethnic minority (less than one percent of the population) that has allowed it to become the richest entity in the land.

I also wonder how many viewers were listing to Mukahil Mohammed, an implicit oppositional voices to this Syrian/Lebanese state takeover. He talked about the faith his grandmother has in the Independence ideal and reflected: "How come I seeing some people (the one percent) are benefitting [from the system] and not I?"

Peter George, a gentleman and a friend, spoke of the barrier the middle class provides between the one percent and the poorer masses. Almost as though he was responding to George's observation, Muhammad cautioned: "How long can people put up with something [financial oppression] until they say it's too much?"

Muhammed was not alone. Even Bourdain seems to have felt there was superfluity in the discussion when he asked about the role of carnival as a social tranquilizer wondered about the question social justice as it pertains Afro-Trinbagonians.

Criticize Mario but let us let us not miss the forest for the trees.

Prof. Cudjoe's email is Prof. Cudjoe can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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