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Contradictions and Counterfactuals - Pt 2

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 13, 2018

"…a state could never have been born without surplus." —Yanis Varoufakis

PART 1 — PART 2

In the nineteenth century Trinidad saw the first massive giveaway of lands and bonuses to the Indians in lieu of their passages to India. Those options were never available to Africans. This was the first step in the systematic dispossession of Africans in the land to which they had been brought. Few of us seem to remember it.

Fast-forward to one hundred and thirty years (around the year 2003) when a PNM government engineered another massive giveaway of lands, which is taking place in front of our eyes under the faulty premise that Indians had the first preference because they farmed the lands. This was/is strange logic since these lands belong to all nationals.

Proletarianized Africans of the twentieth century who worked on the Port of Spain docks did not receive similar favors when they were retrenched in 1973, 1983, and 1993 respectively under a PNM government. They were left to fare for themselves. These are the same people who Persad says Dr. Williams spent his life trying to make into a local middle and upper classes. Today they enjoy neither middle nor upper class status.

This leads me to ask Ralph and Kamal how we can overcome "this debilitating ethnic trap" when neither is willing to acknowledge the generosity of successive PNM governments they have grown to hate so much. No matter what Clarence Rambharat, Minister of Agriculture, says, Indians will never give up these lands nor can he reverse the historic advantages they received under the English colonizers and well-meaning but misguided PNM governments.

In the 1960s, Eric Williams and the PNM fought mercilessly to have the Chaguaramas land returned to the country for the benefit of all of its citizens. In his first act of statesmanship he distributed 22,000 acres of those lands to African and Indian farmers in places such as Waller Field, Cumoto and Carson Field. Ferdie Fereira noted: "All citizens across the racial, ethnic or religious divide south of the Caroni river…[were] beneficiaries of successive PNM governments' national development programmes since 1956" (Personal Encounters).

Patrick Manning gave out another 14,492 acres of land to Caroni workers (read mainly Indian workers) as if to prove he was not a racist. As we speak, a PNM government is in the process of giving away the Chaguaramas lands to the Syrians for peanut rents, under a yet-to-be announced rationale.

The dispossession of Africans continues although they were here before all the newcomers who arrived after them. Yet, Persad has the gall to say Cudjoe, Keith Subero and Theodore Lewis "are doing more damage to their community by making its members more dependent on the State for jobs, houses, scholarships, food grants, etc. Subero and others should instead teach blacks about the value of sacrifice, education, self-reliance, industry, hard work and thrift."

The Indians were able to come to T&T because of the surpluses that African labor created in the first place. In other words, it was the labor of blacks that provided the necessary resources to bring Indians to this land. In fact, the planters used the houses that blacks vacated after emancipation to accommodate the Indians.

The Port of Spain Gazette reported that the blacks erected their own houses "at their own cost on their land, and although they continued to work on the property, gave up their cottages to their employers as an object of no value" (September 24, 1844). It noted further: "Up to the present hour much credit is due to the native population for the way in which they behaved as regards the immigrants introduced from various sources."

Two hundred and twenty-five Indians arrived in Trinidad in 1845. Between 1846 and 1847 the Trinidad government spent half of its revenues to import 4,454 Indians. This would be equal to T&T spending $26 billion (TT) of its current budget to recruit foreign workers—say Venezuelans—to work in T&T. Therefore, it is insulting and ahistorical to argue that blacks must now be taught the values of sacrifice, self-reliance and hard work when those virtues made it possible for the Indians to come to this land.

In May 1848 the island's coffers were bare. Lord Harris, the governor of the island, feared the discontent that gripped the laborers would be spread amongst government workers. Blacks accorded the same humanitarian generosity to Indians that they had accorded previous immigrants. It helped to ease the transition of Indians to their new home.

Mr. Persad argues that in "a modern, civilized world" we [meaning Cudjoe, Subero and Lewis] should "request that Rowley distribute resources equitably to all racial groups." Anyone dropping into this society from Mars would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that Afro-Trinbagonians possess a greater share of the national wealth than any other group in the island.

One can arrive at Persad's conclusion only if one disregards the visible evidence and ignores the historic record. I may be wrong, but the only ideologues in these discussions are those who repeat their false claims ad infinitum in the hope that they place a further guilt trip on the state to gain additional advantages for their group. Beware!!! They are masters at this game.

Professor Cudjoe's email is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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