October 13, 2002
By Raffique Shah
THE most telling statement made by the people of Trinidad and Tobago in last Monday's general elections was not their rejection of a corruption-tainted political party, and by extension, their message to all politicians that corruption will never again be allowed to damage the moral fabric of this country. Nor was it that Patrick Manning and the PNM are best suited at this time to govern the nation, although that was implicit in the way they voted. What we proved to a troubled world in which resorting to violence is so often a first option is that we can "handle our stories" in the worst and most explosive of times without bludgeoning each other to death.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the two main newspapers in Jamaica were bowled over by our mature approach to politics. There, they are killing and maiming each other in the run-up to general elections. It is a bloody ritual without which Jamaicans cannot vote. It's as though they must see red in the form of blood before they stain their fingers red on polling day. We must never forget that in the 1980 elections there, some 900 people were murdered as the CIA fuelled the JLP-PNP war, pitting poor black people against equally poor black people in a kind of savagery that only Haitians excel at in the Caribbean.
Indeed, I imagine in neighbouring Guyana where they have never stopped the hate that Forbes Burnham engendered sometime back in the early 1960s, Indians and Africans must have taken time out from fighting each other to look in our direction with awe. Interestingly, it was the CIA (again!) that spawned the race war in Guyana, like the intra-racial strife in Jamaica (take a bow, you be-suited boys of Langley who sow the winds of strife wherever it's politically expedient, and who, when you reap the whirlwind scream 'Osama!' and 'Saddam!').
Even as I write, Guyana teeters on the brink of anarchy-something we need to monitor closely, since if it gets worse there we'll be the first stop for refugees fleeing the bloodbath. If kidnapping for ransom is the local criminals' easy route to big money, in Guyana their counterparts are having a field day (and many a good night) trying out their new "toys" (deadly machine guns). Violent robberies are rampant, and worse, neither the police nor the military seems capable of curbing the downward spiral into hell.
So we have a whole lot to be thankful for. Merciful Monday it was, as I dubbed it in last week's column, as we were spared the violence so many thought was bound to happen whatever the results of the elections. I disagreed with them then, and my vindication came not because I am some seer, but because I know my people through years of being actively involved in organising them in one form or other. Most members of my cane farmers' organisation (TICFA), for example, are UNC supporters. But where bread-and-butter issues are concerned, they know where their loyalties lie.
I should like to draw on two other events in our recent history that prove the point I have always made regarding our people's aversion to violence as a means of settling political differences. In 1970, tens of thousands of mainly young, black people marched up and down the country protesting against the then PNM government. In three months of daily protests, except for a few instances of arson and the police murdering one protestor, the Black Power revolution was bloodless.
As an extension of the above, there was a mutiny in the army in which I was one of the leaders. The arsenal of weapons we had in our hands was formidable. The Coast Guard, too, had its two fast patrol boats and weaponry, and between us two, had we clashed in real battle, scores or hundreds of combatants would have died. The first Coast Guard vessel that steamed into Teteron Bay was equipped with guns capable of doing considerable damage to buildings and killing many rebel soldiers. In the "clash on Crow's Nest", we, the mutineers, could have flattened Stauble's Bay and sunk the two FPBs, again with considerable loss of life.
But neither "side" had the fury to "do the other in". In other words, a whole revolution took place here involving two arms of the protective services that were best equipped to annihilate each other, and in the end only one life was lost. Does that not say something about our collective aversion to spilling our own blood? That while, as I am sure was the case then, and remains valid today, we would have defended this country with our lives had we been attacked by some foreign power, we were not conditioned to destroying each other. And we are speaking here of close to 1,000 men who were all trained to kill!
Again, we saw a similar occurrence in 1990. The basis for the attempted coup was quite different to the conditions that led to the mutiny at Teteron. But the fact is that using the element of surprise, Abu Bakr and his Muslimeen rebels did manage to destroy police headquarters, occupy the Red House and TTT, catching the forces of law and order flat-footed. In that melee, with so many important hostages in their hands, and surrounded as they were by policemen who didn't give a damn about then Prime Minister Ray Robinson's life, the Muslimeen could have engaged in a bloody orgy-to-the-death.
Like their counterparts elsewhere in the fundamentalist Islamic world, they could have shouted "Allah-hu-Akbar!" and gone straight to heaven with their own blood spilling on top of piles of bodies. But again, they didn't. And although I have never supported the Muslimeen, I think we should be mindful of the fact that whatever their misdeeds, wanton killing even of "combatants" was not an option for them. That's because while they may be fundamentalists, but they are Trinis first!
Comparing these two deviations from the norm with electoral politics is like chalk and cheese. Which is all the more reason why we should treasure our abhorrence for violence even as we trumpet our penchant for "gun talk". Threats and counter-threats from platforms fizzed out like you-know-what. On Tuesday morning last there were some "long" faces just as there were jubilant ones. But no one rubbed salt into the mortal wounds of the UNC. Not a gunshot was heard. Not even a funeral note, as political corpses were deposited for burial. That's Trinidad (and Tobago) for you. Oh, am I proud to be Trini!
Copyright © Raffique Shah