September 04, 2005
By Raffique Shah
THE contrasts could not be starker, the contradictions more revealing, than when Hurricane Katrina struck a mighty blow at the crucial southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia in the USA. It was as if the blitzes on Baghdad and Kabul had returned with intense fury to lash back at hapless, innocent Americans, much the way millions equally-innocent Iraqis and Afghans suffered at the unseen hands of American pilots who unleashed death from way up in the clouds. The irony of it is that Katrina, mimicking the acclaimed "bunker busters", also came from "on high", wreaking death and destruction on millions of people... only this time the victims were Americans, not "ragheads" or "chinks".
And where was their leader? George W was not only on vacation, but he had sold his own people so short, treated them so callously that in any other country in the world he would have been strung up from the lowest lamp-post. After speaking to them via television, the preferred medium of tele-assassins like Pat Robertson, he did what some other misleaders we know here would have done. He retreated to his bed to take in the "show" via CNN, and then hugged what's-her-name, more than likely whispering to her: Wake me up when it's over, babe!
Look at America today in all its nakedness. Besides the nature-induced karma... er, sorry, destruction... what do we see? Incompetent or uncaring government agencies that were slow to respond to the dire needs of refugees from Katrina's wrath. Oh yes, America now has its own refugees. We saw thousands of people (I am straining at the bit to say "Black people", but I won't) packed like sardines in an astrodome that proved to be less formidable than its builders expected it to be. Bodies lying wrapped in sheets, people defecating everywhere, potable water a luxury, and a good shower something they probably dream of.
Look at them, people. This is the superpower that insists on imposing its will, its values, on others in the world, but whose own values are questionable. The looting was worse than anything we saw in downtown Port of Spain following the attempted coup of 1990. Widespread rapes are reported, as were incidents of frustrated people firing guns at helicopters! As George W basks in luxury, millions struggle for survival in misery. He eventually called out the National Guard with the order: shoot to kill!
This is America, facing a hurricane, a virtual one-and-done lash, much unlike the many months its troops rained death and destruction on the innocents in Vietnam. This is American leadership, luxuriating even as so many die of hunger, for want of medication, or just decide to "give up the ghost" to escape what they once thought was heaven-on-earth. And you know what? One reason for the slow response of the National Guard is that 40 per cent of their manpower in Mississippi and 35 per cent in Louisiana are-guess where?-in Iraq! So are their amphibious vehicles, their Humvees, their jeeps. Need I say more?
Now contrast that with Cuba, which is hit almost every year, at times twice, thrice, by equally devastating hurricanes. A few months ago, a hurricane hit the island from south-east to north-west. This is a deprived country with ramshackle buildings. But what did their leader do? Fidel Castro was on the ground, with all his ministers and militia, preparing his people for the onslaught. He leads from the front... always did. His people were secured in shelters (no astrodome!) and remained battened down until Ivan's fury moved elsewhere. Did we hear of massive deaths? Did we see looters taking over whatever there was to steal? Did we hear people crying out for food, babies dying of hunger in the wake of devastation?
No. It's at defining moments like these that true leaders come to the fore. They do not hide in their bunkers or chalets. They are among the masses, lending physical assistance (which Fidel did until very recently), ensuring their people's welfare, or overseeing the rebuilding of their country. It's why some UN agency recently reported that Cuba has the best disaster planning measures of any country in the world.
I look back at when Ivan struck Grenada, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. With immediate and generous assistance from their neighbours, these "poor-rass" countries rose to the challenge, with every-man-jack pulling their weight. From ordinary T&TEC employees to our soldiers and even CEPEP gangs, we were there alongside the Grenadians, helping them rebuild and recover. Jamaica and the Cayman Islands were models of recovery. The leaders, all of them, were on the ground, with their people. And I don't remember any serious looting. Even the prisoners who escaped jail in Grenada soon returned (or were returned) to prison.
Tell me, pray, who are the savages, and who are civilised? So much for the hot air emanating from the White House.