Already under a state of siege
By Raffique Shah
February 11, 2007
Prime Minister Patrick Manning must learn to choose his words carefully. He is, after all, the CEO of Trinidad and Tobago, which signals that every word he utters is closely monitored by my colleagues in the media and by the public. He must recall how private statements by US President George Bush resulted in public guffaws when it turned out that mikes close to the "Chief" were switched on, and his ill-informed quips proved to be material-made-for-comics. But one does not expect better from Dubaya who comes across as imbecilic as a failed Junior Secondary school non-graduate: the man expressed shock at the size of Russia! What if he had traversed the expanse of the fallen Soviet Union?
For all his perceived weaknesses, Manning is seen as superior to his US counterpart, much the way Basdeo Panday and many of our other political and civic leaders are. I often wonder what prompted the majority of Americans to vote in a dunce like Bush as president-in two elections. But let me not waste valuable column space on a man who has already been deemed "the worst president ever" in the US. Manning is our PM, and whether we like him or not is not at issue here. What's at stake is how his government performs, and more than that, how credible he comes across.
At the first post-Cabinet media briefing after his return from Africa, Manning suggested that "drug lords from the south-west peninsula" were behind protests against the proposed Alcoa smelter at Cap-de-Ville. How could he paint ordinary people from the district and environmental activists as being tools of a drug cartel? The incidents he cited, which targeted one anti-smelter-turned-pro-smelter activist, are cause for alarm, especially the rape of the man's wife and threats to his life.
But where's the proof that the protestors were behind such heinous acts? None! I dare him to bring evidence to show that Fitzroy Beache, Peter Vine and others are remotely connected with illicit activities, far less consorting with drug lords.
If the PM and the police have such information or evidence, why have the perpetrators not been arrested and charged? In fact, instead of the PM making the seemingly-spurious statement as fact, would it not have been more sensible to make the allegations after the perpetrators were charged? A PM must not be seen to tarnish people's characters without a shred of evidence. We have seen and heard too much of that kind of crap from Wade Mark. If the PM has evidence that a drug cartel wants to control a huge slice of Trinidad, then we citizens need to know who these subversives are, and more than that, see them slammed behind bars, never to see sunlight again.
This brings me to the other unsubstantiated statement the PM made at the same media briefing. He said that those who are calling for a state of emergency to stem the crime tide have not said what is to be done after that. I have repeatedly written about what must be in place before any emergency is declared, what needs to be done during it, and the follow-up action that will hopefully rescue the citizenry from the current state of siege. Yes, Mr Prime Minister: in case you have not noticed it, law-abiding people have been put under siege by the criminal elements and all your National Security Minister can tell us week after week is that he has "a new plan".
Already your policemen are being attacked, quite openly, by lawless elements. Twice in the past six months Chaguanas policemen have been subjected to mob rule-and not one person was arrested. Huge swaths of the country are ghost areas after dark - the result of self-imposed curfews. Other districts are subjected to gunfire a la Gaza.
And while thousands like me throw caution to the wind and refuse to be imprisoned by gangs and bandits, the majority of citizens cower behind barricaded doors, deeply fearful of both police and thief. Last Thursday morning, bandits plundered a store in Couva, metres away from the district's police station, and escaped unscathed. People are being robbed in broad daylight. Policemen are suspects in "hits" in which silenced guns are used. What next, Mr Manning?
And what more must we be subjected to, to indicate to you that we are already under siege? Why is the Government acting ostrich-like, burying its head in manure and telling us all is-or will soon be-well in the rotting state of Trinidad and Tobago? This society is on the verge of collapse, Mr Manning. Either that, or the very drug lords you refer to, along with other criminal elements, would grow bold enough to move violently against your Government. At the rate they are rampaging freely through the country, what I am suggesting here is not as far-fetched as you may want to think.