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Raffique Shah


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Wage war to win peace

By Raffique Shah
July 17, 2011

“‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction; if it could be told, How much would novels gain by the exchange! How differently the world would men behold!” (Lord Byron, Don Juan, 1823)

In Frederick Forsyth’s 2010 novel, Cobra, the central character, Paul Devereaux, a former CIA agent, is tasked by his President (mucho resemblance to Barack Obama) to put an end to the cocaine menace that is strangling America. Devereaux demands, and is given, $2 billion plus a carte blanche instrument of authority to launch his war on the Colombian Cartel and its global tentacles. He hires as his operations officer a former foe, Calvin Dexter, and within one year they put together a powerful machine of personnel and equipment that attacks Don Diego and his overlords with extreme prejudice, as such exercises are described.

Without denying readers of Forsyth’s thrillers the twists and turns of the plot, the potentially fatal blow to the Cartel comes to a climax in the cocaine-guzzling cities across America and Europe. Gangs that control the distribution trade—all 300 tonnes a year of it—turn the streets of these cities into rivers of blood as they implode. Almost all of the perpetrators and victims are gang members. But there is collateral damage, innocent victims caught in the deadly crossfire. Outrage erupts. The media explode. Politicians scream for the carnage to stop.

Predictably, a new Presidential Order cancels the carte blanche: Operation Cobra is cancelled. “But we were so close,” Dexter says to Devereaux, when he gets the order to fold up the massive machinery that was on the brink of success. “Not close enough,” Devereaux tells him. “Our great nation can kill up to a million people abroad, but not one per cent of that figure of its own gangsters without sustaining a fainting fit.”

Therein lies the great contradiction not just in America, but in countries like ours. We complain about “blood flowing on the streets”. Four men are murdered in downtown Port of Spain in a weekend. Two more are hogtied and executed in the Beetham. The once quiet district of Diego Martin and its environs are turned into virtual battlefields—with the attendant collateral damage. Innocent people felled by stray bullets. The carnage continues, never mind the modest declining numbers of murders when compared with the deadliest years.

How do we respond? The Government and the police come up with a new crime-fighting plan, the umpteenth one in the past two decades. With the greatest respect to my one-time colleague Brigadier John Sandy, more police presence on the streets will not help. Sure, while the cops are on the beat citizens will enjoy a measure of personal safety. But for how long can the police sustain this, even if they are joined by soldiers?

Subtracting Sergeant Ramesar’s threat of a five-day sick parade from the equation, we simply do not have the manpower to deal with what we are up against. If you lock down Port of Spain, Morvant will explode. Or Arouca. Or Tunapuna. Or San Fernando.

Let’s be realistic about where we are in this crime-ridden society. The forces of law and order cannot conceivably cover all the killing fields at the same time. Indeed, even if they rotate their crime clampdowns, they face mission impossible. Criminal gangs have sprung up in just about every community. Boldface gunmen parade openly with their “hardware”. From what I’ve heard, in some crimenests, these guys conduct “range practice” in broad daylight.

What we are dealing with is a hydra-headed monster. And the only way to kill it is to sever its many heads—simultaneously, if that is possible (I think not), or on a well-planned, phased basis. I know many persons who are reading this must be muttering: the mutineer is thirsting for blood again! Let it be known that my revulsion for bloodletting is what saved this country from a huge bloodbath in 1970.

There comes a time, though, when one must face reality. Today is not yesterday. It certainly is not the relatively peaceful 1970, a year in which tens of thousands of people protested on the streets, most of the army mutinied, but very few people met violent deaths. Today, we must deal with multiple “armies”, small in unit-numbers, but heartless when it comes to wanton violence that they inflict on society.

The empire must strike back—and not with kid gloves. Successive governments have resisted calls for the imposition of emergency powers that would enable law enforcement agencies to at least arrest and detain those who are known gangsters.

Before the challenge arises, how do we know who are gangsters? I answer this way. How is it only after some corpse or corpses are found bound, gagged and very dead, can the police say, “He was a known gangster we wanted to question for several murders”?

If, at this stage, the police and state intelligence agencies do not know the perpetrators of this nationwide carnage, then we might as well surrender the country to these two-bit criminals, hand over our balloons, run and hide in the forests, and leave the country to them—whoever they may be.

However, if we are serious about restoring peace, then we must wage war. We cannot sustain a “fainting fit” as described above by Forsyth when it comes to measures we must use to win back our country. That syndrome is akin to the truth, or reality, being stranger than fiction.

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