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We're not in drugs

By Irene Medina
January 08, 2012 -

Syrian/Lebanese complain about book by UWI lecturer

THE local Syrian/Lebanese community has decided to take action against claims of a long reputed link to the international drug trade and they have zeroed in on a University of the West Indies lecturer who has published a book accusing leading members of the local Arab community of trafficking in drugs.

Daurius Figueira

The highly sensitive issue is threatening to become a major debate over academic freedom, as the UWI, St. Augustine campus lecturer, Daurius Figueira, author of the book, has sought legal advice over the UWI's attempt to enquire into his publication.

The book is entitled "Cocaine and Heroin Trafficking in the Caribbean – The Case of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana," and was published in 2004.

In his book Figueira claim that "the dominant race" involved in the illicit drug transshipping organisation/race groupings are the Syrian/Lebanese grouping."

He claimed as well that within the community there is "a division of labour in which the illicit trade is masked by the legitimate front businesses and money laundering operations that pass for legitimate businesses."

Now, seven years later, on December 4, 2011, Figueira, who is attached to the Department of Behavioural Sciences, received a letter from UWI principal Professor Clement Sankat, drawing his attention to the concerns raised by the Syrian/Lebanese community.

Acting through attorney Michael Quamina, of Chancery Chambers, the affected community claims that its members have been maligned by claims in the book that they are the kingpins in the cocaine trade.

Professor Sankat in his letter to Figueira explained that Quamina had raised the concerns to him, in a letter dated December 1, 2011, parts of which he quoted in his correspondence to Figueira, asking him to comment on the matter, "so that I am in a position to respond" to the community and attorney Quamina.

Quamina complained that "the book levels a number of extremely serious charges against the Syrian-Lebanese community, of which my clients are an integral party, by making unequivocal statements to the effect that the Syrian-Lebanese community is heavily involved in the illegal narcotics trade," adding that "the offensive words can be found firstly on page 32" of the book.

Quamina told Sankat, "As you will no doubt agree, the statements of this lecturer are ludicrous, absolutely false, totally scandalous and bigoted."

It continued, "The writing is without any factual basis whatsoever, and the proof of same is in the fact that the entire work is devoid of any academic authority to support its conclusions arrived at with respect to my clients' community."

Quamina further chastised the author, claiming that "there is no empirical or other evidence to support any of the categorical statements made by this lecturer," and challenged his academic integrity further by charging, "What this lecturer has done is to launch a virulent and unjustified attack against my client's community, which is made up of well established members of society. . .."

Sankat told to mind his own business

Lecturer Daurius Figueira has, through his attorneys, admonished UWI Principal Clement Sankat for his involvement in the matter and is questioning how Sankat came to be writing him on behalf of the Syrian/Lebanese community.

In a strongly worded letter to the UWI principal, Juliet Ann Roberts Antoine, Figueira's attorney, said it appeared that Sankat was acting as the agent of Michael Quamina, the attorney for the Syrian/Lebanese community.

In fact, Roberts Antoine, acting on behalf of Figueira, questioned the "protocol" used by Quamina to complain to the UWI rather than to the author of the book.

As a matter of "correctness" she said, the issue should have been raised with her client directly and warned Sankat that "unless the university had and has maintained a vested interest in the said published work, it is mind-boggling to say the least and indeed potentially embarrassing for the university for (sic) volunteer its services and influence in the way that it has."

Roberts Antoine further "advised" the Pro-Vice Chancellor that he should think twice about interfering with the academic freedom of the UWI's staff.

According to her, "The university is required to maintain a clear distinction between that about which it can exercise its jurisdiction as university and that which pertains to the private and personal work of its members."

She maintained that Figueira stands by his work, adding that he defends his publication as comprising "well researched and factual representations," which he believes could hold up to the "most rigorous academic scrutiny."

Figueira has refused to allow Sankat to respond to the aggrieved Syrian/Lebanese community's concerns about the allegations contained in his book, saying that the "university would not be the appropriate medium" to do so.

Thanking Sankat for revealing aspects of Quamina's letter to him, Figueira, through his attorney, is however inviting Quamina to raise the concerns directly with him.

When contacted, Quamina told TnT Mirror that he had not had the benefit of seeing the correspondence passing to Mr Figueira and his attorney-at-law.

"However, the purpose of the correspondence written by me on behalf of my clients to the University of the West Indies was to bring to its attention, what my clients consider to be totally outrageous, unacceptable, unsupported and bigoted statements made by Mr. Figueira in his book, and as a consequence, for the University to consider whether he has engaged in misconduct."

He added that "one must remember that Mr. Figueira is being provided with a forum to teach and influence our young adults. The university is under a very serious duty to ensure that those who are given such a powerful and important access to our young adults are responsible."

Responding to Figueira's questions about why he was not written to directly, Quamina said: "I have no doubt that my clients are entitled to communicate with the university in the manner which they did, and it is in fact a most appropriate step."

He added, "It is now up to the university to determine whether Mr. Figueira has in fact engaged in misconduct, and I am certain that all of the concerns being raised by his attorney on his behalf will be given due consideration."

According to the university's Ordinance 8, Part 3, Sections 49 and 50, misconduct is defined as conduct of a nature which shows that a member of staff is unfit to hold office; and/or conduct likely to bring the reputation of the university into disrepute. Misconduct includes any conduct whether within or outside of the university precincts that involves activities calculated to endanger the peace and security of the community, or otherwise engaging in religious, political or racial propaganda of an inflammatory nature.

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