December 29, 2002
By Raffique Shah
IT was a year that yielded nothing of tremendous significance. In politics, Patrick Manning and the PNM predictably beat the UNC to regain power, so I guess PNMites have much to crow about, having languished in limbo for some 15 years. In sports, we saw the West Indies cricket team poke its younger-looking head from beneath the rubble under which we had been buried alive by so many ordinary teams for what seemed to be an eternity. Darrel Brown and a handful of other very young athletes did us proud on the world stage. Business, which suffered during last year's "hung" Parliament, did not fare much better in 2002. And crime continued its not-so-merry run at the expense of law-abiding citizens, putting the fear of the gun into the latter, whose only recourse was to invoke the fear of God. That, unfortunately, did not help.
If any group enjoyed runaway success, it was those kidnappers and mindless murderers who plied their extortionist and death dealing "trades" with impunity. From Toco to Cedros, the have-gun, will-kill gangs stalked and struck at their victims, some of whom had virtually volunteered for early death because of their conduct in early life. Really, you don't expect to deal in cocaine, owe the "pusher" or the "cartel", and get away Scot-free. Nor can one be part of a gang of thieves and then salt away the loot, or prove to be a hindrance to others: shot call!
Regarding kidnappings, in how many instances did we learn that the victims' families preferred to deal directly with the kidnappers rather than the police? True, we have long had to tolerate corruption among policemen, hence the element of distrust when life and death were at stake. But even as we deplore the disgraceful behaviour of a handful of policemen, what of the not-so-lawful activities of the victims? Many kidnappings left us with more questions than answers.
Still, the fact if that this ancient "art" of extortion that has found a place in modern society is cause for much concern. One can only imagine the trauma of ordinary people who, for one reason or other, become victims of criminals bent on extorting money from their families. In so many instances the families do not have the cash that the kidnappers demand. Fortunately for us, our kidnappers are not averse to a bit of bargaining. Indeed, many victim-families have benefited from cut-rate ransoms...as if that's some comfort.
The year's victim-count and body count dictate to us, though, that we simply cannot continue this way. We need to employ every measure that's within our reach to ensure that this country does not degenerate into a Jamaica or a Guyana or a Colombia. By year-end we began hearing some positive notes on this matter from politicians and the police. Of course, with another six-or-so murders over the Christmas holidays, the Prime Minister reading the Riot Act on crime came across very hollow. What the citizenry require now is action, not words.
In the political arena, we saw the UNC pay the ultimate price for the perception that under its stewardship corruption was as pervasive as crime. True, just as diehard PNMites in boom days of the 1970s could not be swayed away from the balisier by cries of corruption, the UNC enjoyed similar immunity from its core supporters. However, the PNM would later pay the humiliating price of a 33-3 defeat at the hands of the NAR, after which it could no longer count on a solid base regardless of its behaviour while in office. Panday seemed to have learnt nothing from the fall from grace of the PNM. He and his colleagues felt that race, and B-S, would baffle people brains, hence keep them in power whatever their sins. Big mistake by Bas, and he paid the ultimate price for it.
In fact, the UNC seems not to know where it's heading at the end of 2002. Right now it is a headless party, what with the leader's extended sojourn in England and everyone else waiting on His Master's voice to guide them before they could utter a word. So the PNM stands open to serious licks on the crime issue, but because of a "headless" UNC, voices of protest come from the people, not the opposition. There are many fundamental issues that need to be debated-negotiations for new prices for natural gas, the restructuring of the sugar and oil industries, to name just two. But the UNC remains silent. My guess is that the party is in its death throes, waiting for seemingly legitimate excuses to explain its dive into the graveyard of politics.
It used to be that when all else failed us as a nation, our sportsmen and women would weave some magic and make us proud. Even that blessing was somewhat short this year. The long wait for Brian Lara to return to form, to help the fledgling-but-promising West Indies team rise from the ashes, remains a wait. In his absence, though, the boys-in-maroon did restore some pride in our cricket, albeit not against the strongest teams in the game. We actually have four-or-five solid batsmen, with Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan being the pick of the crop. And are we thankful for the emergence of Jermaine Lawson! Just when it looked like we'd be relegated to reminiscing on the glory days of Walsh and Ambrose, up comes this talented young man, making waves, giving us hope. So, we may not win World Cup 2003, but we can boast of a team on the rebound.
It was on the track that we had our most rewarding experiences, thanks to young Darrel Brown, Marc Burns, Dion Rodriguez and others. As I end off on this positive note, I wonder if our politicians have learnt that young sportsmen and academic achievers (we have lots in this category) can be used to fight the crime monster? Our malleable teens need more than Bunji Garlin (who is a good artiste, without doubt) to steer them away from the crime-magnet. When they look for role models and see thieves among their politicians and alcoholics aplenty among the older generations, who can they turn to?
That's where Darrel and Marc and Sarwan and Lawson fit in. If need be, the government should pay these exemplars, as young and inexperienced as they may be, to go into the schools, the communities, to try and win back the flowers of the nation from degenerating into corpses beneath wreaths. We owe them that, and what better time to start the win them back than a new year?
Copyright © Raffique Shah