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Raffique Shah


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If you don't laugh, you'll cry for T&T

August 22, 2004
By Raffique Shah

IN order to maintain my sanity amidst the lunacy that seems to have gripped this prosperous-but-floundering nation, I shall make light of Commander-in-Chief Max Richards's bold move to put the forces under his control on "a war footing". President Max, flexing his military muscles, called on members of the T&T Regiment to gear themselves to deal with "the enemy-not a foreign visitor (?) but instead internal and set to destroy the country." He exhorted them to "crush those with evil intent". I am sure that the criminal element to whom he referred must be shaking in their brand-name-sneakers, the kilos of "bling bling" around their necks making music that would put big band Desperadoes to shame.

Joke aside, or should I say joke compounded, Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday swears that President Max is in a conspiracy with Prime Minister Patrick Manning to impose a State of Emergency with the sole intent of locking up all UNC officials and supporters. Matters not that Manning has thus far resisted all calls for an emergency to deal runaway crime. These calls have come from many quarters, especially the business community. But one individual who, a few months ago, pleaded with the PM to declare a "limited State of Emergency in the Princes Town district" is Subhas Panday, brother of "The Bas". So is Subhas also involved in the conspiracy with Max, Manning and the business community?

In the tragic-comedy that passes for politics in this country, one can never be sure. Even "The Bas" must be watching Subhas with an eagle eye, he having experienced multiple "betrayals" by those close to his bosom-so why not his blood? Paranoia sets in easily in warped minds, and on shaky heads that wear crowns that are shakier than the ones awarded to medal winners in the Athens Olympics. Did you see how bronze-boy George Bovell had a hard time keeping his crown on his head during the medal ceremony? So pity poor Bas, trying to convince whatever is left of his party faithful that Max and Manning are bent on locking them up, that any such emergency powers will be used not to rein in criminal activities, but to destroy a party that started imploding from as far back as in 1995.

On the other side of the comic-coin, the Government and the police are exploring rather curious ways of dealing with the crime epidemic. Last week's front-page photograph of a senior police officer holding a "pow-wow" with alleged gang leaders in Laventille must have left a lot of law-abiding citizens puzzled. If those men were indeed gang leaders, it stands to reason that at least some of them must have been involved in criminal activities. So is it that the police are so impotent, they are forced to smoke the "peace-pipe" with criminals? Surely, if any of the men involved in those "discussions" were suspects in the gruesome murders that have haunted the people of Laventille and other districts, they should have been arrested, not coddled. Such indiscretions on the part of officialdom must drive more fear into a population that sees itself as being under siege.

To further compound our woes, the Government has maintained a stony silence on serious allegations made in well-researched investigative reports by Camini Marajh in the Sunday Express over the past few weeks. Camini has pointed to what amounts to collusion between arms of the Government and the Jamaat al Muslimeen, many of which appear to be less than-well, halaal. The Government has not denied that the group has been awarded rights to a state-owned quarry, and that it supplies material extracted to government projects. Or that the State has been delinquent on the question of recovering debts owed to it by the Jamaat, even as it has generously dished out what the court ordered it to pay to the group.

Which is a hell of a thing. This is not to suggest that anyone who was once charged with a crime as serious as treason should be denied re-entry into the society. Hell, I am a case in point, who, like Jamaat members in 1990, was charged with treason (and 50-odd other counts!) back in 1970. But my soldiers and I quietly paid our dues to the society even as we were shunned and discriminated against in the early post-prison period. We had to work hard to regain the confidence of the people before any government would deal with us. And we have long said farewell to arms. As far as we are aware, no such declaration came from the Jamaat. To the contrary, many of its members who were involved in the 1990 attempted coup have been caught or killed while committing criminal acts.

So here we have a government declaring war on crime week after week, yet consorting with criminals day after day. Little wonder the citizens have lost faith in the system, in all the institutions, with even the judiciary seen as part of the problem, not the solution. When a magistrate or judge stupidly sends petty crooks to that University of Crime (also known as prison), exposing them to hardened criminals and a system in which they graduate from crooks to criminals, they seem not to understand that they are exacerbating the problem, not helping to resolve it. From where the average citizen tries to secure his safety, he sees injustice meted out in the courts, the police protecting and serving criminals, and the government giving him a hard time even as it entertains deviants.

Really, one must either laugh or cry or run far from this madding mess. But run to where? Nearby Venezuela is not an option, and if anything (or anywhere), maybe President Max should have his "battle ready" troops look in that direction. There, Hugo Chavez, having won a referendum-the democratic mechanism for it enacted by his government-faces a CIA-backed opposition that refuses to accept the results. Bush, who is still seen as having stolen the US presidency back in 2000 in Florida, will more than likely seek to use other mechanisms to remove Chavez from power. I don't think that an FBI office was set up here to pursue some obscure kid it brands a "senior Al-Qaeda terrorist".

More than likely the Americans are closing in on Hugo, hoping to hit the in-your-face ex-paratrooper where it hurts Venezuela's democracy most. And if that's not bad enough, in Haiti, which Caricom is being asked to re-admit to its fold, gangster-politician Jodel Chamblain, who allegedly murdered hundreds of Haitians, was exonerated by a hastily convened night court. All around us, jokers and criminals rule the roost. What to do but laugh-or cry?