March 21, 2004
By Raffique Shah
WHEN I think of the increasing prospects of an unstable world that could well be rend asunder before the biblical Armageddon through the unconscionable actions of demi-gods on both sides of the "terrorist" fence, I find it difficult even to muster disgust at Prime Minister Patrick Manning's puerile "sore throat" act, far less laugh at it. Manning's warped sense of humour, if he weren't Prime Minister, would score well in most of what passes for local theatre today. Because of the office he holds, though, it came across as asinine, and immediately people began comparing it with his immediate predecessor's penchant for trite, sometimes vile, treatment of serious issues.
Really, what possessed the PM to behave like a "beh beh" in the face of what was an issue of national importance? True, he must have been at a loss for words upon learning that he had lost the confidence of one of his most loyal party members and ministers. And maybe when he reflected on what triggered the fallout he probably never expected, on his own platform promise of a higher minimum wage for workers in the heavy construction sector, he was probably still in a state of shock. After all, how many ministers sitting in stable governments have had the courage to resign over issues involving principles, the way Larry Achong did? Ex-president ANR Robinson was the last that I can recall: he had the guts to walk out on the great Dr Eric Williams at a time when it was a party sin to even look Eric in the face.
But we have hardly had such resignations in the history of independent Trinidad and Tobago (Hector McClean did, sometime around 1980). Kamal Mohammed and Errol Mahabir both claim they were racially discriminated against when they were by-passed for the post of PM following Williams's death. Yet they remained within the fold of the "discriminators" until the PNM ship sank in 1986. Only after they lost prominence in the "new" PNM did they make such allegations. They could not resist the high-profile lure of public office, preferring instead to swallow their egos and pride and serve under someone they later claimed usurped their claims to the throne.
Basdeo Panday and his clique walked out on Robinson in 1988, but theirs was a different agenda. It had nothing to do with being discriminated against. It had everything to do with power, more so sharing power, a mantra that Panday preaches, again conveniently, when he is out of power. Even Kelvin Ramnath "wined" out on Panday, but again when the party was in Opposition and he thought he saw "track for 'gouti to run". Achong's case is different. He has everything to lose in this fallout with the PNM. Given the partisan nature of our politics, and unless a political earthquake shakes the foundation of the established parties, he would be history come the next general elections. I don't think he has made the statutory two terms to benefit from a half-pension. So really, he stands to lose big, which is why so many people have lauded his stand.
The deteriorating industrial relations climate, coupled with the seemingly never-ending crime spree and the wanton disregard for the law even by "good citizens", must be cause for serious concern on the part of the Prime Minister. Such convergences of worker-protests have happened before. In 1990, I think, there was a "Day of Resistance" called by the trade union movement that all but drove the nail in the NAR government's coffin. Williams faced a similar situation in the run-up to 1970, but he survived by crushing it in brutal manner. Manning must be mulling over his chances of escaping this "labour dragnet" by whatever means.
However he chooses to handle the problems that beset the country will determine if he survives his five-year term of office, and more than that, if he wins another election. On the other hand, Panday and the UNC can take little comfort in Manning's many woes. Because even if the PNM were to implode tomorrow, I don't think the UNC will be the people's choice to fill the void. In fact, the UNC, even in these days of crisis, is finding it difficult to mobilise its diehards, far less the wider population. Its Monday night meetings are poorly attended, many of its activists have gone dormant if not extinct, and just the thought of another free-wheeling government headed by Panday is enough to turn off a dog in heat.
So what to do in the face of the many problems, nay, crises, that beset us? Tell you what: tune in to the global village around us (it's as close as your television or computer screen) and monitor closely some very interesting developments that might well prove to have greater impact on us than Manning or Panday or striking workers.
One year after George W Bush conned a handful of bush-lickers into invading Iraq, the world has become very unsafe. Whoever was behind the bombings in Spain last week must be condemned in the strongest terms by those who value human lives. But even as we spit on the faceless, we must also condemn the "terrorists" who have inflicted untold deaths and suffering on an entire nation-Iraq-for more than 13 years! During that time, more than a million Iraqis, most of them innocent civilians and children, have perished or lie dying slow, painful deaths from uranium-induced cancer or being maimed by Bush's "smart bombs".
What's the difference between a "smart" US bomb and a presumably "stupid" Al Qaeda bomb anyway? They both achieve the same ends-death, destruction, tears, hatred. One year after Bush declared victory against the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraqis are suffering more than ever. Mere months before he faces the American electorate, Bush cannot extricate his troops from the quicksand that Iraq has turned out to be, and as he looks around he sees his one-time allies crumble on the war against terror that has spawned even more terror.
The Spaniards, who had opposed their country's involvement in the war, booted out the "war time" PM days after the Madrid explosion. Now Poland is saying it was misled into joining the US-led coalition. Tony Blair faces a bleak political future all because of this misadventure. Pretty soon, as Iraq degenerates into anarchy, other coalition rats will also jump ship. Put together, these global convulsions are likely to have a greater impact on our little black speck in the Caribbean than industrial unrest, a bungling PM, a sourpuss UNC top rank, and all our other woes. Wait: someone is at the gate shouting, "End time is nigh!" These religious jokers.