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Raffique Shah


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Deliver us from political evil

September 19, 2004
By Raffique Shah

IT may well be that our penchant as a people for revelling in rumours, for turning fiction-into-fact, were behind the kilos of tripe that the sober in the society have been subjected to over the past few weeks. Even as "Ivan the Terrible" cut a horrendous swathe across the Caribbean causing severe damage to property and loss of life in many Caribbean countries, the big issue on our polluted airwaves was why should Prime Minister Patrick Manning allow Grenadians refugee status in Trinidad and Tobago. And before that rumour-turned-fact could be purged, up came an even juicier story: that UNC MP Chandresh Sharma was allegedly beaten in Parliament's tea room by Housing Minister Keith Rowley.

These are only two of the more distasteful sides of the Trini persona that caused me to wish I were, well, maybe a Grenadian or a Rwandan. Now, before I am assailed for telling it like it is, let me say I was heartened by our people's generosity when, from all sides of the racial, religious and political divide, people rallied to lend helping hands mainly to our Grenadian brethren, but also to others who fell victim to Ivan. It was such a joy to see people use their initiative, not waiting for government or any international agency to appeal to them, and proceed to collect tonnes and tonnes of material help for Grenada.

The enthusiasm shown as people quietly extracted money from their petty accounts to give to the devastated Grenadians was (and continues to be) something which I felt proud of.

From wealthy businessmen to poor people in depressed communities, "collection agencies" sprung up like WASA's leaking pipes, all over the country, putting together clothing, food and building materials to help Grenadians in their hour of need. But even as I heap praise on my countrymen for role they have played, I look to St George's and ask its people: where are the Americans who were so eager to mount a "rescue operation" back in 1983, bringing to you more blood and tears than the heartless Bernard Coard could ever do?

It's something for not only Grenadians, but the rest of the Caribbean to take note of. I feel certain that outside of international agencies that have an obligation to the battered islands, this country and it people will, at the end of the day, have given more to our stricken neighbours than anyone else. Why did the Americans not rush relief ships to the region to bring in vital supplies?

Where are the huge C-2 transport planes used in other rescue operations? The Americans should stand in shame and watch as a British naval vessel moves from island to island to help. I feel certain that whatever we may think of Tony Blair, his government will lend additional assistance to the islands.

But since we neither harbour dangerous Islamic terrorists here (dangerous to them, that is, not us) nor are we of strategic value, the islands that were hit by Ivan will have to stand in line behind Florida, Georgia and other hurricane-hit parts of the USA, for any help from that country. After all, presidential elections are mere weeks away, and things don't look so good for the incumbent Bush.

Having said that, I need add that while we Trinis give with our hearts to our Caribbean brethren, there is little reciprocity, and that creates a lot of "bad blood" between us and our neighbours. The hostility that we encounter in Barbados, for example, at an airport built with our money, is almost palpable when one lands there. And this attitude towards us is not restricted to Bajans.

It runs deep up the islands, and gets worse as one goes further west to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. In a manner of speaking, we Trinis see ourselves as "bad weather friends" to our Caribbean neighbours. The moment things get better for them (the airport in Barbados boosted their economic lifeline, tourism), they turn around and spit on us.

Still, we are by nature a generous people. We are even forgiving, because if Barbados was hit by Ivan, we would have let bygones be bygones, and rallied to their support much the way we are doing for the other islands. But while we retain this admirable and very human quality in us, by some strange personality twist, we seek every opportunity to lambaste our own.

Where did this talk of Grenadians seeking refugee status first surface? As far as I know, the PM, in trying to paint a picture of the devastation that has visited Grenada, said if we did not move to help the country we could fall victim to Grenadians seeking refuge here. There is nothing illogical about that. One has only to look at Haiti and its "boat people" to understand what desperation can lead to.

But before the day was over, the PM's prognosis turned into him extending an open invitation to Grenadians to come to the land of oil and gas (milk and honey no longer count for anything!). By night-time, callers to talk shows that are run by uninformed hosts were braying about Manning "bringing thousands of Grenadians here to vote for the PNM."

"With all these Grenadians here, the UNC will never win another election," was the gist of what ruled the airwaves. None of the talk show hosts bothered to get a comment from Whitehall on exactly what the PM said. So two, three nights later, UNC supporters were convinced that we'd soon be swamped by Grenadian refugees, how much they will worsen our crime wave, and what racial pollution we could be subjected to. Not a shred of evidence that there was any truth in the allegation. But fiction became fact.

Then last Wednesday night the story broke about Rowley allegedly mauling Sharma in the tea room. Sharma was supposedly taken to the hospital late that afternoon for blows he supposedly received around 1 p.m.

More ludicrous were charges made by some of his fellow MPs that when he reached hospital, it was discovered that his blood sugar and blood pressure levels were high, so he had to be hospitalised! If Rowley had in fact beaten Sharma, even dealt him a slap as is being suggested, I don't think his "pressure" would have risen. I think his face would have "elevated", and he would have been floored! Before the night was over, UNC supporters were calling for Rowley's head on a platter!

While in our hearts we remain among the most humane people in the world, our minds are being polluted by gutter politics. How I wish some superior force could deliver us from the latter evil.