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Raffique Shah


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State of emergency the only solution

July 09, 2006
By Raffique Shah

While many of us are still basking in the glory that the Soca Warriors brought to Trinidad and Tobago, and even as Prime Minister Patrick Manning committed the lion's share of the cost of security of another World Cup-cricket in 2007 -the majority of citizens in the country are in a daze, hit from all sides by crime. Now, isn't this one hell of a contradiction?

The world now knows about the creativity of this small country, and here I accept the account of my colleague Keith Smith, who was in the thick of things in Germany, seeing staid Europeans "shake a leg" to our cultural offerings. But here at home, as the magic of football comes to a heady climax today, people are habitually looking over their shoulders, locking their doors at sundown, judging their every move with extreme caution, and hoping that they don't wake up to the sound of their doors being kicked down by police or thieves, or worse, worried that they won't wake up at all.

It's a chilling state of affairs, and nothing National Security Minister Martin Joseph says to us about his latest crime plans can soothe the pain of countless victims of crime who will never get justice. Not when every day accused murderers walk free from the courts, smiling like angels, but you and I know, planning vengeance or yet other, more heinous crimes. Not when hitherto relatively safe areas are subjected to daily raids by marauding bandits. There are no more safe places in the country, not for citizens, not for visitors. Foreign governments update their "travel advisories" on T&T, making us look like Bosnia of yesterday, or today's Gaza, a virtual war zone overtaken by criminals.

Mr Manning, your backyard stinks! You want to huddle with your Caricom colleagues working out some nebulous security plan for next year's cricket World Cup while you ignore the plight of your own.

Let's face it: what Caricom leaders are concerned about, and are pumping money into, are increased security measures that will make us look good in the eyes of foreign visitors for all of two weeks. But that is at the expense of never-ending tears in the eyes of their own people. While Jamaica's Portia Simpson was safely ensconced in St Kitts, a gang in her crime-ridden country was operating like something out of the Wild West, raiding houses, killing their occupants, and burning the buildings. How can our leaders be so insensitive to their own, but concerned about transients who will come to the West Indies for a few weeks only to enjoy cricket matches?

Look, I am not one to squeal unnecessarily. And no one can say I have not apportioned blame for crime where it must be shared. I have repeatedly pointed out that bandits and burglars, who steal cars, jewelry, appliances, mobile phones, etc, do not simply stack these things in their homes or share them with friends. You will never see a bandit adorned with a tonne of gold that he will have stolen from hapless people.

Nor will you see him driving ten stolen cars. Most of the loot (except cash) that is stolen every day is disposed of, in the main to unscrupulous businessmen (and women) as well as uncaring citizens. These are the very people who will talk out loudest about "the state of crime", even as they are part of the problem.

But it is the duty of the Government to ensure the safety of its people, 99 per cent of whom are law-abiding. And that's precisely where successive governments have failed. They have allowed it to reach the depths it has today, and now only the present government has the power to rescue the nation. In my humble view, nothing short of a state of emergency will help-and even that is not a sure solution. For the politicians who will say that such action will tarnish the country's image, what about 1970?

Then, violence was almost non-existent. Yet the then PNM Government did it and arrested 80-plus harmless citizens, keeping them in prison for six months, without charges or trials. Note well I exclude from this lot the soldiers who had committed mutiny, of which I was a leader. I am not without sin, so I do not cast the first stone.

Today, however, anarchy rules and a state of emergency are more than justified. It will allow the authorities to arrest and detain all the criminals (if they have the will to so do), and the time to determine who are the dangerous elements who must be excised from the society. I feel certain that people will be willing to give up some of their rights in order to live in a safer environment three or six months down the road.

To do nothing, to hide behind the fig-leaf of "image", is to condone an uncontrollable state of affairs that is inexcusable. Government must declare a state of emergency now.