Noble: T&T’s poverty of imagination—none so blind as he who would not see

In the mid-60s, there was a proposal to move people out of what was then called Shanty Town to Morvant.

Lord Blakie (1965) summed up the resistance among the people there: How they want them to move/ They say they eh going nowhere/Build big house in Morvant/ But if they want them to move/put the La Basse in Morvant Junction.

The Beetham dump.
Photo: Sasha Blood/ Trinidad Guardian

The residents could not imagine a better life. Raffique Shah itemised the horror of living in their present quarters (Express, July 2022). They saw themselves as better off living in swamp-like terrain and feeding off the La Basse. A poverty of imagination pervaded.

The culture of nepotism from the colonial days persisted. The only change was the new overlord, Dr Eric Williams. He was to solve all the problems and make life easy for his followers.

Patronage was acceptable: it neutralised the critics and rewarded those it needed to. This tendency persists despite the words of our National Anthem: may every creed and race find an equal place.

Patrons enjoy the festivities during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade.
Photo: Chevaughn Christopher/ Wired868

The party may change but the practice does not. We did not and possibly cannot imagine a place where all are treated fairly and equally.

We betrayed the hope: “The only mother we recognise is Mother Trinidad and Tobago, and Mother cannot discriminate between her children. All must be equal in her eyes.”

The increasing frustration faced by the young unemployed who believed that education would bring a job fuelled the Black Power movement. Eric Williams, the clever politician, was able to surf the discontent.

Dr Eric Williams (second from left) at the Desperadoes pan yard.
(Copyright Government Information Services via panonthenet.com)

Williams recognised the importance of fostering and controlling pan. Witness his being photographed in the panyards. He changed his attire from suits to wearing cravats and temporarily abandoned the dark glasses.

He received, in turn, continuous political support from East Port of Spain throughout his period in office.

When money started to flow because of the oil and gas finds off Mayaro, Williams did not spend the wealth on his constituents. Instead, he built the Point Lisas Industrial Estate. He took control of that development from the South Chamber of Commerce because of the size of capital needed to be injected.

The Point Lisas Industrial Estate.
Photo: Plipdeco

Williams began constructing the Iron and Steel Company of Trinidad and Tobago (ISCOTT) in 1978. This construction marked his response to the British position that “the colonies were to manufacture not a nail, not a horseshoe”.

His vision was: “Sugar cane gives way to wire rods, and instead of exporting all our gas, as we did our sugar, we will dedicate an increasing quantity to our own indigenous development, including downstream operations.”

He revolutionised the sugar industry region and the workers who lived there, seeing this as a means of industrial transformation for the nation.

A sugar cane worker enjoys a snack on the job.
(via Riomate)

“The successful implementation of this project will call for the cooperation of many citizens, as well as many businesses that will be acting as suppliers of the project. It will call for the cooperation of the trade unions and their members.

“It will call for the cooperation of many of our young citizens who are now being educated or trained and who should begin to think in terms of job opportunities that would exist in these energy-based industries as distinct from some of the traditional forms of employment.

“This must be a truly national effort. It is a significant and bold step that the country will be taking.”

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams (standing) addresses the opening session of the Independence Conference at Marlborough House, London on 28 May 1962.
The talks lasted about two weeks and resulted in Independence for Trinidad and Tobago.
Copyright: AP Photo/ Staff/ Laurence Harris

He missed two crucial steps: the trickle-down effect of this effort on the national economy would not translate into an improvement in the fortunes of his constituents.

Williams believed that success in the Point Lisas experiment would lead to further economic growth and a rise in income for the nation. This did not happen. The rich got richer. People experiencing poverty remained untouched by the pool of wealth generated.

He misunderstood how industrial advancement works. It works through the creation of clusters of businesses in specific geographical regions. The suppliers that Williams envisaged would never be those in the East-West Corridor.

Poor houses in Sea Lots, Port of Spain.

The criticism levelled by Dr Trevor Farrell, in his book Worship of The Golden Calf, about the lack of understanding of how technology transfers and, consequently, value is created along the production process was also valid.

The project planning hit many road bumps, and the cost of the plant mushroomed. Farrell argued that having cheap gas was not a sufficient advantage for Trinidad and Tobago in the steel market.

It is instructive to consider the US government’s documentation of their method of levying countervailing sanctions on the output of ISCOTT. They concluded that government funds buoyed up the company (and, by extension, the Estate).

Trinidad steel plant.

Therefore, it is folly to point at the various make-work programmes in East Port of Spain and describe the residents as Williams’ children. The sums expended in creating the Point Lisas Industrial Estate were significantly more.

Are the Estate’s beneficiaries and workforce not Williams’ children? When we consider the government’s input in developing the 1,500 acres and building a port, how do we accept that investment?

None so blind as he who would not see.

A fiery protest in the Beetham Gardens on 4 July 2022.
(via TTPS)

As the Mostofi Commission (1963/64) was asked: has there been a just division of the proceeds of this natural heritage? To what extent have we utilised the industry’s proceeds for the nation’s and all its citizens’ betterment?

When we consider the outcome of the Beetham Estate in today’s context, we must confront these old questions. More anon.

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