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Dear Editor: Why Cudjoe’s linkage of ‘unpatriotic’ Venezuelan stance to race is ‘sloppy’ and ‘poisonous’

“Attributing the Opposition’s awful stance on the Venezuela question to them being Indian is race-baiting, plain and simple. In the Caribbean, colluding and conspiring with foreign powers are hardly the sole preserve of Indians.

“[…] Consider again the case of the late Prime Minister of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, who made Margaret Thatcher look like a kitten in the eyes of late former USA president Ronald Reagan’s aides. According to the Watergate journalist, Bob Woodward, her government was paid millions in support of Reagan’ s Grenada adventure…”

The following letter to the editor on Professor Selwyn Cudjoe’s two-part series on the UNC’s stance on Venezuela and its link to race was submitted to Wired868 by David Johnson of Maraval:

Photo: Professor Selwyn Cudjoe.

Two decades ago I wrote a ‘scathing’ piece on Professor Selwyn Cudjoe in a local newspaper. I had grown weary of columns in which the professor clothed himself in a tradition of radical black thinkers and activists, even as he remained mired in a divisive politics of ethnicity and race that was antithetical to the very tradition.

My breaking point was his descent into discredited social darwinist theories of race to explain the position of blacks in Trinidad and Tobago vis-à-vis his nemesis, Indians.

In more recent years I began to revise my take on this affable brother, seeing him as also revising his perspectives, with more thoughtful offerings on the world that Africans and Indians have forged in Trinidad and Tobago. I even managed a complimentary email for a fine column he penned on women, gender and the limitations of male leadership in T&T.

To be sure, doubts remained, but hey, show me someone you think is always flawless of thought and I will consider you a sycophant.

It turns out, however, that there are limitations to Professor Cudjoe’s evolution, as evidenced by his two-part response to Moonilal and the Opposition’s alliance with the Donald Trump administration to police our compliance with the monstrous regime of sanctions on Venezuela. (Express, May 10 & 24).

For the professor, this admittedly shameful collaboration with US imperialist designs in the region has a simple explanation: ‘irrational Indian fear/hatred of blacks and a feeling of un-belonging’. In support of this irrational thesis, he forages our history for evidence of the collective malady of Indians who, time and time again, have committed treachery against the nation, from its embryo to the present.

Photo: Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and former Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal.
(Courtesy Baltimore Post)

Albert Gomes, politician and writer, is exhumed and called as first witness. He makes it known that after the labour disturbances of 1937 ‘white and near white’ upper and middle classes feared being swamped and usurped by ‘blackness’. That Indians did not inhabit the panicked class/race groupings identified by Gomes, thus making his observation irrelevant, does not detain the professor as he speeds ahead with his sloppy research methods.

On his journey Professor Cudjoe selectively uncovers all manner of disloyal Indians at odds with the nation. Even those caught celebrating the independence of India in 1947—just as Africans in Trinidad and Tobago celebrated the independence of Ghana ten years later—are rounded up by the professor for their questionable patriotism, after Gomes squealed on them.

Inevitably, Professor Cudjoe arrives at those he sees as haters who twisted and manipulated the words of Dr Eric Williams in order to create divisions that remain at the heart of the nation. For them, Williams called all Indians a ‘recalcitrant and hostile minority’. That Williams spoke in the heat of the battle over Federation and aimed his words at a particular group of Indian politicians, made his comment no less ill-advised.

His words have since been whipped into the service of ethnic mobilisations and desperately needs to be rescued, as Professor Cudjoe rightly observes. The trouble is that the professor’s own record of stirring the ethnic cauldron renders him singularly unsuited to participate in the rescue mission.

Now, Professor Cudjoe may well retort that, in talking about Indian hatred of blacks, he does not mean all Indians. Such a retort, however, would be belied by the lack of balance in his opinion column, where we encounter only alleged Indian racists, separatists and traitors to his idea of the nation. There is little sense here that alternatives existed.

Photo: Hero of the Trinidad and Tobago working class, Adrian Cola Rienzi.

Amazingly, his story takes off in the aftermath of the 1937 rebellions, a pivotal moment in the birth of this nation, and he turns to Gomes for the voices of Indians. Yet looming large in the period is an Indian hero of Trinidad and Tobago, Adrian Cola Rienzi, who revealed no contradictions between his connections with mother India and fighting like few others in the interest of working people as a whole.

Coming closer to our own time, Cudjoe’s argument could have been further nuanced by considering a figure like Raffique Shah, who consistently for 50 years, from his leadership of black soldiers and cane farmers to his re-invention as journalist, has offered us a vision of a nation completely at odds with the one Professor Cudjoe seems determined to impose on our imagination.

The professor could have directed readers to Shah’s court martial address, once described to me by George Lamming as a remarkable transcript of Caribbean emancipation, or to Shah’s recent column on the Venezuela question.

Dear gentle reader, take a look if you have not already done so and compare Shah’s reflections in this column, even the quality of his prose, with that of the learned English professor. Perhaps in the professor’s constructions Shah is not a real Indian, whatever that is.

Maybe Cudjoe will have us invert a page from apartheid South Africa and declare him an honorary African, since by the professor’s logic we blacks are the only ones with a real sense of identity with this place called T&T.

Attributing the Opposition’s awful stance on the Venezuela question to them being Indian is race-baiting, plain and simple.

Photo: Raffique Shah (left) is greeted by his late father, Haniff Shah, on his release from prison on 27 July 1972 for his role in the 1970 revolt.
(Courtesy Raffique Shah)

In the Caribbean, colluding and conspiring with foreign powers are hardly the sole preserve of Indians. Consider the paramilitary groups in Haiti that worked with US and French sponsors to kill activists sympathetic to the Aristide government, and eventually to overthrow it.

Consider again the case of the late Prime Minister of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, who made Margaret Thatcher look like a kitten in the eyes of late former USA president Ronald Reagan’s aides. According to the Watergate journalist, Bob Woodward, her government was paid millions in support of Reagan’ s Grenada adventure. She was one of dem Black Stalin identified for Peter’s fire on judgement day.

None of these bad actors, stooges all, looked like Kamla and Moonilal. Would Professor Cudjoe want to read their treachery from their Africanness?

There are simply too many dark alleys into which Professor Cudjoe’s essentialist thinking leads. It may strike him as common sense to see the Opposition’s action on Venezuela as an Indian thing. However, a task for anyone with radical intellectual pretensions is to assist at times in making nonsense of common sense, and not encourage us to wallow in our ignorance and prejudices.

Count me as one of those responding to the professor’s call in the column for raised ‘voices to eliminate poisonous doctrines that can feed dangerous impulses in our society’.

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2 comments

  1. Deflection and Obfuscation, I don”t always agree with Mr Cudjoe writings myself but that why I read his articles because one wants to be challenge intellectually. That being said you gave away the plot by referring to the elected president of Venezuela as a monster because you don”t agree with his socialist policy ( health care for adults and children, adult learning programs) “what a monster slay the beast America” . I would like you and your ilk to tell us what was life in Venezuela like prior to Chavez/Maduro being elected to office. I know I have lived there it certainly was not Utopia. Now for the issue at discussion it is abundantly clear and I have had my suspicions for a while that some in the UNC , journalist with the Express and Guardian are clearly CIA low level operatives. I have read articles from some these so called journalist that are taken straight from the GOP talking points I thought I was listening to Fox News. The US charges d”affaires J.W McIntyre donated two shallow search and rescue watercraft in June 2018 to “Penal/Debe regional corporation” not to the GORTT ask you self why people. Government give to other Government not states or provinces. The reason why this is a UNC stronghold in T&T and that one of the areas where Marli St operatives resides, that’s all for now.
    The next thing we have to look at people is the UNC and PPP party in Guyana are ideologically aligned hence the reason you see articles and calls by Express newspaper and UNC parliamentarians for the government to intervene in Guyana internal affairs ,because they are diametrically opposed to the AFNU governing party. The reason behind this is the large oil discovery in Guyana and Venezuela next door sitting on large proven reserves of oil, as it has been written about elsewhere the US wants unfettered access to these two vast oil reserves and the will stop and nothing to achieve this and they are using there operatives in the UNC and PPP to further these goals , they have sold their soul for thirty pieces of silver . One must reflect on Mike Pompeo statement Texas A&M university “The CIA we lie,steal, cheat” and I will add assassinate .
    In closing one must ask who is this David Johnson of Maraval or is Langley Virgina. Cause Rasta nah work for the CIA.” and when yuh gotta eat some food yuh brother got to be your enemy” Amandla .

  2. Very good article. Cudjoe has always pushed a racist agenda

    . The trouble is that the professor’s own record of stirring the ethnic cauldron renders him singularly unsuited to participate in the rescue mission.