Our national anthem urges us to have “boundless faith in our destiny”. It affirms that “here every creed and race find an equal place” and “may God bless our Nation”.
Do these lofty words meet reality? Do these words apply to the people of Laventille, or are they to be excluded? The events of the past two years demand us to answer this.
The Central Bank Governor described our economic situation as “challenging” and “uncertain” in a week when there was significant unrest in the capital city. Economic events have a huge impact on our politics. Are the residents of East Port of Spain finding an equal place? How is God to bless our nation if some are not equal?
We are at the stage where we have suffered through the pandemic, businesses are closing, inflation is rising, and the geopolitical pressures frighten us. Is East Port of Spain an asset or a curse? How should we think about this area which we loosely call “Laventille”?
Do we continue to pimp the residents and the area? The dictionary definition of “pimping” is “to make use of, often dishonourably, for one’s own gain or benefit”.
Every successive government has mamaguyed or exploited the Laventille people. These people are lectured and despised. But let us consider their contribution. We stereotype all residents as Dr Rat but enjoy their music and jump up to the music from the “Man with the Hammer”.
Who is to blame for the Monday shutdown? Is it the protesting residents who lost their children to a suspicious shooting? They know the story of the three Morvant men who lost their lives at the hands of the Police.
Since November 2020, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) file has been sitting with the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). Nothing yet!
In June 2022, a man almost lost his life to rogue police officers. The PCA described it as “the most extreme case of abuse of police powers and a deliberate attempt to mislead Acting Commissioner [McDonald] Jacob”.
Early last Saturday morning, mothers of the area lost three sons in a police shooting incident. Neither MP Fitzgerald Hinds nor MP Keith Scotland turned up. The less said about MP Adrian Leonce, the better.
They were not like Dr Keith Rowley in the 2019 Big Yard shooting! He felt the pain of his constituents! Dr Rowley stood up for an hour and a half with the angry residents while his security people stood down. He appealed for evidence to challenge the Police’s account. He was the head of the National Security Council, but he knew which hat he had to wear.
These public servants acted as though the pain of the Morvant shootings and the loss of Ornella Greaves did not exist. MP Hinds chose to wear his National Security hat and spout piously about due process. Really?
He admitted knowing one of the affected families but never disclosed going to visit them. Without a constituency, will he be the Minister?
Mr Scotland turned up on the television using a virtual background that bears no relevance to the ongoing situation but to his law practice. Is he even trying?
Who is in charge of the PNM’s communications strategy? Ah yes, the nice self-effacing guy without a modicum of skills.
Anthony Watkins and his team spent time in these communities and developed recommendations and plans after the protests two years ago. Did the politicians ever go to the communities and hold a pow-wow?
The Mighty Shadow, the original struggler, would have told them ‘they looking for horn’! Now the self-righteous Mr Hinds complains about a PDP jersey-wearing protestor. Is he for real? A community in pain cannot deal with excuses. Do your job as the MP!
Which community can unflinchingly take that pressure? A single murder in Westmoorings filled the front page of the newspapers. We were all horrified. But the Police could kill three guys at a time, and we must keep our mouths shut. Really?
This situation is not a case of poor parenting—it is a working out of the ‘cockroach’ philosophy. The black young men of East Port of Spain are treated as though they have no value. Their schools and neighbourhoods are under-resourced. Why? Because they are Nobodies! Now, we blast them for trying to get our attention.
Neighbourhoods matter! (Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn, 2000 and 2013). These two academics, Tama Leventhal and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, are subject matter experts on this issue. The police shootings do not happen in Westmooring—why then in Eastmoorings? Because they are Nobodies! Drunk and corrupt police officers are often stationed there. The police posts close at night.
In 2013, Rhoda Bharath said, “…Everyone is patently aware of why East Port of Spain is this way…a combination of neglect and total disrespect from regime after regime. But many of us don’t care. Once the crime is not affecting us, it is ok.”
In the 1961 general elections, the People’s National Movement (PNM) fielded their A team—Alfredo Bermudez, Dr Eric Williams, Ms Isabel Teshea and Mr Donald Granado—in that area. Let us never forget that the ‘Doctah’ represented Sea Lots which voted at South Quay.
Shanty Town, now known as Beetham Gardens, was firmly PNM. With the resounding win, the PNM renamed the Laventille streets after PNM stalwarts.
The people of Laventille provided the brawn to reclaim the Chaguaramas base. Williams fought to have that area returned to the people because the nation’s coming independence would be incompatible with a large and strategic part of its territory controlled by an “occupying power”.
Recently, we have given away that land to people who did not fight for it and whose forebears opposed the PNM. Laventillians cannot afford to go there. Disrespectful!
In the 1970s, the young Laventillians supported Makandal Daaga in challenging the system. But those who did not march got the new opportunities. Rhoda Reddock (ed. Selwyn Ryan, 1991) showed us that black strugglers continued to struggle while the Mixed and Indian ethnic groups prospered. The disdain by many in those groups for the Laventille people is palpable.
When the oil and gas boom came to Guayaguayare, Dr Williams took the money and, with the South Chamber, built the Point Lisas estate. Laventille people, qualified at John Donaldson Institute, were not employed because “they lived too far away”. No trickle-down came North. The South was transformed.
In the 1986 general elections, Morris Marshall and Muriel Donawa-Mc Davidson won their seats handily while Patrick Manning scraped through with 61 votes! Laventille delivered. Where is the gratitude? Would the PNM have survived? Why did ANR Robinson stand down the recount?
In 1997, Sadiq Baksh led an initiative to claim politically Laventille West and proposed a park around the Picton Water Tanks. After much fanfare, the residents were let down. No delivery of the promised infrastructure! Pure grief! (Bart-Alexander, 2003).
Instead, simultaneously the Piarco Airport fiasco was taking place. Millions of dollars jumping up but none for the transformation of Laventille.
Remember Colour Me Orange? Remember Shaq O’Neal and the promised Hoop for Life? Randy Seepersad (2016) has documented the string of “crime-fighting” programmes implemented without any evaluation. Pure mamaguy!
The inability of the famous threesome to ‘ground with their brothers’ has brought us Watson Duke. What do we expect? More pimping. No relief for the sufferers! Just a new saddle occupant.
Remember these words: “Never again must we believe a change in a party means good governance. We must change the system.” (David Abdulah, 2012) And “we are governed by mooks and crooks and will keep being jooked”. (Martin Daly, 2019).
Meanwhile, the words of Kwame Ture, banned by Dr Williams, appear to be guiding the new protest action. The young soldiers arraigned against the residents make one shudder. Raffique Shah may have a few choice words. Déjà vu!
Will we be honourable and pay our debt? Or will we allow the protests to mount and see our capital city encircled and burnt? Do we expect to keep fumigating?
Let us not be fooled; the price for this neglect is high and must be paid. All of Laventille did not steal. Extraordinary parents are fighting to do their best for their children.
We need to be true to our national anthem. We could run, but we cannot hide!