“[…] The crime situation is very terrible. Being a parent, I do not believe in condoning wrong things. It’s really sad that these things happening in Mayaro now. Mayaro is coming like a little Laventille…”
Mayaro resident. Express, 24 January 2023.
The resident was referencing the slaying of three youths by the police over a box of chicken and chips. This parent, in her anguish, was probably unaware of the Ryan Report (2013), which said in part:
“The conventional view is that Laventille is the deadliest place in the country, its ‘Killing Fields’. However, only 10 to 20 per cent of Laventille constitutes a hard-core problem. The other 80 per cent is stable and relatively crime-free ‘except when war breaks out’.”
That Report noted: “The problem is that Laventille and its diaspora is now more a matter of class than one of race.”
The police tried to control the criminals. The then Minister of National Security, Jack Warner, was quoted as saying: “We are here already, and we are not leaving Laventille until all is cleared up. We know how and where it will end. I will get rid of all of you, OK?” (Express, 14 September 2012).
But the Report asserted that the core problems are illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, a shortage of social capital and an absence of political will on the part of all governments.
A brilliant feature story by Susan Mohammed spells out the seeds of destruction being planted in Mayaro.
Here are some snippets:
“[…] Matta (St Rose) gave up on life a while now. Depression of losing his parents. He always felt like nobody was there for him…”
“[…] At the moment, with nothing to eat, no money, and being frustrated with a weak mindset… led my brother (Gilbert) to his death. Plus, his friends and the bad record they had also contributed to him falling into bad company. He was depressed, hungry, and damaged…”
The Member of Parliament, Rushton Paray, provided a context of the economic downturn:
“Imagine the cross-generational impact on business and employment… There is increased poverty which emerges as destitution for families… A constant and rising demand for food and public assistance support.
“This impact flows into the education systems, and many children stay away from school to work and maintain households with elderly parents and grandparents. Among those… may be those that ended up at the end of the police bullet on Sunday night…”
This description eerily reflects Laventille in the late 60s when their factories closed, and the port of Port of Spain dried up, leaving men idle. The Elite Garment Factory, Correia’s Wine, Myerson’s and Trinidad Citrus Growers of the Eastern Main Road, among others, were shuttered or dramatically scaled down.
The hotbed of vibrant tradesmen lining the Old St Joseph Road and the Eastern Main Road turned to ashes.
To gain a glimpse of Laventille’s abandonment after all it did for the nation, we can do well by listening to the Professorial Lecture of Dr Paula Morgan.
“[…] The nation, which has proven to be highly effective in incorporating the community’s energies and creative potential, has failed spectacularly in terms of alleviating its ills. This diverse and evolving community has come to be symbolically flattened and reduced in the national psyche.
“It has today become iconic of the grim living conditions generated by persistent poverty, state neglect, the emergence of virulent gun and gang violence, and the challenge of healing diseased communities…”
Listen to Mr Roger Morales, the Mayaro school principal with 28 years of experience: “The low-scoring pupils require maximum contact with teachers, but this is affected by the absenteeism of the children, who are affected by socio-economics and do not attend school.”
He said some parents do not have the money to send a child to school for the week. Again are these not like the east Port of Spain schools?
“The recent Senate Report on Education, led by Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye, had already told us education in East Port of Spain is an abomination. Most of the schools are in limbo. Or is it not purgatory?
“My colleague Lennox Bernard wrote in the papers the other day that he and his CREDI colleagues had appealed to the DOMA people to make contributions to help reform Laventille schools, but that was deemed not to be a priority of the City merchants.”
Mr Morales added that most of the teaching staff live in external communities and have long distances to travel, affecting workplace punctuality. Stop and contemplate what this means for educating the unfortunate children in the lower echelons.
Mayaro had an extended economic association with oil and natural gas production, and the largest reservoir of natural gas and crude oil lies along the eastern coast. So what has gone wrong that people are hungry and depressed?
Nothing! The entire process is working to the plan. Suck the orange dry and then discard it.
Our national treasure, Professor Rhoda Reddock, in her latest book chapter “Welcome to Paradise: neoliberalism, violence and the social and gender crisis in the Caribbean” (ed Gutiérrez Rodríguez & Reddock, 2021), explained the process and the underpinnings of the wrong the “Washington Consensus” wrought upon us.
The individual now had the “unfettered right to pursue personal profit and accumulate wealth without concern for social distribution”. As Gordon Geeko said, “Greed is good!” (1987).
Nonetheless, Reddock identifies that the policies of the neoliberal worldview facilitated “the dismantling and removal of many of the social and economic safeguards introduced as a result of the 1930s labour disturbances”. The condition of Mayaro personifies the consequence of this thinking.
But the average citizen may not understand this.
Kerrigan (2018), using St Barb’s in Laventille as his site of study, clarifies the ‘joy’ that the Mayaro residents felt when the police killed the three boys.
He notes the perspective of the residents: “the social problem is individuals who need policing rather than structural and historical conditions; a secure space open to all people is one that is patrolled and made secure through policing; militarised policing is the new normal for successful living; the problem is T&T culture; and the police and army are here to help.”
Yet, Kerrigan affirms: “security solutions cannot mend collective social problems.” Reddock concurs: “the increased expenditure and militarisation have not resulted in enhanced feelings of security”.
And Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, in discussing the Tyre Nichols’ killing, recently said: “Policing has to be done with a community. Not to it.”
Reddock further indicates that demands for security have class implications. She identified distancing between communities and ethnicised communities, gated housing communities and, in particular, stigmatising communities and their residents.
She was prophetic in foretelling the recent Mayaro crime dimensions.
In the 70s, when Michael Manley said, “The money ran through as a dose of salt”, he could have been speaking about 2022 Mayaro.
The state’s capacity to respond has been drained because of an emasculated civil service and the removal of its social care responsibilities. That castration of the state results from the neoliberal approach and is the cause of much distress. Changing governments are useless without changing the neoliberal policy mindset.
The unfolding tragedy that stares at Mayaro is the abundance of beachfront acreage that would allow guns, trafficked women and drugs to enter. This scenario may well see a spark of gang killings.
It is time for a reset. Do we have the courage to face ourselves and do what is needed?
Failure to grasp the nettle could leave us in an ungovernable state.