Recently I had the pleasure—better to say I had the opportunity, for there was nothing pleasant about the experience—of viewing a short documentary by VICE, an American outfit, entitled Corruption, Cocaine & Murder: Gang Life in Trinidad.
It featured horrifying bloody crime scenes; lifeless bodies in back alleys and on main streets; an arsenal comprising such artillery as once were associated only with Rambo and bearded Hollywood mercenaries making ersatz war, some in the gloved mitts of man-mountain cops in bullet-proof vests, some brandished by skinny pubescent hotshots in cut-off blue jeans, sleeveless cotton vests and expensive Nike kicks.
Among the featured local personalities was Daurius Figueira, renowned author of several books about the illicit trade in drugs and human trafficking, also a sociology researcher attached to the University of the West Indies.
Then there was the imposing Abu Bakr, who needs no introduction save to say that long before Osama took control of America’s mind, the Trinidadian native was already well known (and in some quarters revered) throughout the Caribbean, by no means a total stranger to the US State Department, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and a large chunk of the Muslim world.
In the VICE documentary, Bakr reminisces about his heyday as “a community leader” who eschewed drugs and all things illegal—until he discovered good cause to oppose the law. How he set about doing this reminds of the best of Bruce Willis’ Die Hard fantasies: while a meeting was in session Bakr and some of his followers had bulldozed their way into Trinidad & Tobago’s Red House and, among other earlier inconceivable missions impossible, kidnapped at gunpoint the leader of government, A.N.R. Robinson (recently deceased).Before the Red House invasion Bakr had had several run-ins with the cops. But always he had believed the main problem with the twin-island republic resided in its corrupt politicians, its talentless leaders especially—a notion now widely held throughout the region, shared even by some of the best known defenders of the establishment faith, among them Sir Dwight Venner.
By Bakr’s measure, most Trinidadians believe their highest officials are on the take, more than ever before. But what really made me sit up and think was one community leader’s observation that his country was like a man who on the outside appeared quite fit despite serious problems with one of his kidneys. He had the choice of either doing, as quickly as possible, something salutary about the diseased organ or carrying on as if without a care.
“Pretty soon the problem with that unattended sick kidney is going to spread to other vital organs and the man will die,” he said. The unspoken message was that Trinidad, or any other country you might name, could not afford to neglect any of its cities, its towns or villages. Otherwise, their problems would soon, like killer viruses, be threatening the front doors of its most pampered, most affluent communities.
Corruption, Cocaine & Murder reminded me of 1970s Saint Lucia, when newly established Entrepot was something of a safe haven from criminal activity. Alas, residents were soon fleeing to safer ground, among them exclusive Cap Estate. And now, as sadly we have good reason to acknowledge, the last mentioned is fast becoming the nation’s favorite killing field.
The documentary also reminded me of the scores of articles I’d written over the years pleading with the authorities to pay attention to the reported burgeoning human rights violations by the police and others, as well as the uninvestigated rapes and quickly forgotten homicides.
I was more often than not dismissed by the self-serving politicians—and even some members of the clergy, to say nothing of their ever-faithful congregations—as a prophet of doom and a “sensationalist,” whatever that meant.
In those recalled relatively primitive days, even normally right-thinking citizens could be heard on the radio applauding every violence committed by the police, as if an arrest by itself were proof of a man’s guilt. Every police shooting was congratulated, whether or not fatal. It wasn’t long before inquests became a thing of the past.
With drugs fast becoming a Sisyphean nightmare, I warned that the victims of injustice, now with guns at their disposal and big money in their pockets, would strike back. Who knew then that striking back would include buying the services of both the police and our highest-priced lawyers?
Today our police force is under investigation for multiple murders and other crimes, denied much needed financial assistance from the US, while our nowhere-to-run, nowhere-to-hide government courts “non-traditional friends” especially notorious for their countless violations of human rights.
Venezuela, with its own innumerable domestic and other problems, is the new political Santa Claus. From one corner of its mouth our government acknowledges our dependence on American largesse for crime-fighting and from the other corner sings for whatever supper Venezuela (code for ALBA) can provide at the expense of its own hungry and desperate. No one can say for certain that what we receive from that country did not originate in Iran.
Over and over, the VICE crew was told about “untouchable nameless elites” who finance political campaigns in the Caribbean. Such talk will likely increase as more of our leaders, by the minute growing ever more determined to retain their powerless power, sell all they have left. Their advertisements offer citizenship for dollars—with all its inherent problems—but what they’re really selling is the soul of our region.
Our own obviously fresh-out-of-ideas prime minister, who had shown so much promise back in 1997 and was by 2011 unrecognizable, has been reduced to depending on a transparent, handpicked group including his former wife, to invent “a national vision for the future.”
Just last week this is what he had to say at the two-day Caribbean Leadership Forum, sponsored by Monroe College and held at Bay Gardens Resorts: “I accepted your invitation because the question of leadership remains one of the enigmatic solutions and challenges in our region, as it is worldwide.”
The “question of leadership” is an enigmatic solution? What exactly does that mean? And what about the widely acknowledged actual problem of poor leadership? It must’ve come as a shock to hear the prime minister finally admit that “good leaders matter to development.” Where was the Chamber of Commerce to hand him his deserved award for innovation?
Another shocking admission: “This is not an easy time for leadership in the Caribbean. We have had to stare in the face very real challenges that I know make a lot of people uneasy, and in some instances unsure and afraid of the
future . . . The mistake is to assume that the leadership solution is simply about politicians and those elected to the top.”
Nah! His mistake is that he believes what scares the bejesus out of Saint Lucians are what he considers “very real challenges” when in fact what has us wetting our pants is, yes, leaders without the ability to lead!
In any case he sang a totally different tune in 2011 when, fresh out of purgatory, he claimed to have the solutions (enigmatic?) to most of the problems that, by his measure, were beyond the talents of the Stephenson King administration; he knew then how to create jobs-jobs-jobs. And where to lay hands on $100 million dollars “immediately upon taking office.”
And anyway, who elected him to pronounce on private-sector leadership? Or on how individuals should lead their private lives? Didn’t the folks at Monroe tell him it was his leadership they had in mind when they sent out their invitation?
His desperation took an ominous turn: “The models of state, whether of justice, administration or law-making, were almost directly copied from the United Kingdom . . . Of course our entrenched system of adversarial politics which says ‘oppose at all cost’ any perceived changes, does not help, never mind engagement in highly consultative under-takings.” (Was he hinting at new models based on what goes on in Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran?)
And there was this: “It is a fascinating irony that the more we have degreed persons in our midst, the greater the cry for leadership.
Why?” Why? Duh! It all has to do with square pegs in round holes. A BA in sociology hardly qualifies an individual for leadership. Robert Lewis’ holds a degree in math but does that mean he’s the best man to manage our nation’s education system?
As for the UK system that had served us for so many years—and allows for modification—nowhere does it say anything about opposing at all cost. As nearly everyone has come to realize, save for our HOGs themselves, evidently, poor leadership is at the root of the majority of the region’s ills, including those currently plaguing Trinidad & Tobago where several nights ago a state prosecutor on her way home from a casino was shot down by gunmen unknown.
Few Trinidadians are surprised that there have been no related arrests; likewise the people of Saint Lucia where a month or so ago what may or may not be the charred remains of realtor Oliver Gobat were retrieved from a burned-out vehicle at our most serene killing field!