Law vs Justice

 

Long, long before Debe-Mon Desir. Long even before Guayamare and even further back, before Caura, where an entire community was scrambled off their lands to make way for a dam that would eventually evaporate in a cauldron of corruption-long, long before all of that, there was Arima.

For 63 years, from 1786 to 1849, the indigenous Amerindian people were owners of 1,000 acres of land in Arima. Later, they were given another 320 acres by the British Governor, Sir Ralph Woodford. Some of the land was held in common and some individually. Compared to the loss of their entire island followed by the loss of their lands in Caura, Arouca and Tacarigua to make way for a new wave of immigrant French Caribbean planters, such acreage amounted to miniscule compensation.

Eleven years later, the land agreement was re-affirmed during Britain's hostile take-over of Trinidad with an agreement to respect its terms. Of course they didn't.

Fifty-two years later, in 1849, the implementation of a new territorial ordinance made it impossible for many of the Arima First Peoples to hold on to their land. Several plots were sold off to interests that has become increasingly resentful and covetous of their land. As historians like Maximilian Forte have argued, and as Angelo Bissessarsingh declared in the First Nations' Heritage Week publication in Friday's Express, this issue is still legally potent with a case that could well be taken to court.

From colonialism to independence, history's chain of centralised state power has managed to change only enough to disguise itself. The dawning of representative government has hardly altered the fundamental nature of the power equation in which the State retains the right to exercise power unilaterally, arbitrarily, sometimes brutally, most times insensitively and, invariably, carelessly. At every stage, whether in Arima in 1849, or Caura in 1943, or Guayamare in 1984 or Debe-Mon Desir in 2014, or the thousands of other times in between, the culture of autocratic power has been single-mindedly resistant to any notion of a responsibility to negotiate and account as a standard requirement of the democratic process.

Cloaked in the power of office, and cheered on by beneficiaries of the status quo, it arms itself with the authority of law when challenged by the demand for negotiation and accountability in the pursuit of justice. Invariably, the quest for justice ends up on the street, outside the system, as a de-legitimised, scorned and branded bastard of the power system. Since the sixteenth century, this has been our story, a people searching for justice outside the system, forced into guerilla politics by a law and order system without the capacity for politics as expressed through the negotiation of interests.

Hyarima in Arima, the enslaved Sandy in Tobago, the defiant Camboulay and Muharram participants who took the brunt of Captain Baker's bloody edict of law and order, Uriah Butler and his team in 1937, the Black Power advocates of 1970, the sugar and oil workers who thereafter linked arms across the racial divide on Bloody Tuesday of 1975… and the list goes on of people creating spaces for self-representation.

Although the courts may offer a way to resolution, Dr K is right to differentiate between the law and justice and to insist on a political solution even as he pursues the legal option. For by which court, and under what law, is a citizen to secure justice against repeated political betrayal First, the back-tracking on an election pledge against the highway, then the dismissal of the Armstrong Report which might as well be re-christened the "Hamstrung Report", and, for good measure, the riling up of the majority against a minority legitimately pursuing its interest.

We cannot know whether, within his bag of bones, Dr K has the moral magnet needed to drag the PM out from the refuge she has taken up behind the law, and onto the plane of politics where this battle began and where it properly belongs, (even if we would happily grasp law as a shortcut to salvation). Certainly, he is betting his life on it.

In this battle of truth and consequences, Dr K is insisting that for the crime of betrayal, it is the PM and her government who should be made to pay and not the people of Debe-Mon Desir, even if theirs was the crime of misplaced loyalty.

With his life on the clock, and the people gathering for a macabre finale, will Power stop in its tracks, turn on its heels and walk back with a hand held out Or is it already too far gone for anyone to turn back now Is this die already cast Well, as always, it will depend on what each of us does.

As the tense scenario plays itself out, there are a few other things worth considering. What exactly is the current condition of the Oropouche Lagoon What is the potential impact of the aggregate production from the North Range To what extent does the Armstrong Report provide a template for approaching future construction projects of significant magnitude What, after all these years, has been the impact of the relocation of the communities of Caura and Guayamare And finally, what process of reparatory justice can be enjoined for the Indigenous people of Trinidad

If Dr K has succeeded in turning our minds to these issues, he has already won.

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