“WAR”, declared the Express front-page headline. On the Sunday before, the paper had been counting the casualties as “People murdered over the past week”, listing 24 by name.
The listing located places where the 22 men and two women had fallen the week before. It flashed back to earlier reporting that did not specify battlegrounds, but rather datelines of murder scenes.
Morvant, Carenage, Arima, Dow Village, La Romaine, D’Abadie, Sangre Grande, El Socorro, Port of Spain, Mafeking, Belmont, Aranguez, Westmoorings, Rio Claro, La Horquetta, Maraval: such place names suggest geographically random settings for the slayings. Laventille, however, figured as the locale for seven.
The following day’s breaking news topped that summation. Off the west coast in the Gulf of Paria, seaborne marauders set upon a flotilla of fishing pirogues from Carli Bay, took their outboard engines, and threw ten fishermen overboard. Three swam ashore; the rest, lost at sea, boosted the murder count.
Four more murders inside a single Las Cuevas household, thought to be well protected, made for a shake-up of T&T’s even wartime sensibilities. Even as such fatalities dominated the news, National Security Minister Stuart Young, boosting police self-confidence and capacity, advertised the willingness and readiness of the police, allied with Defence Force troopers, capably to assume combat postures.
Sea Lots claimed status as another gunplay dateline, after boat engines looted from Carli Bay fishermen turned up in that long notorious Port of Spain harbour location. In what came over as a no-nonsense retaliation, police shot dead Akini Adams, latterly described as a crime leading man inside Sea Lots. He had carried the nickname, “Dole”, no doubt after Piparo badman Dole Chadee who in 1999 had been hanged, having been found guilty of murder.
On the newsstand alongside the Sunday Express coverage of the murder breakdown, the Sunday Guardian bannered “An open letter to T&T”, that filled the front page and continued over two inside pages. Tagged “The Breaking Point”, the lead story quoted from a Black Stalin calypso, “Our country is facing its darkest hour.” A graph illustrated a T&T murder count multiplying nearly four times since 1994, to reach 516 in 2018. The paper offered the “radical proposal” of freeing up all-purpose Minister Stuart Young to concentrate almost exclusively on National Security.
Overworked, over-exposed, and under-achieving, the multi-purposed Mr Young exemplified Prime Minister Rowley’s shortage of quality amid the available quantity of trustworthy human resources. Once again, the head of government was obliged to draw, this time, former MP Donna Cox, from the PNM reserve team formally assigned to the T&T diplomatic corps.
The daily news chronicles hit-and-run strikes by guerrilla-type gunmen. Invariably, stories say the shooters “make good their escape”, a journalese term of art that assumes little prospect of their being captured.
Repeatedly, Mr Young and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi insist the Government forces know the bandit main men whom they need to capture or take down. They plead for “patience”, as they claim progress toward effecting plans, including enactment of what Minister Fitzgerald Hinds called “sometimes draconian laws”.
“We have plans,” said Dr Rowley, “to deal with hotspots, create safe zones, reintroduce community policing...”. Again and again, ministers damn and blast the frustration supposedly caused by the bad-mouthing, and allegedly unpatriotic vote withholding, of UNC people in and out of Parliament.
“WAR” is on. That’s how the Express has characterised the blood-stained moment marked by a murder count for 2019 steadily rising beyond 300. “Murder” is how readers, listeners and viewers know to name the count of the fallen. But for fatal events in a wartime context, perhaps “casualties” qualifies as the fitting denotation.
Just now taking national stage centre is an elaborately well provided underworld. Leading men flaunt their wealth, wearing decorative multiple necklaces reaching their mid-sections, broad bangles on their forearms, and loud rings on their fingers—all presumably of solid gold. And/or paying in high six-figure cash for high-end vehicles.
His bodyguard force failed to prevent “Sandman”, allegedly despotic community leader on a Las Cuevas hillside, from coming to an ignominious predawn end, his riddled and mangled corpse, and that of his wife, promptly displayed online. In a commando-type strike marked by detailed planning, the assassins burned their cars and went back to base by boat.
Thus did a gangland liquidation, with fearsome implications, come to pass, and with near military precision, marked by the use of camouflage wear and flashing blue lights. “The germination of gang culture and gang formation has been happening for several years,” noted academic crime watcher Ramesh Deosaran. “Now it has caught up with us as a Hydra-headed monster.”
The “monster” remains at large, even as the Rowley administration, so far only rhetorically, cranks up its capacities for effective response. As of now, Mr Young is counting gains in the 533 guns and ammunition seized for this year. That is to say, an improvement over the 383 seized in the corresponding 2018 period. Meanwhile, gangsters waging war out of bases in Sea Lots and Las Cuevas are evidently well placed to replenish supply.