THE legs looked to me like the lower parts of a costume climbed into by a masquerader. In 1969, Derek Walcott, poet covering Carnival, reported: “Hector Mannix, water works clerk San Juan has entered a lion...”.
Mannix was not playing himself. He was portraying something recognisable—a beast—whose body and spirit he inhabited for a day or two.
That’s imagery likely not crossing the mind of Fuad Khan, who critiqued the 2019 “costume” spotlighted by legs and belly bigness, in his capacity as a physician. The mas player was playing herself, and the inspecting doctor identified the mas as mass, and likened it to a “tub”. In a take far-fetched to the eyes of other viewers, Dr Khan voiced medical concern about the spread of non-communicable diseases for which the mas player’s eye-catching body bulk unthinkingly advertised a symptom.
Look where Carnival reach, some of us sighed. Once it could attract the attention and inspire lines of a Petit Valley-based but internationally recognised poet. Now, even clinical naysayings are served up in its portion of evaluations. Over weeks as the season rolled on, Carnival 2019 delivered satisfactions. Some observers reckoned that more than 200 events had taken place, a lot of them high-end, with few if any laments about “buss fetes”. For listening and getting down, any number of soca songs were compellingly come-hither. Then Panorama finals, through performances by Renegades, All Stars and Invaders, appeared to promise more than just leading-edge pan playing but also stopping-power stagings of musical theatre.
It all made for a high from which the inevitable come-down happened as early as Dr Khan’s sobering determinations and advisories. So soon after Carnival, almost as if the purveyors were waiting in the wings, came troubling estimations and projections about the T&T economy. While Carnival distractions and attractions held sway, and foreign exchange shortfalls seemed to matter less, we had been allowed to put behind us the Petrotrin falling-apart that had begun and climaxed so stunningly fast. Soon, we would be reminded that a multi-billion-dollar debt incurred by the now renamed company remained to be repaid, or renegotiated, this year, ahead of another big one next year.
While all that is about oil, it is natural gas that keeps T&T going, to the extent that we need to be assured of its continuing and increasing supply. Gas pumps and pipes are delivering as planned of the hopes placed and investments made in new fields and facilities. Expectations had risen high for gas out of the Dragon field on the Venezuela side of the border. Fingers crossed, or hands clasped in prayer, as Venezuela plunges ever deeper into crisis, Energy Minister Franklin Khan tries to sound unworried.
“The situation in Venezuela is very fluid,” he says, putting the best face on the news from over the Gulf and the Bocas. Meanwhile from UNC Opposition big name Bhoe Tewarie comes a plain-spoken read-out on what is to be expected. “We can kiss the Dragon gas field goodbye until the crisis there is resolved,” he wrote unconsolingly in a post-Carnival Express op-ed.
Natural gas is T&T’s sole hope, Dr Tewarie asserts: “There are no signs of recovery or growth anywhere outside of natural gas.”
Bleak economic prospects mark the findings of another former minister, this one PNM, who probes more deeply, and pessimistically, into natural gas supply and demand both local and international. In his Guardian post-Carnival op-ed, Mariano Browne covers the drama of the moment when T&T must decide how to move with the natural gas now available and the selling prices not predictable.
The market has shifted, Mr Browne observes, from 20 years ago when T&T was a pioneer producer and exporter from Point Fortin of liquefied natural gas. In T&T, he notes, “gas is no longer cheap to produce” and formidable competition can hereafter be expected from the US, once the main market for Atlantic LNG. Back when gas was cheap and plentiful, this country also sustained at Point Lisas a world-beating ammonia and methanol industry. With cheap gas not available today, Mr Browne relates the conflict arising between the interests of bpTT and Shell to hustle it abroad as LNG, and the NGC which is committed to keep the Point Lisas industries going by providing gas feedstock. In despair, big-time ammonia/methanol producer, Proman, is seeking to provide its own source of gas, thereby making NGC irrelevant.
Without zeroing in to that extent on gas-related reasons, Dr Tewarie also concludes that “the economy is at a standstill without any prospect in sight of economic action that could make a positive difference”.
More bluntly, Mr Browne warns: “Doing nothing is reckless and we could lose the future.”
Private business needs to be engaged, encouraged to invest in T&T, both former ministers urge. But who is going to do it and how?
Carnival relief is over, but the agenda appears still ruled by the sideshows of plus-size legs and ample bellies.